Steve died way too early on February 26, 2021 at his home in his newly adopted state of Texas.
We often kidded Steve by introducing him as someone who’d worked on every great failed presidential campaign since George McGovern. He was Jesse Jackson’s delegate coordinator in his historic 1988 race for Democratic Party nomination and a close Jackson advisor until his death.
He also had a savant-like understanding about ground-level politics, recalling district-by-district data in the same way some people know obscure baseball statistics (which Steve also did).
When we were confused about the state of politics, we would phone Steve and make sure we had an hour to listen and take notes. And when we convened election analysis panels or political discussions with our Board, we would often kick them off with Steve because we knew he would have synthesized the results more profoundly and more quickly than anyone else. We all got smarter in his presence.
Steve Cobble analyzing the results of the 2006 election, with IPS Director John Cavanagh (l.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (r.).
Steve also shared his political advice with IPS Board member and Busboys and Poets creator Andy Shallal. “Steve spent endless hours at my dining table talking about campaigning and political strategy when I ran for mayor,” Shallal said. “I was forever grateful for his friendship and advice and I, like so many, will miss him immensely.”
IPS Board member and Nation publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel described Steve this way: “brilliant strategic, gentle, generous, caring — whip smart and modest.”
Steve spent the formative years of his life in the great state of New Mexico, and was incredibly proud of the IPS New Mexico Fellowship. He was a co-author of the IPS visionary 2007 report: “Just Security: An Alternative Foreign Policy Framework.” He embodied the IPS ethos of being equally at ease discussing domestic or foreign policy, and he understood how the two were interlinked.
Steve was among the most decent human beings that any of us at IPS ever met. He possessed one of the highest ratios of smarts-to-humility — so, so smart, and yet so, so humble. That combination of qualities made him a total pleasure to be with. He loved to talk about his family, his teacher wife extraordinaire Molly, his daughters Liz and Julie, and his grandchildren.
On the morning after the 2016 election of President Trump, Steve appeared on a panel in our conference room that was televised by C-Span. After a sobering analysis of the results, he ended on a positive note: “We need the energy and smarts of the millennials. We need their ideas. We need a hopeful vision. The lines are clear and the right is going to fail. They’re going to fail because their ideas don’t make any sense. A better world is possible — however far away it seems this morning.”
Steve’s family has asked that donations in his name be given to help build the endowment of the Institute for Policy Studies New Mexico Fellowship, which brings outstanding young people from New Mexico to IPS for a year of mentorship in public scholarship for social justice. Steve was a New Mexican through and through and wanted others from his home state to have the opportunity to develop their skills to make a better world. You can donate here.