By last weekend, I could not log in without seeing some mention of Berniebro—and, with it, a dispute about its meaning. The Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman deployed the Berniebro label, then econbloggers fought about it. After a Sanders campaign director asked supporters to tone it down online, Mashable and BuzzFeed and the British Actual Broadcasting Corporation ran stories about the terror of Berniebros.
Eventually the Pulitzer-winning Glenn Greenwald waded into the pool, declaring that “the Berniebro narrative” was “a blatant, manipulative scam,” a “journalistic disgrace,” and a “campaign tactic masquerading as journalism.” Everyone was mean on the Internet, he said. Suck it up.
My little coinage was all grown up, and it had spawned a full-on intraleft crisis. Cue the thinkpieces. Amanda Hess at Slate said that “everyone is wrong about the Berniebros,” pointing out that online harassment (which is real) should be framed as a tech story, not a campaign-horserace story. Vox argued that the Berniebro debate really isn’t about Bernie at all. And poor Gawker appeared less concerned than confused as it asked: “What Is a Berniebro?”
It is not an idle question.
So here I am: The prodigal father has returned. And I think I have a solution to all this—or, at least, to the Berniebro problem. The Berniebrosplosion doesn’t betray a unique crisis in civility, nor a long-term problem for the Democratic base. It signifies, rather, something much simpler: category collapse.
The Internet is impoverished of vocabulary. People want to describe the emerging Sanders coalition, yet when they reach their hands behind the veil of language, they come out grasping only “Berniebro.”
The republic clearly needs a new terminology to describe all the varied elements of Sanders’s support. And until such a time as a permanent solution can be found, I have some provisional candidates.
Once, Berniebros seemed to make up a sizable chunk of the candidate’s base. But now many more voters have joined the fold. For instance, the parents of Berniebros who are slowly coming around to their child’s enthusiasm—I propose that these are the Bernieboomers. Meanwhile, the girlfriends and boyfriends of Berniebros who allow themselves to be dragged to Sanders events are, of course, Bernieboos. But be careful not to confuse them with a Berniebeau: There’s only one of those, and her name is Jane Sanders.
Campaign staffers who ferry equipment and banners from rally to rally earn the title of Bernieburro. They have to take special care when lugging the expensive speaker system, the BernieBose. After events, they complain to each other about Clinton supporters who show up only to ask impertinently about guns and socialism—they call them the Berniefauxs. And when they find themselves sweating on 60-degree afternoons—even in New Hampshire, in February—they discuss this year’s remarkable Berniño.