The Slatest

Bernie’s Latest Bro Headache Involves a Supporter’s Remarks About “Corporate Democratic Whores”

Supporters listen as Bernie Sanders addresses a campaign event at the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Jan. 30.

William Edwards/AFP/Getty Images

Well, this certainly isn’t going to soften the image of the Bernie Bro. During a speech at Sanders’ massive Manhattan rally on Wednesday night, a pro-Bernie speaker dropped the phrase “corporate Democratic whores” while railing against the incremental steps toward universal health care favored by Hillary Clinton and her allies in Congress. MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald caught the full quote from Dr. Paul Song, a health care activist and Sanders supporter:

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.

Song’s comments came during the “early pre-program” of the event, according to Seitz-Wald, but they’ve since managed to overshadow everything that followed at a rally that was estimated to be 27,000-strong. The Clinton camp quickly turned up the pressure on Sanders to disavow the comments, which Bernie did Thursday morning:

For his part, Song denied that his “whore” remark was directed at Clinton specifically, instead suggesting that he was talking only of congressional Democrats who agree with her—a distinction without a whole lot of a difference. Still, he offered an apology the same night for his word choice, if not the general sentiment behind it:

The remarks are further evidence that the Democratic race, once a relatively amiable affair, has taken a turn toward the nasty. Last week, Clinton and Sanders squabbled over whether the other was “qualified” to be president. (Hillary initially refused to say whether he was, which led to Bernie stating unequivocally that she was not.) While the two recently called a cease-fire in that fight, the race remains tense and both have continued to attack each other on the stump in the lead-up to next Tuesday’s primary in New York. In the past week alone, Hillary has gone after Bernie hard on guns and immigration, while Sanders has returned fire on climate change and campaign finance.

The “whore” comment is also 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—in the process putting their respective candidates on the defensive when they’d much rather be sticking to their script.

Clinton supporter Madeleine Albright, for instance, caused trouble for Hillary earlier this year when she said that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support each other,” comments she later walked back. Similarly, Sanders supporters like Killer Mike and Susan Sarandon have caused their own problems for Bernie by talking about uteruses and vaginas in the context of votes and presidential qualifications. And more generally, Team Sanders has faced repeated criticism about the subtle threads of misogyny and sexism that can be spotted running along the far fringes of Bernie’s legions of fans. While Sanders would prefer to remain on message coming down the home stretch, that becomes more difficult every time someone like Song opens his mouth.

Read more Slate coverage of the Democratic primary.