Eyes smiling, bespectacled David Hawkings ’82 is parked in a perfect place mid-summer for a member of the Fourth Estate: in the stands of the history-breaking Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Roughly half his regular “beat” people — Congressional
representatives — are here, but the arena is teeming with
many more thousands of people.
It’s a democratic ritual — small d.
The week before, he covered the tumult at the Republican
National Convention in Cleveland, missing its usual “Teutonic
precision” as political rookie Donald Trump starred, after
winning a spirited primary battle in a crowded field of
governors and senators.
Sporting a bow tie and khakis, Hawkings, 56, can write
home to his wife, Betsy, and two sons that he’s witnessing
Hillary Clinton claim the mantle of standard-bearer after a
long journey. But for now, he will “pound out” deadline daily
journalism for readers — some soaked in the hurly-burly of
Washington politics, others who like to watch from the safer
berth of federal agencies.
For 21 years, he has been an editor at the gentlemanly
Congressional Quarterly; he began writing a column for its
scrappier sibling Roll Call after the two merged in 2009.
Whether it’s Philadelphia or Cleveland, Hillary Clinton or
Donald Trump, Hawkings says, “You look to see whether
delegates come close to embracing the vibe of a nominee.” That’s
it, in a “nut graph,” from the one-time editor of The Bucknellian.
“Political theater is worth watching in person,” Hawkings
says as he surveys the floor scene. At home, he prowls the
halls, tunnels and Speaker’s Lobby of the Capitol and prefers
the noisy, diverse House over the sedate Senate. “The House
is the most fun in the world,” he says. His work remains, in
his words, resolutely nonpartisan and down the middle.
Hawkings’ first rodeo was the 1980 Democratic convention
in New York City, when he was an unpaid intern for The New
York Times. There he heard Sen. Edward Kennedy deliver the
lofty, bittersweet speech known as “The Dream Shall Never
Die.” He was bitten by the political news bug.
On the first day of the Democratic convention, his
expertise shines and surfaces — in timing and delivery.
Hawkings dashes off a neatly put sentence that refers to both
party races: “The dissidents have made way more noise than
the establishment was prepared for,” he writes, meaning vocal
populist supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders and the Republican
As the adage goes, journalism is the rough draft of history
— and so future historians may pore over his lines to fathom
the rough cross-currents of today’s partisanship. Hawkings’
job is to chase and capture the moment at hand, the characters
in front of him and how they play together on stage.
For example, he writes that Senate leaders Mitch McConnell
(R-Ky.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are tensely “ice cold” toward
each other, an often overlooked dynamic. “It’s my tiny way of
contributing to democracy,” Hawkings says, as “a loving critic
of the institution.”
His most memorable moment as a political writer, he s
ays, was seeing Congress rise to work together after the 9/11
attacks occurred. What about right now, when no love’s lost
in the angry House? “I do love it less,” he says evenly.
As he walks out of the convention hall, Hawkings still has
a boyish step — though he’s climbed high on the Hill.
— JAMIE S TIEHM
Jamie Stiehm is a Creators Syndicate columnist on politics and
history. She lives in Washington, D.C.
COVERING HISTORY’S CROSS-CURRENTS
David Hawkings ’82 keeps a nonpartisan eye on the evolving political theater.