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Parliament of Whores : A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government ()

Orrin's All-Time Top Ten (or twelve) List - Political

    To those who think life is a comedy.
    To those who feel life is a tragedy.
        -Horace Walpole

    Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boy.
        -Parliament of Whores

Humor and conservatism go hand in hand.  Firstly, conservatives are just a bunch of fat self-satisfied louts anyway, exactly the kind of people who find the misfortunes of others hilarious.  Second, humor, which cuts people down to size, puncturing their presumptions, and humbling them, fits in perfectly with the conservative understanding of Man's relative insignificance, and men's incompetence.  It is precisely because we are all a load of bumbling fools that we should not allow one group of dolts to dictate to the rest.  Only liberals, who believe in the infinite capacity of their own minds to determine solutions to problems and implement them effectively, have the temerity to suggest that person A should, or can, make decisions for persons B, C, & D.  They are all earnestness and credulity, while we are all skepticism.

Which brings us to the second general objection, that there are no conservative wits.  Asked to name a few, here's the list I came up with off the top of my head :  Mark Twain, H. L. Mencken, Calvin Coolidge, P. G. Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, Winston Churchill, W. C. Fields, E. B. White, James Thurber, Bob Hope, Frank Capra, Jean Shepherd, Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, Christopher Buckley, P. J. O'Rourke, Joe Queenan, Andrew Ferguson, etc.  Though it's not uniformly true, it is generally so, that most of these men derived much of their material from looking askance at government.  And here we see why it is that there are so many more funny conservatives than liberals : liberals are basically cut off from that rich source of material.  Imagine that liberals and conservatives are "playing the dozens," should the liberal point out the truly comic waste at the Defense Department, the conservative will be more than happy to concede the point, after all, the military is just another branch of government, and to acknowledge the general incompetence of government.  Suppose our imaginary liberal comic decries the inequities of the tax code; fine--we agree--scrap it.  And so on.  Therefore, they've ceded this territory to conservatives, who have proceeded to do much with it.

Among the current crop of humorists, P. J. O'Rourke is one of the very best.  Though it must be acknowledged that he's operating in a target rich environment, his stories of government stupidity, overreach, waste, and arrogance are truly funny.  He's pretty much a libertarian, though made uncomfortable by many of the social behaviors that it would allow and overly enamored of the armed forces, so he's just as likely to light out after stupid Republican ideas as he is to castigate Democrats. Parliament of Whores finds him in the perfect position to flail both, as he follows George Bush the elder to Washington in 1989, and sets out to examine the entire U. S. government.

Unsuspecting readers may assume that O'Rourke is just going to snidely lambaste bureaucrats, politicians, institutions, and government generally, but that assumption really underestimates him.  He's after much bigger game, as he reveals in the title of the book :

    Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy, the whores are us.

The various government employees and elected officials actually come out looking pretty good.  As portrayed by O'Rourke, they seem for the most part to be genuinely dedicated to their work and trying to do the best they can.  It is the American people who come out of this looking pretty awful.  Time and again, as he shows how useless, wasteful, and outrageously expensive the myriad government programs are, O'Rourke also makes it clear that they exist, and exist at such bloated sizes, because they have constituencies.  And those constituencies are not the easily caricatured and vilified underclass, they are more often the regular work-a-day middle classes.  You don't end up with a government as elephantine as ours unless those folks, we folks, in the broad middle have a huge appetite for government services.

In what I think is the best chapter in the book, "Protectors of a Blameless Citizenry," O'Rourke tracks a terrific example of this : the demand for government investigation of sudden-acceleration incidents (SAIs).  If you recall the hysteria, this was the allegation that some vehicles, when you were just parked innocently in your garage, would suddenly lurch forward into a garage wall.  Any objective observer could have taken one look at these SAIs and figured out that they were merely episodes where people shifted into Drive without their foot on the brake, or stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brake.  But to draw such a conclusion would have meant blaming people, blaming taxpayers, blaming voters, for their own carelessness and stupidity, and that would be intolerable.  Instead, it has become the particular duty of government to absolve us of blame for such manifestations of our own ineptitude, recklessness, and stupidity.

P.J. O'Rourke is a national treasure, if for no other reason than this willingness to hold us all up to well deserved ridicule.  The troubling question that he raises in this book, one which Alexis de Tocqueville made in rather more measured tones in Democracy in America, is whether democracy is ultimately doomed by this very phenomenon, of the citizenry trying to avoid responsibility for their own lives.  Once the people in a democracy realize that they can simply blame others for all of the problems in their lives, even those of their own making, the democracy is morally doomed.  And worse, as Alexander Tytler said some 200 years ago, in a quote that O'Rourke cites :

    A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government.  It can only exist until a majority of
    voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse out of the public treasury.

Surely, this combination of unwillingness to accept responsibility and eagerness to accept unearned wealth must eventually banrupt a nation, financially and morally.

By all means read this book for the belly laughs it contains, but for goodness sake be cognizant of the broader political message, to paraphrase Pogo : we have met the whores, and they is us.


