Political writer Alexander Cockburn died on Friday, and although his name was hardly a household word, he was one of the best around. For the most part he was a radical leftist, and I didn't agree with a lot of what he wrote, but he was a brilliant writer, with a wicked sense of humor. I first encountered him during his days at the Village Voice, which I began subscribing to in 1978. At that time, the Voice was one of the greatest leftist publications in the history of American journalism, although that's hardly all that they wrote about. On the political side you had Cockburn, Nat Hentoff, Jack Newfield, Wayne Barrett, James Ridgway, and I'm sure I'm forgetting a few others. Covering music you had Robert Christgau, and on film you had Andrew Sarris. Overall, a pretty amazing group of writers.
Although an ardent opponent of Ronald Reagan's policies, Cockburn was one of the first political writers to take him seriously as a national candidate, as evidenced by this excerpt from a 1976 piece:
"No one can go into New Hampshire without clearly realizing that whether or not he wins, Ronald Reagan is the politician who is boldly putting forward the ideas and framing the debate for the rest of this election year. This is the centrally important fact of the New Hampshire primary."
And here's his satire and humor on display, skewering the New York Times for editorializing against a holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.:
"Why not a Martin Luther King Day?" the New York Times asked editorially last Friday, and answered, "Dr. King, a humble man, would have objected to giving that much importance to any individual. Nor should he be given singular tribute if that demeans other historical black figures like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois and Malcom X..." Give one of them a holiday, and they'll all be wanting one. Muhammad Ali Day, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Day. Where would it all end? Better, the Times suggests, to give King a statue in the Capitol, presumably in white marble to blend in with the rest."
On Walter Mondale:
"They keep saying that the best reason to vote for Walter Mondale is Ronald Reagan. But since Mondale filed to change his name and political identity to Reagan halfway through September, this argument doesn't carry quite the weight it once did."
And from a 1982 piece titled "Mount Kissinger Erupts":
"Halfway through November, spewing smoke and cliche hundreds of feet into the air, Mount Kissinger entered a peculiarly active phase. Though no actual loss of life seems to have occurred, 'Kissinger Alerts' were broadcast on an hourly basis, warning the populace to beware of falling platitudes and other detritus from this semi-extinct volcano."