Nation columnist debates one-party label
By Joel Tannenbaum
Special to The Advertiser
By Joel Tannenbaum
Alexander Cockburn (pronounced Co-burn), 64, is not known for toeing any party line, though leftists have proven most receptive to his writings. When he speaks at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa tomorrow, he'll argue that the United States is a one-party state — a point of view that discomfits many of the country's partisan faithful.
Living and writing in a world where the political left has marginal influence, Cockburn has made his voice (described as Swiftian) heard as a columnist for The Nation and editor for the Web site Counterpunch .com, as well as through a slew of books, such as last year's "The Democrats in End Time: The True and Terrible Story of How the Dems Blew It and What Comes After" (Thunder's Mouth Press, $23).
Scottish-born, Irish-raised and Oxford-educated, he's lived in the United States since 1973.
Is the one-party label true? Well, guess who was the most wildly socialist president of the United States since Franklin Roosevelt? Whose administration presided over the founding of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, gun control, price controls, and the first significant affirmative action programs?
No, not Jimmy Carter. The radical leftist responsible for all of the above was none other than conservative icon Richard Nixon.
Is there some funny business going on here? Considering that Bill Clinton — committed free-trade advocate and author of comprehensive welfare reform — was routinely vilified by his opponents as an ultra-leftist, the answer probably is yes.
To Cockburn, there's little difference between how Republicans and Democrats govern.
"I don't think it was necessarily true in the '70s," said Cockburn, speaking in his distinctly non-BBC British accent by phone from his home in California. "It's a pretty straightforward down curve. I mean look, the disasters of the Democratic party are now commonplace. The handling of the Alito hearings, the handling of Jack Abramoff, the handling of the Roberts nomination. They've ceased to exist as a credible opposition."
How far does Cockburn's line of reasoning on Democrats go? Would a Gore White House have gone to war with Iraq? "Al Gore was certainly pledging to do so in 1999," said Cockburn. "Do I know? No. I don't know, any more than you do. But I know that many of the planners of the war were actually Democrats."
Cockburn was never a Democrat in the first place, but his solution to the perceived decline of the Democrats has been to actively support consumer advocate Ralph Nader's presidential campaigns. Doing so in 2000, Cockburn was joined by a host of celebrities and high-profile political activists. In 2004, he was practically alone.
Among those who abandoned Nader in 2004 was activist-filmmaker Michael Moore, director and star of "Fahrenheit 9/11," the scathing documentary about the first three years of the George W. Bush presidency. After initially supporting the short-lived primary campaign of retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, Moore actively campaigned for Sen. John Kerry. This remains a point of contention between them.
"Michael in 2004, I just thought he was plain stupid," said Cockburn. "He was backing Kerry. It seemed to me totally obvious that Kerry was going to lose. They couldn't make up their mind on the war. He hopped across the fence about 15 times. And Michael was running around the country really being, I thought, extremely unpleasant and bad about Nader, as was the Democratic Party. It's part of the ongoing, utter collapse of the Democratic Party, which of course is something I'll be talking about." A timely topic for Hawai'i, with its out-of-sorts Democratic Party unable to muster a gubernatorial candidate and shaken up by U.S. Rep. Ed Case's decision to challenge Sen. Daniel Akaka in this year's Senate primary.
Although it rarely makes the evening news the way "Fahrenheit 9/11" did during the summer of 2004, www.counterpunch.org, the Web site that Cockburn maintains along with author and activist Jeffrey St. Clair, receives more than 150,000 hits per day. For Cockburn, the World Wide Web has made his job a lot easier.
"As long as it doesn't have all the faults that you know from the Web, which are insane paranoia, unbelievable gullibility, total imperviousness to irony and the rest of it. So I think the net has been an unqualified plus."
Interestingly, media analysis of the Iraq war in 2005 and 2006 increasingly has come to resemble the criticism coming from Counterpunch in 2003. But Cockburn's analysis has been consistent.
"I think there's no question that most people analyzing think the whole thing has been an incredible disaster for the United States. The net result in the end will be that their best option is to see a low-level civil war go on in Iraq with the Shias and the Sunnis having a go at each other and basically keeping Iraq in a state exactly like Lebanon in the 1970s. The alternative being a horrifying civil war on the Nigerian level, with 2 (million) or 3 million people dead."
Joel Tannenbaum is a freelance writer who covers art and literature.