A Word on “Bernie Bros” – What Berners Are Actually Doing

Over the weekend Bernie played along with the “Bernie Bros” narrative insofar as he said anti-woman behavior will not be tolerated in his campaign. This is admirable and a perfect response to the mudslinging, but while there have been some cases, the “Bernie Bro” narrative has been thoroughly refuted as an Internet flame war, and also echoes the “Obama Boys” narrative of the last Clinton presidential run.

Image Credit: Working Families Party, homage to Shepard Fairy's Andre the Giant
Image Credit: Working Families Party, homage to Shepard Fairy’s Andre the Giant

And there is another more subtle narrative at work in this campaign, mostly supported by those following Clinton, that following her because she is a woman, and you are a woman, is enough. And that any attack against them is anti-woman. Cursing and mansplaining aside, women of the establishment do not want to deal with critique of their support for Clinton. They do not want to engage. They don’t like it when so-called Bernie Bros (I use the term Berners) “pummel their chosen target with tweets.” Good Morning. The year is 2016. If you are openly tweeting about a presidential candidate and you are a public figure, then be prepared to deal with a major online exchange.

Clinton’s supporters want to live in a bubble, without having to deal with people (sometimes men) who call them bourgeois, mainstream, or establishment, and who ask for a reason and more substance to their backing of Clinton. Jonathan Chait has pointed out that Bernie’s supporters aren’t especially mean, it’s just that Clinton’s backers aren’t prepared to defend her positions. Susan Sarandon has been labeled sexist for supporting Bernie, and Gloria Steinem claimed …well, we all know what she said…!! If anything, Steinem’s comments helped lessen the impact of the Bernie Bro narrative, by demonstrating the lengths to which Clinton’s supporters will invent tropes of young people “who just don’t give a damn” to condemn Bernie’s campaign. So while the Sanders campaign maintains its pace and sends out polite announcements to its digital followers, the campaign need to understand that many older, more seasoned activists understand the Berner fervor and know that this is one of the waves you have to ride in this day and age.

The other side of this equation is that many of the women in camp with Clinton are not prepared to defend Hillary or her policies in any substantive way. They are not prepared for political dialogue, and so any pushback against the “Hillary as Female Icon” story is seen as an attack. Attack attack attack! They are not prepared for any kind of onslaught, and Bernie supporters are bringing the heat in a real way. Those who Feel The Bern are a machine that is picking up speed and one that shows showing signs of ever-expanding influence. The Berners seem prepared to go the long haul, and as more radical activists, they are seasoned to so-called “attacks” online, and super-savvy with the underspaces of the digital world, whereas those supporting Clinton give off an air of entitlement that they can post a single tweet, head off to their cushy job, and then simply ride all the way to the White House on Hillary’s freshly pressed coattails.

There is also a particular brand of woman emerging now, including many female celebrities, that is perfectly OK with Clinton’s mainstream positions. They feel inspired by what they see as a strong woman, and think that she is a role model for them. They are centrists, not the rebels or leaders. They are middle management type people who want all the kudos and brand recognition that goes with supporting the candidate who isn’t too far left. These are the same people who in universities say a naked performance artist is offensive to them. They feel protected by their bubble of achievement–good grades, lots of activities, and the perfect resume–which is frankly, no match for activists who have been pushing in the streets and online for the past 8-10 years. These online warriors will knock you out.

Another truth is that Bernie Sanders has a much better chance of motivating and converting the more independent Republicans to his side. This goes back to the theme that circled around during Occupy of uniting some Tea Party people with the far Left. With his populist stance, he has a much better chance of revitalizing the Democratic Party, in light of the fact that both parties especially Republican have been hijacked by the Moral Majority (at the time of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr’s elections) which effectively blinded working conservatives to the economic facts of their predicament. As Sanders has said repeatedly: Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican. Sanders’ radical position has a lot of promise for uniting people, and a lot of centrists cannot see this far into the future. They are stuck on the idea of electing the first woman president instead of electing the one who can lead us in a radical direction and bring more groups together to beat a Repulican. In that respect, he is more like a Modi or Mandela or Havel, whereas Clinton is more like an Albright or Merkel or even Condoleeza Rice. There is no way for Clinton to go back in time and dismantle her absolute political privilege, and expect to speak for millennials who grew up in a post-9/11 environment and have become inspired by the movements of the past ten years, beginning with the economic crash and the anti-fee hike movement in California colleges which sparked nationwide student movements. You can’t erase what has been put before them, and expect to answer it with the same ol’ song and dance.

I happen to think Hillary Clinton is defensive, dishonest, and aggressive in everything she does. It’s not anti-woman or anti-feminist to note her style, and critique her substance. Clinton rightly deserves credit for turning the tide of our relations with the world after Bush, but the Obama doctrine of “make sure the world doesn’t hate us” really isn’t much of a platform to run on. There just doesn’t seem to be much substance behind what she promotes as leadership. What is her vision? More of the same, more of the status quo, more I can get the job done because I’m a good bureaucrat. Her positions on Russia and Syria are boilerplate at best. She knows how to pander to everybody, and that appeals to the older, more afraid, and insecure Americans, especially women.

I think if you contrast her, Albright, and Gloria Steinem with for instance, women like Elizabeth Warren and Naomi Klein or Aijen Poo, you will see a very different kind of strong, decisive and principled woman who may not be as aggressive, but carries much more weight due to their ability to stay focused on the issues and work hard for the working people. Clinton for instance, comes off as outraged, but we are never quite sure what she is outraged about. It’s just more of the same middle-of-the-road rhetoric that says “everybody ought to get ahead.” She certainly doesn’t have the numbers chops that Bill Clinton has. He is a wizard at campaigning, but he can’t run for her.

America is only as strong as our relationship with our fellow nations. Are we effective leaders? Do we have diplomatic muscle? We can be radical and strong. We can be smart about how we manage our affairs, and we can be creative about our next chapter. We don’t need more lawyers and bureaucrats. We need visionaries, and people who are willing to take a risk, with science, entrepreneurship, and community development. We need to stop sending the money to all the wrong places and invest where we need it most, at home in the United States, so we can be a better leader for the rest of the world.

Hey, you know what? Maybe it’s just too late for the USA. Maybe our people have already gone and lost it, and we are just going to accept our fate of living in debt, with shooting sprees at schools every week, and unilateral invasions anywhere and anytime they want. Unfortunately, the millennials will not accept this. They won’t accept climate change as a reality because they can’t. They aren’t afraid to demand change now. They aren’t afraid of being called a socialist. And they aren’t afraid to turn their back on a woman who doesn’t speak for them.

I think a lot of people are looking at people like Ted Cruz and Trump and thinking that Clinton would be a much better alternative. But it seems like this is just more of the same admission on the part of Americans that we can’t do any better. After Occupy and Black Lives Matter and the Climate Change marches, it seems like most people are still afraid deep inside of some murky powers that be, out there threatening their ability to think for themselves. Better to have a good bureaucrat in there who can push back in all the right ways. Better to have somebody who obsesses over Congressional fights rather than a true leader who inspires the entire country at all levels. Do you really think our country is going to change all that much with the Clintons back in the White House? It’s certainly worth a thought, and deserves a thoughtful response, which is exactly what the Berners are doing. And Bernie would do well to listen to his millenial supporters on how to campaign with the Internet in mind.


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