Some things just seem permanent. David Hawpe is one of them.
The announcement of Hawpe's retirement as editorial director of the Louisville Courier-Journal is one of those things that makes you stop so that you can take your bearings in the political landscape. It is political ground moving under your feet, and it changes the landscape drastically.
I have had many public disputes with Hawpe over the years, ever since the great KERA debates of the late 90's, in which I played the role of the little boy, and David played the Emperor's adjutant, insisting that he did, indeed, have clothes. There have been many since then--on education, same-sex marriage, mandatory HPV vaccinations, casino gambling. The list goes on.
In fact, we had a routine going: I would take the right position on an issue, which would goad him into taking the wrong position. He fell for it every time.
David was a genuine liberal, which just means he was a basically good person who assumed that other people--particularly those who run our institutions--must be good too. This is, in fact, the central assumption of modern liberalism: that man is basically good, and that, unless hindered by some societal force extrinsic to him, he will remain so.
This is why most liberals are socialists. They really think that government can and shouldtake care of people's problems. They believe in Christian charity, and they think it can be writ large and implemented by government. The problem is that their belief in this Christian doctrine is not balanced by an offsetting belief in another one: Original Sin.
This is something that most conservatives don't understand: Liberals aren't bad; in fact, they're so good they are a danger to themselves and others.
To those of us who take all the Christian doctrines into account, David was a scourge. But despite how well he dished it out to conservatives over the years, I believe David didn't have a mean bone in his body. Every personal exchange I ever had with him was good-natured, charitable, and good-humored. Whenever I picked up the phone and called him (usually trying to get an op-ed through to him which the CJ spam filter always prevented me from doing), he would say something like, "Martin Cothran! Oh no! What have I done now?" I could just seem him holding his hand up defensively in front of his face to shield himself, and we would proceed to have an amusing conversation about some political topic.
Okay, well, I just realized this whole tribute sounds like a eulogy. David Hawpe is not dead!
But he is retiring.
I don't know what happened. Given the trends in print journalism these days (which are tending toward either complete ruin and total annihilation, take your pick), I guess I just assume that some of the old bulls are being forced out to prevent the bottom line from bottoming out. It certainly isn't because Hawpe has lost any of his edge.
David bestrides an age that saw the power and the glory of the big city newspapers, and that is now seeing their unraveling due to the onslaught of other forms of media. I know that many are welcoming the change, but I am not so sure. There was something to the old pressmen who, whatever their unconscious prejudices, were professionals with a pride in the quality of what they did. There is nothing like it in the Brave New World of the Internet, which has certainly brought about great access to information (by which we are, as Neil Postman put it, "informing ourselves to death"), but it has also brought about increased opportunities for cant, sensationalism, and a lack of manners.
There is something to be said for quality control, even if you have put up with a little liberal censorship into the bargain.
I am told that just over the last ten or fifteen years, as the earth has shifted under their feet (and as staff has been slowly let go), the editorial culture of the CJ has changed dramatically. Where once there were regular meetings of the editorial board, in which issues were hashed out and personalities clashed, there are now only occasional polite discussions, mostly via e-mail.
Looking back from the age of modern instant media to the old one and seeing what has been lost can't be pleasant for those, like Hawpe, who have seen both. David Hawpe left an indelible imprint on both these worlds. And I, for one, will miss him.