"They're cowering for no reason."
That was how Jacobin magazinepublisher and editor Bhaskar Sunkara responded Tuesday night to The Baffler magazine's decision to fully retract and remove from its website an op-ed by Brooklyn-based writer Amber A'Lee Frost, who argued that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the best possible candidate to defeat President Donald Trump in 2020 and advance a truly progressive agenda.
"Not only is he the best candidate politically (as in, the only social democrat), he has the best chance of giving the 'pragmatists' what say they want: a presidential win."
—Amber A'Lee Frost
Because The Baffler, which focuses on left-wing politics and culture, is owned by The Baffler Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, it is legally prohibited from endorsing any candidate for public office. But Sunkara—whose magazine is also owned by a 501(c)3—argued that because the piece did not reflect the "views of an institute," it was "clearly within bounds."
So, late Tuesday, Jacobin decided to repost the article on its website (read Frost's full piece below). Initially headlined "It's Bernie, Bitch" by The Baffler—a spin on a phrase by American singer Britney Spears—Jacobin ran the op-ed with the title, "It's Still Bernie."
"A President Sanders isn't some idealist fantasy, he is our best bet by a mile," Frost argued in her piece. "Not only is he the best candidate politically (as in, the only social democrat), he has the best chance of giving the 'pragmatists' what say they want: a presidential win."
— Elizabeth Bruenig (@ebruenig) January 23, 2019
The Baffler's decision to completely remove Frost's piece from it's website nearly two weeks after it was first published prompted some speculation that the magazine faced legal threats for purportedly violating the prohibition against endorsing a candidate for office—despite the fact that, as some pointed out, Sanders has not officially announced a presidential bid.
In a statement posted in the place of Frost's removed piece, The Baffler explained its decision:
Editor's Note: We have removed the January 11, 2019, column by Amber Frost from our website after determining that it does not meet The Baffler's guidelines for coverage and commentary concerning political candidates. The essay is an expression of Ms. Frost's personal views. While The Baffler supports a robust discussion about political issues and candidates, as a nonprofit organization it does not support or oppose any individual candidate or potential candidate for political office. We are sorry for any inconvenience to our readers. We appreciate Ms. Frost's other contributions to The Baffler, which you can find here.
In a series of tweets late Tuesday, Peter Gowan—a policy associate at the Next System Project—called The Baffler's decision to remove Frost's piece "extremely concerning."
"Of course as a c3 they cannot organizationally endorse, but Amber was a contributor, not their board," Gowan noted. "We should be clear—legal threats or concerns have prevented political speech by supporters of a socialist presidential candidate in a significant left publication. It's very worrying and could have chilling effects across the sector if not opposed and resisted."
Below is the full text of Frost's op-ed as posted on Jacobin:
The substance of Elizabeth Warren’s political rhetoric is dominated by banks and corporations — obvious and odious targets, to be sure. She speaks positively, but vaguely, about labor unions. In 2013 she advocated for a minimum wage increase to $10 an hour over the course of two years — tragically modest in the time of Fight for $15. She’s helped make some mild reforms to student debt, but nothing so great as to be noticeable for a young person debilitated by loans. She’s made no great stink about socialized health care or higher education. Aside from financial regulation, it’s actually quite unclear what a Warren presidential program would be…"
This dandy little bit of self-plagiarism is from three years ago, when I attended a painfully nerdy and shamefully self-congratulatory event to “Draft Warren” into the presidential primaries. It was a farcical gathering of Type-A Tracy Flicks, barely worth the free booze, and even the assembled nerds quickly realized this Lisa Simpson of a dark-horse candidate wasn’t as inspiring to the masses as she was to them, and we all moved on.
And what we moved onto was Bernie — our indefatigable, unwavering, incorruptible Bernie! And we very nearly won, despite despicable sabotage from the DNC. Bernie was the leader of a movement that fundamentally ended the Cold War of the American mind; he changed the face of American politics, acted as midwife to a nascent insurgent left, and achieved more in a few months of mass political action than Elizabeth Warren did in her whole political life.
