February 1, 2016

The latest frontline in the war for the Democratic presidential nomination: blurbs


buyersremorseThe 2016 presidential campaign has already wandered into some unusual realms—shoes, watches, hats—so perhaps it’s no surprise that even something as generally innocuous as a blurb has become a source of political contention.

On Saturday, Politico (Washington’s most implosive publication) reported on a new book by the liberal commentator Bill Press, which features a blurb from presidential candidate (and independent bookstore champion) Bernie Sanders.

Press’s book—Buyer’s Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down—will be published tomorrow by Threshold Editions, the conservative imprint of Simon & Schuster that usually publishes books like short-fingered vulgarian Donald Trump’s Crippled America and (unlicensed) “Doctor of Democracy” Rush Limbaugh’s Adventures of Rush Revere series. Threshold, it seems, takes a multi-partisan approach to Obama criticism.

In his piece, Politico’s Kyle Cheney pointed out that Buyer’s Remorse features a blurb from Sanders that reads:

Bill Press makes the case why, long after taking the oath of office, the next president of the United States must keep rallying the people who elected him or her on behalf of progressive causes. That is the only way real change will happen. Read this book.

Which is, as far as blurbs go, wholly unobjectionable, and pretty consistent with Sanders’s message. But the Vermont senator’s blurb also appears on the cover, where it has been edited down to read:

Bill Press makes the case . . . read this book.

This is a rather infelicitously edited blurb! If one were to look at the cover of Press’s book and the cover alone (which I’m not sure anyone actually does), it would be reasonable to assume that the “case” Sanders is describing is that “Obama let progressives down,” as per Press’s subtitle. But of course, that’s not what Sanders is saying at all.

Still, blurbs are often edited for space and clarity, and Press’s editor probably figured—correctly—that a mildly butchered Bernie Sanders blurb was a better bet for the front cover than shortened versions of blurbs by Keith Ellison (“[Obama’s] administration has let many progressives down”), Robert Reich (“Bill Press outlines why many progressives feel let down by the Obama years”), or Kirkus (“A stinging but not unreasonable j’accuse”).

But does any of this amount to a scandal? Per Politico, yes:

The subject of Bernie Sanders’ uneven relationship with President Barack Obama—and his sometimes pointed criticism of the president—is one that Hillary Clinton has used to undermine his credibility with the Democratic Party base. On Saturday, Sanders handed the Clinton camp more ammunition.

It seems, though, that the only “ammunition” here is Cheney’s own piece, which feels like it’s forcing a scandal into being rather than reporting on one that’s actually unfolding. I’d love to think that a blurb could be the source of a major political controversy—I’m delighted whenever book publishing gets national attention—but it’s hard to imagine #blurbghazi going mainstream. A blurb edited to mean something substantively different from its original intent is, perhaps, uncouth, but it’s hardly the stuff of outrage.

Still, if a blurb by Bernie Sanders does somehow become a political talking point, I can only hope that our media overlords devote the same attention to her rival’s glowing review of a recent book by a celebrated war criminal. That, too, was the subject of a Politico article. Its tone, though, was far milder.


Mark Krotov was a senior editor at Melville House.