All, my own response to this exchange was not included in the original
posting. Now it is:
At 09:05 PM 6/29/01 -0400, robert wrote:
> I'm attaching Marty Jezer's letter to the editor of the Nation -- a
>response to an Alexander Cockburn column that starts off with Senator
>Jefford's defection, but then gets off on Jezer's treatment of the 1968
>Chicago demonstration and (it's hard to follow the logic) Todd Gitlin's
>position on Nader-Gore.
> Also attached is my own letter to the Nation.
>This is a copy of the letter I've sent Victor Navasky, publisher and
>editorial director of The Nation and Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor. If
>you've read this week's Nation you'll understand the reference. My Bob
>Kerrey article, which most of you've seen when it was first published, is
>attached. If you think that Cockburn seriously distorts what I wrote,
>consider writing a letter to the editor of The Nation (33 Irving Place, NY,
>NY 10003 or www.thenation.com). And please send me a copy. Cheers, Marty
>I suppose I should be tickled that Alexander Cockburn has again attacked me
>in The Nation ("Beat the Devil" 6/18/01), that he includes me in his little
>boys game of "I^Ym more radical than you" intramural insult battles.
>For the purpose of personal attack, he quoted what I wrote about Bob Kerrey
>(from my column in the Brattleboro Reformer) totally out of context,
>thereby misrepresenting my position on Kerrey and the war in Vietnam. I
>suppose I can write a letter to the editor on this (and still might do it)
>but since it^Ys your policy to give columnists the final word, this would
>only present him with another opportunity for a dishonest attack.
>What I would most prefer is a published statement of apology from The
>Nation and a commitment to demand from Cockburn some honesty and truth.
>In this instance, Cockburn dumps on me for denouncing what I considered Dan
>Rather^Ys overly harsh and politically misdirected attack on Kerrey. Yes, I
>was critical of Rather for pressing Kerrey on whether he committed a war
>crime. But the context of my complaint was that by focusing on Kerrey, Dan
>Rather was able to avoid discussion of the larger issues of the war, which,
>in my column, I covered in some detail.
>In brief (and the full column is enclosed), what I wrote was:
>"As a public advocate of draft resistance and a participant in nonviolent
>civil disobedience against the war, I . . . have no judgement on what Bob
>Kerrey and his SEAL Squadron did in Thanh Phong.
>"From start to finish, the war in Vietnam was a lie . . . . (I then spent
>500 words explaining the lie, concluding that) Kerrey^Ys angst is a personal
>matter. What our country did in Vietnam is public; it^Ys a festering wound
>that won^Yt ever heal until the crimes we committed are openly acknowledged."
>There^Ys no hint of my opposition to the war in what Cockburn has written.
>Indeed, Cockburn further slanders me (as he has done before in his column)
>by mischaracterizing my position (spelled out in my biography of Abbie
>Hoffman) on the election of 1968 by describing me as a "Humphrey lover."
>Cockburn^Ys style is often to attack people for their views without ever
>addressing those views in substance.
>In one of his other syndicated columns about my position on Humphrey he
>wrote, "Down the years Marty has told his fellow progressives in Vermont
>that while Carter/Mondale
>/Dukakis/Clinton may not have everything that a radical might desire, they
>were better than their Republican opponents." Where did Cockburn get this?
>His assertion, as anyone who knows me would confirm, is absurd. One
>documented fact is that from 1980 to its demise I was on the steering
>committee of the Vermont Citizens Party and even wrote an article touting
>the Citizens Party in The Progressive, October 1982. While this particular
>lie about me was not written in The Nation, it does indicate the level of
>research that goes into Cockburn^Ys personal attacks.
>Victor, my personal complaint is minor. More important is that there are a
>growing number of activists who, committed to justice, despair that the
>left, as reflected by Cockburn, no longer provides hope for change.
>Cc: Katrina vanden Heuvel and other interested parties.
The task, not entirely dissimilar from redacting a passage of vitriol
from the Book of Revelations, was posed by Alexander Cockburn's column
using Vermont Senator James Jeffords defection from the Republican Party
("The Left Taught Him How to Do it, The Nation, June 18, 2001) as a launch
pad into stratospheres of diatribe.
So let's begin on the ground, back in the political reality of Vermont -
with the commonly held facts for which he author exhibits both distaste
and secret relish in disregarding. . .
More than reportorial laziness is at work here. If he had wanted to,
Cockburn could have reported au contraire his spin that the big chunk of
motivation for Jefford's giving up his front seat in the national GOP
resided not in Washington but in Vermont. If Cockburn had been looking
sincerely for motivation he should have gone more deeply into Jefford's own
state Republican party background, not some fantasy that he had adopted the
notion of leading a third party movement from Burlington's "progressives."
It would have taken Cockburn only a few phone to confirm that Jefford's
action drew from his long growing perception of, resistance and
decision to counter the National Republican Party's ideological coup of the
traditionally independent state Republican Party in Vermont.