It was true then and it’s true now: Bernie Sanders is the best candidate — the only candidate who could be considered anything even close to socialist, and the one to beat Trump. A President Sanders isn’t some idealist fantasy, he is our best bet by a mile. He has consistently polled as the most popular politician in America since the primaries, and while everyone else has been tweeting (or following up with 23andMe) Bernie pressured Amazon into raising wages, followed up by going after Walmart, condemned Saudi Arabia and sponsored the resolution to end support for the war in Yemen, introduced the No Money Bail Act, committed to a federal job guarantee, campaigned so powerfully for Medicare for All that he shifted the entire Democratic Party, and saved a woman from being hit by a car. Not only is he the best candidate politically (as in, the only social democrat), he has the best chance of giving the “pragmatists” what say they want: a presidential win.
Unfortunately, a few of my media colleagues appear to have caught the Warren bug yet again, but this time around she lacks the good sense to refuse to run.
Elizabeth Warren’s politics aren’t impressive, and they never have been; all she has ever leaned on is a rigid obsession with the sort of basic financial regulation that barely mitigates capitalism’s greatest crimes. She’s not charismatic and appears to have absolutely zero understanding of what voters want in a candidate, as indicated by her pre-campaign soft launch on a bit of specious family lore about Native American heritage. Literally, no one cares, and yet she keeps doubling down on it. She chokes, she flinches, she reacts every time Trump insults her, and thus the public is far more familiar with her defensive “Orange Man is Mean to Me” ethnic delusion than they are her “Accountable Capitalism Act” (really inspiring name there, Liz).
Warren, who didn’t stop voting Republican until 1995, said in 2011, “I was a Republican because I thought that those were the people who best supported markets. I think that is not true anymore.” Again displaying her tone-deaf penchant for doubling down when the situation desperately calls for changing the subject, she explained further that “I was a Republican at a time when I felt like there was a problem that the markets were under a lot more strain. It worried me whether or not the government played too activist a role,” and then she declined to say if she voted for Ronald Reagan. (Incidentally, these quotes came from Daily Beast interview titled “I Created Occupy Wall Street,” an ungenerous fudge on Warren’s original statement that she “created much of the intellectual foundation of what they do,” and her professed support for the Occupy insurgency. One might still accuse her of taking too much credit for the “movement,” but given the futility and ultimate failure of Occupy, I’d argue it’s actually pretty fair to call her its Fairy Godmother.)
There’s no reason to believe that a goody-goody technocrat would fare better in 2020 than fellow neoliberal loser Hillary Clinton did in the prior presidential cycle. And yet here’s Hamilton Nolan in Splinter, who titles his anyone-but-Trump political polemic, “Bernie Don’t Run.”
I don’t really give a damn who it is. Warren, or Kamala Harris, or Sherrod Brown, or whoever. Pick one and get behind them from the very beginning. Any solid top-tier true left-wing candidate should, barring a serious fuck-up, be able to win the Democratic nomination if Bernie Sanders hands them all of his supporters on a platter.
I hate to break it to you, HamNo, but the voters actually do give a damn who it is, as evidenced by the fact that Bernie was previously unable to hand Hillary “all of his supporters on a platter.” They didn’t want Hillary, or really any neoliberal. And why should they?
Barack Obama was the very last “horoscope candidate” — a politician who manages to speak so vaguely that his platform could mean anything to anyone. It’s not going to work this time around; the Democratic Party is not going to be able trick people into believing that Liz Warren is a social democrat. Ditto for Kamala “Cop” Harris, a woman whose duplicitous record as a prosecutor includes the defense of the death penalty, three strikes laws, and the imprisonment of single mothers for the truancy of their children. You really think you can convince anyone that Kamala Harris is a woman of the people? Sherrod Brown has gone all in with Russiagate hysteria (also he signs his tweets). And before you even think of it, don’t even bother with Beto, who is to the right of all of the aforementioned, and votes to the right of the median Democrat. His district is majority Democratic, so he could plausibly vote to storm the Winter Palace and still keep his seat, but he joined the New Democrat Caucus in order to advance business interests. You can’t just astroturf any shitty neoliberal hack into the hearts and minds of the Bernie voter; if you could, we’d have President Hillary right now.
