Harper's magazine writer Andrew Cockburn's article on Joe Manchin's sabotage of progressive Democratic politics in West Virginia is a classic of old-fashioned political reporting.
"The Enemy Within" details how the Democratic senator gives little support to West Virginia's Democratic Party, instead cultivating ties to the state's coal industry and the GOP establishment. With the Senate divided between Democrats and Republicans, Manchin has thwarted President Joe Biden's most progressive programs.
Manchin grasped power after losing badly to progressive Charlotte Pritt in the 1996 Democratic governor's primary. According to Cockburn's article, Manchine undermined Pritt's campaign against Republican Cecil Underwood, to whom she lost by less than 40,000 votes. That was the end of progressive politics in West Virginia, which has lost population and suffered widespread poverty and opioid addiction.
After losing to Pritt, Manchin won races for secretary of state and governor before his election to the U.S. Senate. He gained power by building ties to the coal industry and GOP leaders. While the state supported Donald Trump, Manchin won another term.
Cockburn's well-reported, balanced article was different from the left-wing firebombs of his late brother Alexander, whose work I relished reading for years in the Nation, the New York Review of Books and other publications. A socialist and anarchist, Alexander presented a bracing alternative view on national politics.
Late in his career, Alexander Cockburn launched a bitter feud with his former ally Christopher Hitchens over Hitchens' support for the Iraq War and other shifts from his early leftist beliefs. The dueling polemicists from a more combative era of left-wing journalism both succumbed to cancer.
Along with Harper's articles by Andrew Cockburn, the father of actress and director Olivia Wilde and husband of journalist Leslie Cockburn, I also value his brother Patrick Cockburn's work. Writing on the Mideast for the London Review of Books, Patrick Cockburn gives deep background information not found in The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.
Their father, Claud Cockburn, was a notorious left-wing British journalist whose novel, "Beat the Devil," was made into a 1953 cult movie directed by John Huston, co-written by Truman Capote and starring an improbable lineup of Humphrey Bogart, Gina Lollobrigida, Jennifer Jones, Peter Lorre and Robert Morley. A number of writers have examined the crew's antics during the film's production in Italy as a lurid display of Hollywood excess.
An anecdote from Andrew Cockburn's expose of Joe Manchin reflects that decadence. Cockburn reports that Manchin lives on a luxurious houseboat in Washington, where he hosts parties attended by lobbyists and politicians from both sides. The booze and music never stop at "Almost Heaven," Cockburn says.
At age 74, Cockburn makes Harper's Washington coverage indispensable.