The College Reporter speaks with Marc Cooper about his personal
By Asawin Suebsaeng
February 7, 2010
It often seems like American politics are a natural breeding ground
for the best oxymorons:
Good government. Munificent statesman. Honorable lobbyist.
Responsible right-winger. Honest leftist.
However, every once in a while, one has the pleasure of reading the
work of a man who, with his fair share of intellectual integrity and
world experience, manages to transcend the cynicism, lies, and
extremist seductions of ideological heritage.
Journalist Marc Cooper, in the eyes of many friends and opponents,
fits squarely into the category of "honest leftist." His background
is what you'd generally expect of an old-school, current
affairs-addicted street fighting man: Vietnam War protests, civil
rights, New Left camaraderie, noteworthy contributions to flagship
periodicals such as The Nation and Harper's, and, of course, a gig as
a translator for Chilean President and socialist Salvador Allende
prior to the horror show of Augusto Pinochet. In more recent years,
he has been a force for liberal-linked common sense and a passionate
critic of all those craftily reactionary forces in American culture.
Thrown into the mix are Cooper's more surprising and less
"left-orthodox" leanings. His acid critiques of left-associated
apologists (including, but certainly not limited to, the contemptible
likes of Ramsey Clark, Michael Parenti, Hugo Chavez, and Ward
Churchill) are dead-on reminders of the necessity of constantly
questioning those in and out of power. Much like Andrew Sullivan or
the late William Safire, Cooper is at his best when he's
unapologetically charging his own side with the moral crimes of
mob-mentality and hypocrisy. As Cooper once wrote on his blog,
"Leaving the Left can be a bit like trying to quit the Mafia. You
can't get out without getting assassinatedliterally or figuratively."
For a two-part interview, Marc Cooper talked to The College Reporter
about his personal history, heated disagreements with liberal
thinkers, our drug war quagmire, "the last honest place in America,"
and his sinful love of fuel-inefficient motor vehicles.
The College Reporter: From Chile during the coup to South Africa,
what places or experiences have most shaped your worldview as a
reporter and left-wing journalist?
Marc Cooper: There's no question that my professional trajectory
certainly falls under the rubric of being a left-wing reporter. I
don't shirk away from that. My first book has the words "radical
reporter" in the subtitle. But it may not be accurate to call me a
left-wing reporter now. I come out of the left and I'm sympathetic to
the left, but my worldview is broader than that in this point in my life.
I started doing journalism when I was 16-years-old at an underground
newspaper, and I then had the privilege and opportunity of traveling
all over the world.
There are certainly a couple of things that shaped my worldview. My
experience in Chile was a life-forming experience; it formed not only
my professional view, but also my personal view because there was
this extremely dramatic and momentous coup, for which I had a front
row seat in the early 1970s. I'd also say my experience in Central
America in the 1980s, primarily in El Salvador and Nicaragua, had a
crucial amount of weight in allowing me to understand how the world
works, and how it doesn't.
And as a high school and college student, I was very much apart of
what is known as the radical student movement of the 1960s. Coming
out of that, it shaped my early life, and I was a proud participant
and have no regrets.
But some of my fellow baby-boomers were recruited into dogmatic
groups with a narrow point of view, exposing them to a very sectarian
political left. I was fortunate to have been mentored by people who
were much more skeptical of everything around them, including the
left that we were part of.
And as history has progressed, we found that many models of the left
had failed to deliver more democracy, more equality, and more
freedom. At this point in history, it's not that we need to transcend
ideology, because ideology will always be with us. But the
ideological schema of the left of the past century has pretty much
been rendered obsolete, and we're waiting for something new.
In time, you learn that your opponents don't have a monopoly on
TCR: I'm a big fan of your fair-minded assessments and criticisms of
liberals such as Naomi Klein and so-called anti-war bodies like
International A.N.S.W.E.R. It seems like these decisions came rather
naturally to you, but was there a time when you wrote a story that
you knew would get you into trouble with your co-thinkers and
MC: Absolutely, almost every time. Now I do it with great pleasure.
When I criticize people like Naomi Klein or Fidel Castro, it's from a
perspective that is grounded in principles on the left. But I expect
a pushback from more dogmatic folks. I often intentionally set out of
provoke those arguments as a public service. Some of my left-wing
friends accuse me of being cynical because I'm washing all this dirty
laundry in public. Actually, I say that they're the cynics because
they're willing to compromise their integrity by apologizing for and
defending people who violate principles that we claim to hold dear.
But I can only think of one story where I was initially surprised by
the snap-back on the left, it wasn't very radical at all. It was
during the early part of 1998 when the scandal around Bill Clinton
and Monica Lewinsky broke. My friends and I were mostly to the left
of Clinton, and the Democrats I knew in '98 were not particularly
enamored by [Clinton's] conservative policies. He was a pretty
weaselly character who had gained the scorn of the left, and The
Nation, where I was working at the time, was no friend of his. I
wrote [in The Nation] about how I was absolutely delighted with how
they caught the bastard. I wasn't happy about how he engaged in
sexual harassment with a confused teenager, but I was amused by the
fact that his personal behavior reflected the same moral character he
brought to office.
Then I immediately noticed how many of my colleagues suddenly moved
into a position of defending this guy. They were so focused on
beating back Republicans, which is always a nice idea, they forgot
about how this was a prime opportunity to go after Bill Clinton.
Part II will run in the next issue of The College Reporter