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Why Bernie Shouldn’t Be Blamed For His Bros

In this Nov. 27, 2018, file photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks about his new book, 'Where We Go From Here: Two Years in the Resistance', at a George Washington University/Politics and Prose event in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)
In this Nov. 27, 2018, file photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks about his new book, 'Where We Go From Here: Two Years in the Resistance', at a George Washington University/Politics and Prose event in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

News reports reveal that Bernie Sanders’s 2016 campaign was a Petri dish of sexism, from unwanted advances by male staffers to glaring pay gaps favoring men over women.

Well, shiver me socialism. Only utopians and clueless progressives will cry tears of shock into their Medicare for All plans, for three reasons.

First, youthful Bernie Bros’ deplorable misogyny was on full display during the campaign; it’s why they got that nickname in the first place, often snarling online at the put-down. (The truth hurts.)

Second, humans being fallible creatures, sexism historically has marred many movements, progressive ones included.

Third, reflexive sexism isn’t surprising from a gang whose reflexive behavior in many respects left it resembling a cult as often as not.

I can’t be the only one who remembers the Bros’ harassment of female reporters in 2016, duly reported in the media. Their gender-based boorishness was hardly top-secret.

Perhaps inexcusable behavior comes more easily to those convinced of their own righteousness as they seek to make the world anew.

Progressivism’s history is marbled with anti-women sentiment, as veterans of the anti-Vietnam War protests and civil rights movement have attested. If Martin Luther King, Jr. was right about the universe’s arc bending toward justice, then it’s to be expected that every generation will be more enlightened than its elders (though some liberals concede that, as crusaders against injustices that conservatives tend to ignore, they’re under a brighter spotlight to practice what they preach).

Perhaps inexcusable behavior comes more easily to those convinced of their own righteousness as they seek to make the world anew. That was no truer than with the cult of Sanders, which struck even liberal blogger Markos Moulitsas for its “irrational cherry-picking of news to convince themselves that victory is just around the corner.”

They hurled invective at fellow progressives who deviated from any campaign plank; Paul Krugman compared the flak he took to the usual Rush Limbaugh line. When the Associated Press reported that Hillary Clinton had clinched the Democratic nomination, the lowest-functioning Sanderistas phoned threats to the news service.

The campaign had to beg its own backers to shun misogyny and vitriol — and that was before news broke of Democratic Party interference against Sanders in the 2016 primaries.

Partisans may try to pin underlings’ sins, including sexism, on Sanders. Not just GOP partisans: The Vermonter might challenge other progressive candidates in a second presidential run, and it would be surprising if some of those rivals or their surrogates didn’t seek to make hay out of his predicament. Lord knows I have policy disagreements with Sanders, from his domestic plans’ fraudulent math to his sometimes blinkered foreign policy.

But Bernie shouldn’t be blamed for his Bros.

Yes, he had to repudiate an essay from his hippie days in which he wrote of women fantasizing about rape. But anyone who tells you they never said or wrote things during foolish youth that they wish they could take back is lying. I said things I regret. So have millennials — look at Sanders’s sexist backers, at least those with a conscience.

A supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., yells at delegates through a bullhorn at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park in Philadelphia, Tuesday, July 26, 2016, during the second day of the Democratic National Convention. (Matt Slocum/AP)
A supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., yells at delegates through a bullhorn at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park in Philadelphia, Tuesday, July 26, 2016, during the second day of the Democratic National Convention. (Matt Slocum/AP)

And unlike some politicians (I’ll be charitable and avoid names), Sanders’s public and private lives have not been relentless, unapologetic wallows in bigotry. He owned up to his supporters’ sexism after the news broke this week, telling CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that we did everything right, in terms of human resources. I certainly apologize to any woman who felt she was not treated appropriately, and of course, if I run, we will do better the next time.”

Having covered campaigns as a former political reporter, I can attest that they’re often chaotic affairs, exhausting to candidates as they hopscotch the nation. Micromanaging such a sprawling behemoth is beyond any candidate; Sanders, who started 2016 as so long a shot as to be interstellar, headed a campaign that mushroomed in mere months from three or four campaign staffers to 1,200.

As he told Cooper when asked if he’d known about the sexism complaints, “I was a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case [for my candidacy].”

I always respected the senator more than his worst adherents, and I take him at his word that, should he run again, he’ll clamp down on what was indefensible sexual misconduct. It wouldn’t surprise me if news breaks about similar behavior in other 2016 campaigns, from both parties, which counsels that candidates should hold their fire on Sanders.

What’s that old saw about glass houses?

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Rich Barlow Cognoscenti contributor
Rich Barlow writes for BU Today, Boston University's news website.

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