By Jack Random
I didn’t know Alexander Cockburn. When I read his columns I found much to agree with and some significant points of contention but I always found integrity. I admired his irreverence, his fierce independence and his unwavering respect for documented facts.
Alexander Cockburn served no party, no corporate or political entity and owed no allegiance to ideological doctrine. He suffered neither fools nor folly no matter where they originated on the political spectrum. If you took him on, you had better be prepared to defend your position. If he took you on, you had better hunker down and brace for the storm.
For those who are not aware, Alexander Cockburn (pronounced Koh-burn) was the longest running columnist at The Nation (Beat the Devil) and co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of CounterPunch. On July 20 (coincidentally my birthday) he died of cancer and the world of political discourse suffered the loss of one of its most poignant voices.
I didn’t know Alexander Cockburn but I believe I owe him a personal debt of gratitude as a writer. In the years leading up to 2000 I was writing fiction, including a contemporary political novel that told the story of an independent organization challenging the dominance of the two-party system. Imbedded in that work was a series of commentaries that I published under the title The Jazzman Chronicles: Volume I.
Then came the stolen election of 2000, the September 11 terrorist attack, the Patriot Act and the relentless march to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. These events rendered my novel impotent if not irrelevant but they aroused my political passion. I published a second volume of the Jazzman Chronicles (The War Chronicles) but discovered that publishing was far too time consuming and financially untenable. As a writer, I wanted to devote my limited time and energy to writing. So I searched for an outlet on the worldwide web.
In those days of mass protest, the largest social uprising since the days of Vietnam, I found a forum for my brand of rabblerousing first at CounterPunch and later at Dissident Voice and Pacific Free Press. Over the years I’ve published hundreds of articles on various sites but in my heart I will always be a CounterPuncher.
There came a time when CounterPunch stopped posting the Chronicles and I stopped submitting. Then, a year or so past, I emailed Mr. Cockburn to ask why. Had I made mistakes? (Of course I had.) Had I been sloppy? (At times.) Had I offended the sensibilities of CounterPunch? (I didn’t know but there are occasions when the left can be as intolerant as the right.)
Looking back today, I suspect I knew the answer. Despite my own unwavering independence, confronted with war and threats of war, I have a tendency to become pragmatic during presidential elections. In 2004 and again in 2008 I advocated the lesser of evils on the grounds that even the slender difference between lesser and greater evil could translate to tens of thousands of lives if not more. I am not proud of that advocacy but I stand by it. In my view, George W. Bush was one of the worst and most destructive presidents in history and Senator John McCain was and is one of the last persons on earth to be trusted in possession of the nuclear trigger.
It enrages me that our system offers these kinds of choices: the corporate party that is openly eager for war and the corporate party that at least seems more restrained. The truth is: War is good business for incumbent presidents but that’s another matter.
I never received a response to my query but some time after the Chronicles began appearing on CounterPunch again. Who knows what if anything transpired behind the scenes? I certainly didn’t know that Mr. Cockburn was fighting for his life. Had I known, I would not have inquired. But I believe that either he or someone at his desk empathized with my cause and sanctioned the return of my voice at CounterPunch.
Mr. Cockburn was attacked for his dissenting views on many occasions and often became the target of liberal spokespersons and Democratic advocates. He never bent to pressure and he never backed down from a fight.
Alexander Cockburn was fiercely independent. He did not compromise and never wavered. He was a writer among writers and he wrote to the very end. In short, he was what I aspire to be and I thank him for the inspiration.
My working title for this piece was: RIP Alexander Cockburn. But then I realized that Mr. Cockburn would probably not be content with either rest or peace in an afterlife should there be one. I suspect he would be happier sitting in a tavern or café engaged in passionate discourse on the affairs of the day.
Here’s hoping he’s tipping one to Howard Zinn at this very moment. Carry on, Mr. Cockburn. Carry on.
JACK RANDOM IS THE AUTHOR OF THE JAZZMAN CHRONICLES (CROW DOG PRESS) AND GHOST DANCE INSURRECTION (DRY BONES PRESS). THE CHRONICLES HAVE BEEN POSTED ON NUMEROUS CITES OF THE WORLDWIDE WEB, INCLUDING THE ALBION MONITOR, BELLACIAO, BUZZLE, COUNTERPUNCH, DISSIDENT VOICE, THE NATIONAL FREE PRESS, GLOBAL FREE PRESS AND PACIFIC FREE PRESS. SEE WWW.JAZZMANCHRONICLES.BLOGSPOT.COM.