I wasn’t defending terrible behavior, but I understand why it seemed that way.

Wil Wheaton
Feb 4, 2016 · 8 min read

I stirred up a shitstorm on Twitter earlier today, and as I thought about what I said, how I said it, and how people responded to me, I needed more than 140 characters to work it all out.

I’m going to acknowledge my privilege right now, before I get into this. Because I’m a middle-aged white dude, I don’t have the same experience in life that … well, pretty much everyone else who isn’t has. I know that the world is set up to make life for people like me as easy as possible (Scalzi’s “lowest difficulty” setting), and even though I try to see from outside of my own limited perspective, I don’t always succeed.

I honestly didn’t know until today that there’s this subset of Sanders supporters who apparently attack Clinton supporters with really awful and shitty misogynistic behavior. I didn’t know that this same group of people apparently goes after non-white supporters, as well. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have said a thing that could even remotely be mistaken as defending them, because I find people like that despicable, regardless of who they align themselves with politically.

I know that this sounds like “hashtag not all Sanders supporters” but the Sanders supporters and activists I interact with daily don’t support or engage in that behavior. I honestly thought, after seeing “Bernie Bros” thrown around on a daily basis, that it was being used to describe all of us who believe in Senator Sanders’ platform, as opposed to a shitty group of shitty people (who I honestly can’t believe are genuine progressives like the rest of us who want Bernie to get the nomination). Again, I recognize that this lack of awareness is directly tied to my privilege. I don’t want that to be an excuse, but it’s just the truth, and it’s more than a little embarrassing to me.

I began to feel like all of us who are on Team Bernie were being written off by our fellow Democrats, the political media, and the Establishment as “bros” who are just angry men, only supporting Sanders because we can’t bring ourselves to support a woman. I find this suggestion as offensive and childish as the suggestion that Secretary Clinton’s support is based solely on her gender. I honestly felt like it was an effort to undermine and minimize our support, to simply write us off as sexists. And it wasn’t entirely unreasonable to feel that way, because those of us who supported then-senator Obama in 2008 were relentlessly attacked by Clinton supporters as being sexist jerks who wouldn’t vote for a woman (and they were in turn often called racists. Both accusations were stupid and lazy, in my opinion).

Glenn Greenwald wrote that the “Bernie Bro” charge was a “cheap,” “false,” “handy, all-purpose pro-Clinton smear” meant to “inherently delegitimize all critics of Hillary Clinton by accusing them of, or at least associating them with, sexism.”” I read this from Glenn shortly after I read a column by Paul Krugman, in which Krugman seemed to suggest that all of Sanders supporters were these “Bernie Bros”. I felt that was unfair and inaccurate. When I think of a bro, I sort of think of this guy, and I’m pretty sure that there aren’t a lot of folks out there who think that guy is awesome. When I think of a Sanders supporter, I think of a massively diverse group of people who see a clear choice between a progressive and a triangulating centrist.

I heard from a lot of women on Twitter today who knew someone, or who had been attacked themselves by someone claiming to be a Sanders supporter. These attacks always used gendered slurs that seemed to be ripped straight out of a typical GamerGater’s swamp of awfulness. Are all of these women telling the truth? Lying? Clinton campaign operatives engaging in a coordinated social media campaign? I don’t know, but I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt, because I sat next to my wife and watched her Twitter account get overwhelmed by exactly that sort of garbage because she had the temerity to be a woman online.

At Slate, Amanda Hess writes that “My own Bro research has revealed that both viewpoints are correct, depending on how you choose to filter your Twitter feed. The divide in how Clinton and Sanders supporters view Bernie Bros — or whether they see them at all — is emblematic of how social media has accomplished the impressive feat of making American political discourse even more annoying.”

She is a journalist, and I’m not, so I’ll trust her reporting, and Glenn’s reporting, and presume that they are both right in their own ways (harassment absolutely exists, and pro-Clinton journalists are seizing on it to undermine Sanders supporters as being full of sexists, just like they did with Obama supporters in 2008).

When I tweeted “Just a thought: if you would be (IMHO rightly) offended by “Hillary Harpies” or similar, maybe lay off the whole “Bernie Bros” epithet.” I was thinking that “Hillary Harpies” is really goddamn offensive, and if anyone said that about one of her supporters, that person would be soundly and correctly criticized for attempting to minimize someone’s support of Hillary Clinton with some sexist name-calling. I was attempting to share how insulting and frustrating it is to me to (think I was being) called a “Bernie Bro” for supporting Senator Sanders over Secretary Clinton in the primary.

