Saturday, November 7, 2015

The bad faith of the Berniebro complaint

Even among the skeptical, Rebecca Traister's recent article on the alleged sexism of the Berniebros has been met with some modest approval.

As far as I can tell this is mostly because she is less deliberately inflammatory than bomb-throwers like Amanda Marcotte and Robinson Meyer. From the very beginning, the article trades in a kind of shallow even-handedness; even the headline's reference to Hillarybots suggests a concession. Traister writes that the cover of Doug Henwood's My Turn is "from one angle...hilariously kitschy"; she makes the rare (but obvious) admission that "anti-feminist condescension does not come from the majority of Hillary Clinton's critics or Bernie Sanders supporters," and that the gender gap in polling between the two "has become pretty negligible." She also, with singular understatement and agnosticisim, speculates that "loose, careless characterizations" of Sanders fans as "flustered, shouting white guys" and "Berniebros" "may be annoying and unfair" (emphasis added).

That last instance in particular exemplifies what is actually going on here. Because even as Traister goes through the motions of empathy, she cannot bring herself to categorically admit that Sanders supporters have ever been attacked unfairly; nor can she grapple with the direct implications of that premise, which go far in explaining the "nasty" response to writers like Meyer.

So it's all well and good to write dispassionately about "recent progressive kerfuffles" like the "aggravation over Sanders' advisers suggestion that Clinton would make a great vice-president" -- but Traister is not actually honoring her pose of neutrality when, for instance, she characterizes as "overblown mockery" nearly verbatim parody of rhetoric like this:
[Sanders'] campaign has also attracted a lot of 'brogressives': People, mostly men, who...blanch at the idea of a woman having real power...the real motivation is keeping the scary, ball-busting lady politician out of the White House.
This is not the cartoonish satire of the interns at Matt Bruenig's blog. This is Amanda Marcotte doing exactly what they ridicule: throwing around constant and studiously unqualified accusations of overt bigotry, in this case amid the VP "kerfuffle". If we genuinely concede that this is "annoying and unfair," then the parodies of Marcotte have been entirely proportional and on-point, and the worst thing you can say about them is that they're juvenile. In that case, the grand indictment concluding Traister's piece - Berniebros are basically hipster racists, and Marcotte is merely trying to "hold them accountable for it" - makes little sense, and is decidedly one-sided.

It's just a simple repackaging of the usual invective in a fair-and-balanced presentation. Traister magnanimously wonders if there "may be annoying and unfair" Hillarybots on the loose, but quickly decides that there aren't; she then arrives at the usual conclusion, leaving coyly unanswered the question of whether her critics "hate women". This is artful rhetoric, but it's neither reasonable, fair, civil, nor progressive; it is a flight into passive-aggression, sarcasm and innuendo, the last refuge of the critic who is too ashamed to say what she means.