Amanda Taub has a piece at Vox in which she gives her account of what the truly bizarree cottage industry of Bernie Bro think pieces is really about.
The kerfuffle over harassment by Sanders supporters isn’t about Bernie. Nor is it about who gets to be president or whose supporters are better. Rather, it’s about the way the Democratic primary — from TV media coverage to online debates that are only tangentially related — is just one more thing that tells American women the depressing truth about what’s it’s like to be a woman trying to do things in America today.
The rest of the thesis is scattered throughout, so it’s hard to effectively blockquote. The short of it is that women online pundits are just generally upset about sexism in politics and the Bernie Bro fixation (which is mostly unfounded) is a kind of an offshoot of that.
This is a neat attempt to salvage what has been an utter disaster for the Clinton punditry, but the problem is that it has no relationship to what has actually been said about Bernie Bros, which has shifted again and again over time.
1. The Beginning: Overzealous Idiots
As Taub notes, the Bernie Bro thing began when an upper class white man who graduated from an elite private university (Robinson Meyer) complained about how he doesn’t like his own Facebook friends’ zealous support for Bernie. Meyer did not say the Bernie Bro harasses anyone. Nor did he accuse him of sexism, except maybe in one instance where he psychoanalyzes why the Bernie Bro may not be saying something: “the Berniebro might always seem like he’s going to say that we need economic equality for all genders but doesn’t actually say it, because he knows that it wouldn’t go over well.” (Bernie is a vocal fan of equal pay, though I can’t speak for Meyer’s Northwestern University Facebook friends.)
The rest of Meyer’s piece is just about how stupid Bernie supporters don’t understand political realities and what is and isn’t possible. Here’s Meyer:
The Berniebro says that Sanders isn’t only driving Hillary to the left, which you may agree is a good thing. Bernie, says the Berniebro, really could win.
The Berniebro doesn’t really have a good answer when you ask why the Democratic Party, which has spent six years explaining how its market-based health-care policies aren’t socialist, would ever find national success nominating an actual democratic socialist.
The Berniebro doesn’t really talk about how President Bernie Sanders would interact with the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.
The Berniebro asserts that this country needs highly principled, pie-in-the-sky progressive policies, regardless of how likely they are to become legislation. The Berniebro supports free college for all and a $15 minimum wage.
To repeat, Meyer doesn’t once say that the Bernie Bro is a harasser or that he is being particularly sexist. He just says that he’s as passionate as he is oafish about real politics. His piece is not really different from the piece earlier this week from another upper class white person who graduated from an elite university (Alexandra Schwartz) in the New Yorker. The only real difference is that she accuses all of Bernie Sanders’ young supporters of being unrealistic political idiots, not just his young male supporters.
So purity, a highly useful principle to make use of while running for office, is all but useless to politicians who actually arrive there, and the voters least likely to see that are young ones. The belief in the possibility of true purity might be a delusion for most voters, but it’s a privilege of youth, the province of people for whom the thrill of theory hasn’t yet given way to the comparative disappointment of practice.
Note that both of these wise upper class white scolds are in their 20s.
2. The Middle: Sexist Hillary-Haters
The beginning of the Bernie Bro — as an overzealous politically naive idiot — gave way to the midlife of the Bernie Bro, which was a sexist Hillary hater. The midlife of the Bernie Bro is when I stepped into the fray because it was when actual concrete claims were being made about young Bernie Sanders’ supporters that were demonstrably untrue.
Amanda Marcotte was the chief proponent of this new Bernie Bro. Here’s Marcotte:
The Bernie bro phenomenon of young men whose enthusiasm for socialism is goosed by an unacknowledged sexism appears to be a real, measurable phenomenon. A lot of Sanders supporters, male and female, prefer him because of his socialist ideas. But the gap between young men and young women does suggest, though I’ll get no end of grief for saying this out loud, that a chunk of Sanders support with his young male cohort comes from guys who really don’t cotton well to the idea of women in power.
This was part of longstanding series of delusional Marcotte articles where she dreamed up the idea that young women were really going hard for Clinton (they weren’t) and used this dreamed up fact to suggest that young men weren’t doing the same because of sexism:
While both Clinton and Sanders had plenty of young people of all genders turning out, the young people of the Sanders crowd were just as male-dominated as the Clinton crowd was female-dominated. . . .
If Clinton wins the primary, the perception that a bunch of women, particularly young women, “stole” the election from Sanders is probably not going to sit well with this crowd. Who will no doubt angrily tell you that sexism has nothing to do with their rage, no sirree.
The problem Marcotte ran into is that she based her Bernie Bro argument on the empirically false claim that young women were going hard for Clinton and young men were going hard for Sanders. When she tried to prove this claim with empirical data, she failed spectacularly, using a dataset that actually showed no difference between young male and young female support for Sanders. Additionally, the biggest sample poll yet of young voter preferences actually showed young women breaking harder for Sanders than young men.
Note that this midlife Bernie Bro was theorized as a real life phenomenon that was voting for Bernie because of sexist hatred of Hillary Clinton and perhaps sexist hatred of powerful women more generally. He was not a Twitter user at this point. He was an actual offline human being who supported Sanders because he didn’t like women.
3. The End: Online Harasser
So, to rehash, the beginning Bernie Bro was an overzealous politically naive idiot — not a harasser or a sexist. The middle Bernie Bro was an offline Sanders supporter who favored Sanders because he hates women — a sexist, though not a harasser. Which brings us now to the end (I hope) Bernie Bro who is an online sexist harasser.
This latest version of the Bernie Bro is what people are talking about now. This is the person described in the recent spate of articles citing articles citing articles about online harassing Bernie Bros (Mashable, BBC, Jezebel, etc.). These articles created an unfortunate backlash because a number of the very few examples they all cited (which were curiously the same across each article) were actually women or not even Bernie Sanders’ supporters.
So in short, a half dozen stories got written about a phenomenon that all cited to one another. The stories all had the same vanishingly few examples and then a few of those examples were neither Bernie nor Bro. When your journalism is this bad, people naturally wonder whether you have other motives.
But putting aside the weak substantiation, the point here is just that the online harasser Bernie Bro is the newest version of the Bernie Bro. This person only came into existence maybe a month or so ago. Before then, he was a totally different creature with totally different characteristics.
4. The Problem With Shifting
The problem with shifting explanations and shifting descriptions is that they are usually signs of motivated dishonesty. When you tell me someone is bad because he did A and then later you say he didn’t do A but he did B, and then later again you say he didn’t do B but he did C, the natural inference is that you just don’t like the guy, but that you aren’t being forthcoming about why.
In the election context, this leads naturally to the speculation that you just don’t like him because he’s not for the person you are for. What deep down makes you so dislike this person is that he is actively trying to defeat you. And hey, we all get mad at people who are trying to beat us and our team! But, from that anger, people sometimes build out elaborate and shifting explanations about why their opponent is also objectively heinous, not just because they have bad opinions about who should be President.