And this is where I totally understand why I came off as hashtag not all men, in my further clarifications, because I can see how it would appear that I’m somehow defending the subset of self-proclaimed Sanders supporters who I now know are referred to as “Bernie Bros” by the people they harass, as well as some journalists.

What I was trying to say was that I believe dismissing support for Sanders or Clinton as being based entirely on their gender isn’t helpful to your chosen candidate, and it is, in fact, insulting. There are clear and marked differences of opinion and philosophy between the two of them, and those differences are so stark for me, gender has never entered into it. Again, I’m a white heterosexual man, so I have the luxury of not seeing them as a woman and a man, but as politicians with different ideas. I realize and respect that that isn’t going to be the case for everyone, but I hope this clarifies what I was trying to say, now that I’ve spent 3000 characters explaining what I meant in 140 characters.

And if you’ll give me another moment of your attention, I’d like to articulate why I believe Bernie Sanders is a better choice than Hillary Clinton for Democrats, especially progressive Democrats. I’ll be very brief, and keep it to three points:

  1. I simply do not believe that Hillary Clinton is a progressive the same way Bernie Sanders is a progressive. I believe that Hillary Clinton is a centrist in a political climate that has moved the political center so far to the right, a lot of Bill Clinton’s policies (NAFTA, banking deregulation, etc.) could now be considered moderate Republican policies.
  2. I do not believe that Hillary Clinton will be the first politician in history to take a fortune of money from a corporate interests (in this case, Wall Street banks and the private prison industry) and then strongly regulate against that corporate interest once in office. I find it insulting that she expects us to believe that she will, in fact.
  3. Finally, her vote for the Iraq war. I believe that it was calculated to be politically safe, because she lacks political courage. When Hillary Clinton says that her vote for the Iraq war was “a mistake” I don’t believe that she means it s a mistake that helped destabilize an entire region, was based entirely on lies that everyone knew were lies at the time, led directly to the rise of ISIS and strengthened Iran’s influence in the Middle East. I believe that all of those things happened because of the Iraq war, and I believe that voting for it was not just an unforgivable mistake, but a complete and total abdication of moral and practical leadership. I believe that Hillary Clinton thinks it was a mistake because it hurt her in the 2008 primary against then-senator Obama. Why do I believe this? Because as Secretary of State, she supported actions in Libya that created the exact same circumstances as post-war Iraq, and she continues to advocate for similar actions in Syria. I am sick and tired of American-led wars in the Middle East, and I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton or any of the Republicans will alter this disastrous foreign policy. I believe that Bernie Sanders will.

I base all of these beliefs on Hillary Clinton’s voting record, and the actions of Bill Clinton’s presidency, in which she was heavily involved. Please note that I do not base these beliefs on her gender.

I’m tired of the status quo. I’m tired of the drone war, an interventionist foreign policy that’s heavily influenced by neoconservatives, the rampant corruption on Wall Street that has held nobody accountable for wrecking our economy, the growing militarization of our police force, and the private prison industry that it serves. If I believed that Hillary Clinton was going to break from that status quo in any meaningful way, and if I believed that she would fight for and reflect the values that are important to me, I’d be campaigning hard for her.

But she doesn’t inspire me the way Bernie Sanders does, and that’s because I’ve had about 30 years to get to know her, and given the choice I have right now, she isn’t the candidate I want to support.

And that has nothing to do with gender. It has everything to do with their stated policies and records.

But to bring this back around to where I started: I was not defending shitty people who say and do shitty things. I wasn’t suggesting that women just play nice with their harassers because men can call names just like women can.

But I totally understand why a woman who has been harassed by one of these people would reasonably conclude that I was not only speaking up for those shitty men, but saying that a gendered-insult used against women is equivalent to the relentless campaigns of harassment men use against women, so why can’t women just relax already because name-calling hurts my delicate feelings.

I get that, and if I had known that this phenomenon of shitty men who attack Hillary Clinton because of her gender, and who attack her female and non-white supporters using sexist and bigoted attacks existed, I never would have said anything, because I know that I, and the overwhelming majority of Bernie Sanders supporters are appalled by those shitty people.

But I didn’t, and I regret that I didn’t. I’m glad I know about it, now.

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