Bernie Sanders’ campaign is facing accusations of sexism again after a surrogate invoked a misogynist slur at a 27,000-person rally in Manhattan on Wednesday night. While calling for universal health care, activist Dr. Paul Song—husband of Clinton supporter Lisa Ling—decried Hillary Clinton’s favored health care proposals and the “corporate Democratic whores” who support them:
Now Secretary Clinton has said that Medicare-for-all will never happen. Well, I agree with Secretary Clinton that Medicare-for-all will never happen if we have a president who never aspires for something greater than the status quo. Medicare-for-all will never happen if we continue to elect corporate Democratic whores who are beholden to big pharma and the private insurance industry instead of us.
Did Song label Clinton a whore? Some of Clinton’s supporters and campaign workers thought so and called for an apology. Later on Wednesday night, Song obliged. “I am very sorry for using the term ‘whore’ to refer to some in congress who are beholden to corporations and not us,” he tweeted. “It was insensitive.”
It’s hard to believe that Song’s insult was directed at Congress, not Clinton. First of all, he never mentioned Congress—he pivoted right from the straw man of a jaded, apathetic president Clinton to “[electing] corporate Democratic whores.” And why would a presidential campaign surrogate focus on Congressional races at a rally for a presidential candidate just before a presidential primary? The term corporate whore has long been used by breathless leftists to describe Clinton in comments sections and conspiracy blogs across the internet. At the very least, Song was using dog-whistle tactics to invoke gendered stereotypes and fears. Otherwise, why wouldn’t he just call Clinton a sell-out?
Even if, by some rhetorical flub, Song really did mean to insult Congress but forgot to say the word Congress, he should still be held to task for his language. “I have said this about congress for years,” he tweeted on Wednesday in an attempt to justify his remarks. That’s not something to brag about—calling people misogynist names is neither a respectable nor practical means of health care advocacy.
The Sanders campaign addressed Song’s remarks on Thursday morning in a tweet: “Dr. Song’s comment was inappropriate and insensitive. There’s no room for language like that in our political discourse.”
The word whore isn’t just insensitive. It’s a slur used to demean sex workers and, contrary to the protests of Sanders supporters, a gendered term directed squarely at women. Otherwise, the modified version, manwhore, wouldn’t exist.
Slate’s Josh Voorhees called Wednesday’s incident “one more reminder that Hillary and Bernie surrogates and supporters still occasionally struggle to successfully navigate the issue of gender in a race with a female front-runner and a male insurgent.” The Sanders campaign caught similar flak when surrogate Killer Mike said at a rally that “a uterus doesn’t qualify you to be president of the United States,” drawing attention to Clinton’s womanly hormonal reproductive capacities. The Sanders campaign is staying one step removed from the sexist remarks of its surrogates, but for the Sanders supporters who lap up that kind of nonsense, it’s still an effective galvanizing tactic.