The latest offering from conservative humorist P.J. O’Rourke, Don’t Vote — It Just Encourages the Bastards, is a real page turner. You may find yourself staying up way past your bedtime because you just can’t put it down.
That opening blurb may lead one to believe that the former editor of National Lampoon and Rolling Stone world traveler has switched genres and is now writing novels. Not to worry, O’Rourke fans. P.J. is still writing political non-fiction from the laugh-a-minute viewpoint of the libertarian right.
Nevertheless, while reading Don’t Vote, be prepared to turn pages over in dog-eared fashion marking passages you want to refer back to later. And you will stay up at night … not just reading, but also thoughtfully pondering what O’Rourke has written.
Over the past several decades there seems to have been a change in O’Rourke’s writing, or, perhaps more accurately, a change in the topics he has chosen to write about. The youthful stories in Lampoon and Rolling Stone are behind him.
O’Rourke’s move to headier topics has been coming on for a while. His book On The Wealth of Nations is an excellent interpretation of Adam Smith’s 18th-century classic. Similar to this new book, On Wealth should be read with a yellow highlighter in hand. My copy has more marks and highlights in it, than, well, the actual copy of Wealth of Nations that I read in college.
Life-long P.J. fans need not worry. His new book doesn’t get all serious on us. The classic O’Rourke wit is still there.
In explaining the Bill of Rights, O’Rourke states: “The First and Sixth Amendments are straightforward enough, reassuring us that we may pray (OMG!), Twitter, kvetch, and be tried in the same court as O.J. Simpson.”
But, on the whole, O’Rourke’s substance in Don’t Vote is much deeper.
Parliament of Whores
It has been 19 years since P.J. O’Rourke penned Parliament of Whores, his book on American government.
Pull Parliament off the book shelf and dust it off. A quick skim will indicate that it was written at the time when the hot topics included a banking bailout, activism from the ecological elite, a housing crisis and extreme concern about the financial viability of Social Security.
In other words, not much has changed in Washington. What has changed, however, is O’Rourke’s treatment of those topics.
Like so many books on American political thought, O’Rourke begins Don’t Vote with a discussion of freedom, liberty, positive versus negative rights, the nature of man and how all of that relates to the Founders.
You may be surprised to learn that, according to the Gospel of P.J., the Founders chose to follow John Locke over Jean-Jaques Burlamaqui and Samuel von Pufendorf because “Locke” was easier to spell.
Then, O’Rourke goes on to tackle the issues of the day.
Climate change: “There’s not a goddamn thing you can do about it.”
Bailouts: “The advantage of a tax abatement over a stimulus plan is that, instead of idiots in Washington spending your and my money, us idiots get to spend our own.”
Health care: “My suggestion for health care reform is that we skip lunch and quit picking on sick people.”
Gun control: “With the economy being like it is, I call my .38 Special ‘the MasterCard of the future.’”
Interestingly, O’Rourke has his problems with Barry Goldwater, but Don’t Vote follows a similar pattern as Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative … except Don’t Vote is written for a generation who, on occasion, will drop the f-bomb into polite social conversation.
Is P.J. the new Bill Buckley?
The death of William F. Buckley in 2008 left a void in the Conservative movement. He coined the use of a “Capital C” when writing about true Conservatives. Buckley’s command of the language was unmatched. His wit was delightfully wicked.
In Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’Rourke was a humorist who happened to take on the topic of government. Two decades later, he’s a fellow at the Cato Institute with a sense of humor. Readers should embrace the evolution. Conservatives should look to O’Rourke to fill the intellectual void left by the death of Buckley.
In Don’t Vote, O’Rourke has elevated his game to a Buckley-like level. Read it and you’ll elevate your game too.
William F. Buckley once said that “liberals want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.”
If he were still alive, William F. Buckley would relish Don’t Vote. Then, just for grins, he’d probably give it to a liberal.
Rick Robinson is the author of political thrillers which can be purchased on Amazon and at book stores everywhere. His latest novel, Manifest Destiny has won seven writing awards, including Best Fiction at the Paris Book Festival.