John Kerry’s ‘Man up!’ remark explained

Russia President Vladimir Putin did not participate. (Wire photo)
Russian President Vladimir Putin did not participate. (Wire photo)

On Wednesday, on “CBS This Morning,” John Kerry responded preemptively to the “Inside Snowden” interview by saying, “The bottom line is this man has betrayed his country, sitting in Russia where he has taken refuge. You know, he should man up and come back to the United States.”

“Man up.”

This has already been parsed a number of times — both at this outlet and elsewhere — with varying degrees of indignation (“What about WOMANing up?” “What about PERSONing up?”)

On the surface, it seems like an odd thing to say, especially to someone who voluntarily burned down a fairly comfortably life to flee into exile. Right or wrong, it took guts. But it’s the phrase itself, as well as the meaning. Coming back to the United States to face the court system suddenly sounds like a form of bro-ish peer pressure, like something you would chant to a reluctant keg-stand participant, not an announcement from someone in a position of national diplomatic power.

One fact, I think, could shed light on the situation. What if this is how Kerry talks all the time? It wasn’t that he thought this was the right phrase for this situation. It was that he thinks this is the right phrase for every situation. Wouldn’t that explain it?

Consider these:

• During talks with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi back in 2013, Kerry was heard repeatedly saying, “Just grow a pair. That’s all I’m saying, brosident.”

• Kerry was noticed giggling during a meeting with Mexican Foreign Secretary Jose Antonio Meade but offered no explanation until Meade unwrapped what appeared to be a diplomatic gift box and revealed a Smirnoff Ice. “ICED YOU, BRO!” Kerry yelled, via an interpreter. “Get down on one knee! Man up!” Through the interpreter, a very excited Kerry attempted to explain the process of icing, but Meade claimed he had “somewhere very important to be” and concluded the appearance early.

• One condition of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks was that, while there would be no American mediator present, Kerry would be “always on call” in case “anyone wants to do a keg stand or something, nebrotiators.”

• Kerry disrupted a summit with Germany by pressuring several members of the German delegation to “shotgun” cans of Bud Light with him. “KING OF BEERS!” he kept shouting. “MAN UP! MAN UP, YOU DEUTSCHE-BROS!”

• At one point, after consuming excessive amounts of Four Loko, Kerry ran through Davos shouting “GET SUMMIT THIS!” and even Joe Biden, who had consumed only a moderate amount of Four Loko, was quoted as saying it was “a bit much.”

• Hillary Clinton, handing over the secretary of state position, reports that Kerry kept coming up and shouting that he had “pounded some brews” and “this lady needs a NICKNAME, am I right, Hillary Brodham?” Kerry then did several Jaegerbombs in quick succession in an effort to prove that he “could more than handle the job.” “You want in on this, T-Geith?” he shouted at the then-secretary of the Treasury, who was trying to grab his coat from under a large pile of empties. “You know you do! Man up!”

At least, in those contexts, Kerry’s Snowden remark might make marginally more sense.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.
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Alexandra Petri | May 29