LITTLE ROCK, ARK. — Sometimes I think I learned more politically relevant lessons playing ball than anywhere else. If nothing else, sports teach realism: what you can do, what you can't, how to deal with it. Also, what's the score, how much time's left, and what's the best tactic right now?
But here's something else you learn playing ball: Not everybody on your team is going to be your friend, just as people wearing different-colored shirts aren't personal enemies. Also, spectators can be fickle. Your most passionate fans can quickly turn into your opponent's ally.
These are all useful concepts during an American primary election.
An athlete in his youth, Bernie Sanders appears to understand overwrought fans. His campaign's apology to Hillary Clinton supporters harassed online by so-called "Bernie Bros," angry young men given to coarse attacks upon anybody — especially women — supporting his rival was a class move.
"If you support @berniesanders," Sanders aide Mike Casca tweeted from Iowa, "please follow the senator's lead and be respectful when people disagree with you."
Columnist Joan Walsh had called out the Bernie Bros' behavior. "When I've disclosed that my daughter works for Clinton — in The Nation, on MSNBC, and on social media — we've both come in for trolling so vile," she wrote, "it's made me not merely defensive of her. It's forced me to recognize how little society respects the passion of the many young women — and men — who are putting their souls into electing the first female president."
Walsh told BuzzFeed that, while she didn't blame Sanders, "it is disturbing to see such a misogynist strain in the male left. It's not a new thing, but it's tough to experience."
Kathleen Geier, a contributor to The Nation and a Sanders supporter, concedes the Bernie Bros are definitely "doing harm to the cause. I haven't seen people treat Obama supporters like this, or supporters of other male establishment candidates — just Hillary. So it's definitely misogyny."
Well, yes and no. See, I suspect many of these jokers are Internet trolls in the original sense: right-wing Hillary-haters seeking to foment discord among Democrats.
Anybody can pretend to be anything online. Anonymity encourages people to unmask their darkest impulses. Read the comments line to almost anything on the Internet about the Clinton-Sanders campaign.
Even in the relatively civilized precincts of The Guardian, commenters to a Jill Abramson column sympathetic to Clinton revel in nasty sexual insults:
"Yes, please tell me how Shillary is the nicest corporate oligarchical servant, and how she will lovingly sell out the people who voted for her to her banker masters, with a twinkle in her fellating eye."
Another online philosopher opines that, "Hillary is a terrible campaigner and a much worse human being. She is thoroughly corrupt, dishonest, vile, vindictive, vengeful, condescending, etc."
As somebody who's gotten obscene, often threatening emails WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS for years, I can't say I'm shocked. Noreen says Hillary's a COMMIE BITCH and that my photo makes her vomit.
Anyway, maybe I'm looking in the wrong places, but I see no comparable venom about Bernie Sanders. My own strongest reservation is that despite his admirable qualities, I've seen few signs of political realism in his campaign. How otherwise sensible Democrats have persuaded themselves that a candidate preaching "revolution" and promising big tax increases can win come November in swing states like Ohio, Michigan, and Florida — places that have trended Democratic, but have Republican governors — is hard for me to grasp.
(Unless, of course, the GOP nominates a far-right Froot Loop like Ted Cruz — not a probability I'd want to gamble on.)
The Daily Banter's Chez Pazienza sums up everything that needs to be said about "Bernie Bros," make-believe and real: "If you're a liberal who believes these things about Clinton — if you see her as anything other than a liberal Democrat who's guilty of nothing more than being a politician with faults and with a plethora of enemies like every other on this planet, including Bernie Sanders — you've proven that the protracted smear campaign against this woman has worked. You prove that the GOP won a long time ago."
Meanwhile, both candidates' supporters would do well to recall that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have voted together in the U.S. Senate 93 percent of the time.