Columnist: Reverse Images

Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty was right in claiming that he faced a “vicious racist campaign” in his drive for re-election against City Councilman Thomas Bradley. The proof, quipped San Francisco Chronicle Columnist Arthur Hoppe, was the fact that Bradley made “a blatant appeal for the Negro vote.”

Though race was never mentioned, Bradley’s technique was all too clear: “In every single newspaper photograph, in every single television appearance during this bitter campaign, Mr. Bradley has managed openly and brazenly to look like a Negro.”

With that kind of touch, the Chronicle’s Hoppe (pronounced Hoppy) has needled his way into the top ranks of U.S. newspaper humorists. Although a shade less consistent than the Washington Post’s Art Buchwald, Hoppe at his best is unbeatable. His special talent is to hold a mirror to life and let the reverse image reflect the absurdity of it all. Gentle and easygoing, Hoppe, 44, disarms his prey with kindness and smothers it with laughter.

Nancy and I. Hoppe chides California for parochial pretentiousness. According to Hoppe, when the great earthquake finally comes, the rest of the nation, rather than California, will slip into the sea. That will permit “President Reagan” to express his grief: “California has always depended on the rest of the U.S. for counsel in times of peace and strength in times of war. Nancy and I join with our people in mourning this great loss to our nation.”

Viet Nam is another Hoppe target. He writes that “in the 43rd year of our lightning campaign to wipe the dread Viet-Narian guerrillas out of West Vhtnnng,” there was movement in Paris. After sitting at the same peace table with him for ten years, the lady representative of the guerrillas finally decided to recognize the enemy representative. Her historic words: “Hi there, General Hoo Dat Don Dar.” But, laments Hoppe, “as the American and East Vhtnnngian negotiators cheered, waved flags and clapped each other on the back, General Hoo looked at her coolly. ‘And who,’ he said, ‘are you?’ So the war continued for 27 more years.”

Half Don’t. By Hoppe’s count, the nation is now waging 174 wars, including those against “pollution, smog, hunger, smut, poverty, the Vietnamese and middle-aged sag” — and is developing a defeatist attitude because it is losing them all. He claims that “the doves” have even taken over the war on poverty and this means that “Mr. Nixon has clearly given up any hope of winning.”

Hoppe’s greatest coup has been his discovery of “the perfect solution to absolutely everything” (which is also the title of a 1968 book of his best columns). His cure-all is “total birth control — it will solve all our problems in a single generation.” His motto: “Think of the Generation Yet Unborn—Let’s Keep Them That Way.” The trouble now, argues Hoppe, is that “we all worry about the population explosion —but we don’t worry about it at the right time.” He doesn’t have much faith in birth-control pills, but was intrigued by an experimental pill for males that had only one drawback: it caused men’s eyeballs to turn red if they drank alcohol. “I mean, there you are, an attractive young lady. You walk into a cocktail party crowded with handsome young bachelors. Half have red eyeballs, half don’t. Which . . . well, we’d soon separate the ladies from the girls.”

Born in Hawaii, Hoppe grew up in San Francisco, earned a Harvard liberal arts degree in 1949, then joined the Chronicle as a copy boy. He has been married to his childhood sweetheart for 23 years, likes to cruise with his wife and four children on their three “yachts” —two eight-foot sailboats and a 14-footer. His column now appears in 100 newspapers, and he is embarrassed by how easily he can pick up an extra $1,100 any time he gives a lecture. Hoppe gets his ideas for five columns a week, he says, by “reading through the paper until I come to an item that I don’t understand—then I explain it to everybody. That’s how David Lawrence and the rest of us columnists always work.”

Hoppe may seem overly critical of society, yet he remains an optimist. As he looks ahead, he predicts that by 1976 the welfare state will have met most human needs through “medicare, denticare, judicare, menticare and ped-icare.” And then Actor Rock Hunter will run for the presidency by advocating “the greatest welfare program of them all.” From coast to coast, Hunter will thunder: “Do you realize that two-thirds of our nation goes to bed each night ill-content, underloved and alone?” Hunter’s answer: “Sexicare.”

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