Media

The Term 'Bernie Bro' Is an Over-Used Smear: Even Krugman Used It to Dismiss Criticism of Clinton

While the term once had some kernel of truth, now it's the worst kind of thought-terminating political label.

There’s been about as much ink spilled disputing the existence of the “Bernie Bro” than there has now been examining it. The term, broadly used to define a cohort of intense, sexist Bernie Sanders fans on social media who harass journalists they deem not adequately pro-Sanders, has spiraled into the meta-story of the democratic presidential race—important mostly to pundits but probably few outside the political media industry. First was The Atlantic, then JezebelThe New Republic and BBC, all of which detailed the moral panic of aggressive male Bernie Sanders fans who harass and stalk those sympathetic to—or appearing sympathetic to—Hillary Clinton. Then came the Bernie Bro debunkers, including JacobinVice, and most notably Glenn Greenwald, who had this to say:

But truth doesn’t matter here — at all. Instead, the goal is to inherently delegitimize all critics of Hillary Clinton by accusing them of, or at least associating them with, sexism, thus distracting attention away from Clinton’s policy views, funding, and political history and directing it toward the online behavior of anonymous, random, isolated people on the internet claiming to be Sanders supporters. It’s an effective weapon when wielded by Clinton operatives. But, given its blatant falsity, it has zero place in anything purporting to be “journalism.”

Those opposed to the use of the label "bernie bro" argue basically this: Sure, there certainly are super aggressive, and occasionally misogynist Sanders fans on social media but their scope and effect are being wildly exaggerated to paint those supporting the establishment candidate as the true underdogs taking on patriarchy by propping up the more pro-Wall Street choice.

Unlike many who criticize the use of the term, I actually don't think the label entirely is without basis. I’ve personally seen a uniquely cruel barrage of Sanders fanboys on Twitter swarm a Clinton partisan and yes, it often has a stench of sexism. Nonetheless, the term’s definition, as Elizabeth Bruenig of The New Republic notes, has reached “critique drift”, stretched to the point of utter meaninglessness. The definition has morphed into basically: “Sanders supporters whose argument I don’t wish to engage”. In fact, the following non-sexist, non-bro-y examples have been labeled "Bernie Bros":

And now a new addition to the Bernie Bro catch-all has come from Paul Krugman, who has pre-emptively leveled the term at critics of Clinton who think her exorbitant Wall Street speaking fees are potentially corrupting:

Certainly taking a harder line on the corruption of our politics by big money is important — and no, giving some paid speeches doesn’t disqualify her from making that case. (Cue furious attack from the Bernie bros.)

Certainly, this argument by Krugman could solicit criticism from a whole cross-section of people; including women, non-bro men, Clinton supporters, Marxists, Republicans, and Independents. Yet here we are: the term “Bernie Bro” is knee-jerkingly used to dismiss a very valid criticism that Clinton’s $2.9 million in speaking fees from Wall Street may undermine her independence when it comes to regulating Wall Street.

In this sense, those still holding on to the idea that the label of “Bernie Bro” has any taxonomic value that helps define something urgent and relevant should vehemently oppose its ever expanding use. Certainly there’s nothing uniquely “Bro-y” about potential critics of Krugman’s point, nor is every jerk on Twitter sympathetic to Sanders animated by sexism. One of the reasons Sanders partisans find the term to be so cynical is that those advancing it seem to be entirely unconcerned about policing its ever-expanding and transparently political use. 

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst at FAIR and contributing writer for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJohnsonNYC.

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