In effect, Jefford's move was not that of a third party defection at all,
but step one of a strategic withdrawal back to his independent Republican
roots in Vermont with the aim of reclaiming leadership from the national
ideologues. To rally other moderates behind him is one reason he has not
dispelled recurrent reports of his intent to run for governor.. Had
Cockburn checked any number of veteran political reporters here --from
Jack Hoffman to John Dillon - they could have backgrounded and clued him
in on the pre-defection polling that Jeffords office did. It confirmed
what the Senator already knew in his political marrow - that the majority
of his own party would stick by him - against those who had funded and
prompted the a divisive (and nativist) "take back Vermont movement." And
post defection his own party base held steady as several polls clearly
On second thought, Cockburn didn't even have to pick up his phone in
Petrolia, California for this reality check. He could have simply read - to
get some balanced interpretation not gris for spite - Marty Jezer's column
on the Jefford's move. . It may have disabused Cockburn's inflation of
Vermont Progressives's influence (which is miniscule) on Jefford's
decision. If anything, the example of Vermont Progressives (more accurately
a city-state party of Burlington on the lake) was cautionary and opposite
from the one Cockburn pulls out of his hat -- "nourishing the propriety of
Not projected in the vote count was how the Progressive's blissfull
campaign style ticked off native farmers reeling from a collapsing price
and credit infra-structure, with surrealistic, top-down prescriptive
solutions, and a condescending harping "we know better than you do that
bio-engineered crops are not environmentally correct. If anything, they
added votes to the GOP ledger through back-lash.
One of the starting tenets of deconstruction is to start from what's
missing or omitted from the "text." In this case, what's conspicuously
absent is the foundational base of political reality that good political
columnists bounce off of. -- the same "proximate" reality that pollsters
and voters ascribe to and act on.
That Alexander Cockburn has no genetic deficit in intelligence political or
otherwise, begs the question of the prime motive underlying this column.
Patently, he didn't really want to report on Jeffords to begin with. But
how to ignore such a news peg, with e national media spotlight on Jeffords
in the Ramada and Andrea Mitchell in attendance? She did get it right -
that Jeffords' was an act of a conscience, that of a party moderate and
independent in a long tradition here, going back through people Cockburn
may never have heard of - like Tom Hayes, Frank Mahady, and Ralph
Flanders, the first to break from the ranks of the GOP and stand up in
gutsy opposition to Joe McCarthy.
So what was he to do, given a peg that couldn't be ignored, a deadline
ticking down, and no stomach for political reporting? Eureka! Triangulate
Jeffords with two other points of personal pique -- Todd Gitlin and Marty
But the sides of logic that form this dubious triangle are wobbly.
Examined, they reveal more the trajectory of Cockburn's hobby horse into
misdirected liberal bashing than Jefford's political character. .
Point B is Todd Gitlin, a personal nemesis for some 33 years to Cockburn,
now retrieved to fit a necessary point in his argument. . Thus portrayed
is Gitlin "whose prime political function for years has been to fortify
respectable opinion about the impropriety of independent thinking. " (This
follows from the Vermont Progressive's example as nudging Jefford towards
independence?) :The surmised logic, reality aside is this: Gitlin
forewarned that voting for Nader and avoiding lesser evils in the last
presidential election could nmake for greater evils(the Shrub) possible.
Ergo this makes Gitlin anti-progressive, argues for Jeffords taking a third
party course since Cockburn assures us from his base in California "In
Vermont the Republican Party is pretty much dead."
Point C: Marty Jezer, former WIN reporter, anti-war activist, puts out
weekly a column out of Brattleboro. Jezer follows from Gitlin in
logical sequence as did the sins of Ephesus from those of Smyrna. in the
apocalyptic rage of John of Patmos. Nonetheless, it's this: Gitlin's
misconstrued support for Gore in 2,000 elides to Jezer's alleged "love"
for Humphrey in 1968 - a position Cockburn fantastically deduces from
Jezer's prescient narrative of the Chicago Democratic Convention, a
well-founded inference that the "world is watching" strategy back-fired
with the election of Richard Milhouse Nixon.
But then Cockburn tips his hand. He cites a Jezer column - not the one
about about Jeffords - but one citing bias in CBS treatment overage of Bob
Kerrey that equates Jezer's demand for "fair" coverage with what he has
in common with Gitlin - "the lust to be respectably fair."
One doesn't have to be cryptographer to decode the message: Vermont
readers of the Nation be dammed, you nave no need to know the gradations
of political reality and how decisions are really framed by actual
political traditions, or even elections results. You don't need to know
that Jeffords is taking back control of his own party - that's ho hum
liberal maneuvering. Matter of fact - since 95 per cent of Vermont confirm
it - so is political reality.
That these neither interest nor incense Cockburn sufficiently is evident by
the angle his invective hones. It' s reporting the present in the rearview
mirror of the past - through a warped take of what came down in 1968, but
maybe even further - who can tell -- to 1937 and the betrayal of the
>From John's apocalypse, we can at least glimpse a present going to hell
through a prophetic window of the future. But to show that Cockburn's
point of view is back-assed from John's would entail a deconstruction
worthy of both's ill logic.
. At least with John of Patmos, there's some visual sport -- in peeling
the images of horses with scorpion tails and red dragons back from what's
fundamentally and most literally -- bullshit.
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