The coming election cycle will be an extremely difficult and fraught one. The Democrats might not be able win with any candidate; even the worst presidents seem all to serve for two terms now, and frankly, a lot of people have very little faith in electoral change. And despite all the #resistance hysteria, for the time being, the majority of the electorate haven’t seen the sort of plummet in quality of life that inspires droves of voters to cast a ballot for Anyone But Trump. The Donald hasn’t actually deviated that much from the neoliberal trajectory of his predecessors (remember, Obama shot tear gas at the border too), and you can’t expect people who don’t spend all day on Twitter to feel that motivated to combat what is essentially the gradual continuation of previous administrations. (Hell, he’s already more anti-war than Obama.)
And even if we could get a President Gillibrand in 2020, another lukewarm Democratic presidency will not only further impoverish and destabilize the working class and its suffering institutions; it will also all but guarantee that 2024 brings us POTUS Hamburglar in an SS uniform. No, HamNo, it’s Bernie or bust. I don’t care if we have to roll him out on a hand truck and sprinkle cocaine into his coleslaw before every speech. If he dies mid-run, we’ll stuff him full of sawdust, shove a hand up his ass and operate him like a goddamn muppet.
At first glance, it might seem strange to abandon the winning candidate for “pragmatic” reasons, but I have my suspicions as to why a lot of people who should know better are doing it right now. I suspect it has something to do with caution, or at least the professional credibility a writer gains by appearing to heed such caution. Call it “pressimism” if you want, but journalists are generally treated as more judicious when they aim low during times of crisis (it was one thing to support Bernie when we all thought Hillary would win, but now we have to get “serious” and stump for a shitty candidate, lest the New York Times think you too idealistic). Pressimism is regarded by the industry not as cynicism, diffidence, cowardice or even just plain poor judgment, but as prudence. I call it hedging your bets. But since we have a real shot here, it’s time to keep the faith and go all in. Otherwise, 1) No one will ever let you forget it; and 2) you’ll have to spend years eating crow.
And for the love of God, learn to exercise your scoffing muscles. Don’t get drawn into show-trial debates when someone is obviously merely attempting to defame, discredit, or otherwise malign the Sanders campaign. Yes, there are guileless and gentle souls who might voice concern about Sanders’ prospects, policies or appeal to women and minorities, and with those people we have conversations. Kindly, confidently and thoroughly we explain, over and over, again how Bernie Sanders is the best candidate for the working class — and we then spell out, with the same saintly patience, that this means all of the working class. But as for the liberal media, and for those who would disingenuously invoke identity politics to attack the socialist, just remember the magic words: “I know what you’re doing right now and it doesn’t work on me.” Remember, they’re trying to trip you up, wear you down, and waste your precious time. (Luckily, they’re utter clowns; elite whiners who pout that everyone is being too mean to them and to their favored milquetoast candidate.) The hit pieces against Bernie have already started to pour in, and we cannot concede a single inch to bad-faith liberals. Steel yourselves against the pseudo-progressive manipulation tactics and moral blackmail that put you on the back foot.
Fellow soft-handed scribblers, if indeed you are a socialist first then indeed you must be a contrarian pundit second, and this is your one opportunity to drop the professional artifice of “constructive criticism from the left” and choose socialism over media strategy. There are no “impartial” spectators on this one; only partisans and compradors. This is not some college debate where you get extra points for novelty and precocious dissidence, and it’s not some office pool where heated but distant speculations on the tournament are an amusing pastime with colleagues around the water cooler. This involves nothing less than the real, live fate of every single person in America (and most people outside of it).
If you have strayed, all is forgiven, but you better come to Jesus right now, because memories are long and history judges the cowardly squish far more harshly than the honest enemy. And you can’t say that no one was there at the time to tell you that this was it, that this was the pivotal moment where you had to make the right choice.
Partisan isn’t a dirty word, it’s nice out here (on the right side of history), and if you keep sitting on that fence you’re gonna get splinters in your ass. So hop aboard the Bernie train (choo-chooooo)! We got ourselves a winner. It’s Bernie, bitch, and it’s the only game in town.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Jacobin's editorial policy.