Grade: (A)


P.J. O'Rourke Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: P.J. O'Rourke
    -ESSAY: Ferrari Reinvents Manifest Destiny: P.J. O'Rourke Drives Cross-Country in a Ferrari 308GTS: We remember the late satirist and essayist, who died this week, by republishing this classic story from 1980 in which he streaks westward in a blood-red 308GTS. (P.J. O'ROURKE, FEB 16, 2022, Car & Driver)
    -VIDEO DISCUSSION: What’s So Funny about Corona, Politics, the Media, and the Culture? Andrew Ferguson and P.J O'Rourke (Peter Robinson, May 1, 2020, Uncommon Knowledge)
    -OBIT: P.J. O’Rourke Wrote With High, Cranky Style in a Shrinking Tradition: O’Rourke, who died on Tuesday at 74, was a sharp-toothed satirist whose conservatism wasn’t doctrinaire. (Dwight Garner, Feb. 16, 2022, NY Times)
    -TRIBUTE: P. J. O'Rourke, 1947-2022: Brilliant writer, beautiful soul (Matt Labash, 2/18/22, Slack Tide)
    -TRIBUTE: The Great P.J. O’Rourke: P.J. O'Rourke, 1947-2022 (Matthew Continetti • February 18, 2022, Free Beacon)
    -TRIBUTE: There will never be another P.J. O'Rourke: Generations of conservative writers have come and gone trying to match his impossible standard (Christian Schneider, 2/18/22, Anti-Knowledge)
    -TRIBUTE: How P.J. O’Rourke Became Republican: Over the years, I watched a fast-driving Maoist turn into his own kind of conservative icon (GLENN GARVIN, 02/19/2022, Politico)
    -TRIBUTE: PJ O’Rourke—A Tribute (Charles Murray, 16 Feb 2022, Quillette)
    -TRIBUTE: P.J. O’Rourke, a conservative of enjoyment: The legendary satirist hearkened back to a day when the right knew how to smile (William Murchison, February 16, 2022, The Spectator)
    -TRIBUTE: P. J. O'Rourke, 1947-2022: Brilliant writer, beautiful soul (Matt Labash, Feb 17, 2022, Slack Tide)
    -OBIT: P.J. O’Rourke, Conservative Political Satirist, Dies at 74: In articles, in best sellers and as a talk show regular he was a voice from the right skewering whatever in government or culture he thought needed it. (NY Times, 2/15/22)
    -OBIT: P.J. O’Rourke, irreverent author and commentator, dies at 74 : His writing style suggested a cross between the hedonism of Hunter S. Thompson and the patrician mockery of Tom Wolfe. (AP, 2/15/22)
    -OBIT: Satirist P.J. O'Rourke, panelist on NPR's 'Wait...Wait Don't Tell Me,' dies at 74: Elizabeth Blair, 2/15/22, NPR)
    -OBIT: PJ O’Rourke, writer and humorist, dies aged 74 (The Guardian, 2/15/22)
    -TRIBUTE: P.J. O’Rourke: the finest satirist of his generation (Stephen Daisley, 16 February 2022, The Spectator)
-TRIBUTE: P. J. O’Rourke, RIP (David Boaz, 2/15/22, Cato)
    -TRIBUTE: R.I.P., P. J. O’Rourke (DAVID HARSANYI, February 15, 2022, National Review)
    -TRIBUTE: Why Writers Loved P.J. O’Rourke: His greatness, his goodness. (JONATHAN V. LAST, FEBRUARY 15, 2022, The DBulwark)
    -TRIBUTE: P.J. O’Rourke mastered the art of teasing: The late great satirist chose pleasant ribbing over contempt, and made us all laugh along the way (Teresa Mull, February 16, 2022, The Spectator)
    -TRIBUTE: The immortal PJ O’Rourke: He made us laugh and think in ways we never thought possible. (Simon Evans, 2/16/22, spiked!)
    -TRIBUTE: Last laugh: Intellectual wits like P J O’Rourke are rare birds these days (Tim Dawson, 2/23/22, The Critic)
    -TRIBUTE: P.J. O’Rourke Taught Me How ‘Unfairly’ Great American Life Is (John Tamny, February 23, 2022, AIER)
    -TRIBUTE: P.J. O’Rourke was America’s greatest satirist and coolest conservative (John Podhoretz, February 15, 2022, NY Post)
    -TRIBUTE: Comedy Is Liberty: It’s sad P.J. O’Rourke is gone but funny when conservatives are anarchic. (Todd Seavey, 2/21/22, Splice Today)
-ARCHIVES: PJ O'Rourke (The Weekly Standard)
    -ARCHIVES: The Best Of P.J. O’Rourke In Forbes

ORIGINAL LINKS:     -PJ O'Rourke Web Site
    -Cato Institute
    -American Spectator
    -Weekly Standard
    -Rolling Stone
    -EXCERPT : Chapter One of Eat the Rich
    -ESSAY : Squishier than thou : Demonstrating against reality in London and Washington (P. J. O'Rourke, The Atlantic Monthly | December 2001)
    -ESSAY : We'll Run this Planet as We Please : And if you don't like it, go back where we came from (PJ O'Rourke, August 25, 2001, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY : Stupidity in the Golden State (PJ O'Rourke, June 2001, Daily Oklahoman)
    -ESSAY : Bill Clinton and His Consequences (P.J. O'Rourke, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY : Who The Heck Are These People? (P.J. O'Rourke, Forbes FYI, 03.05.01)
    -ESSAY : 100 Reasons Why Jimmy Carter Was a Better President Than Bill Clinton (P.J. O'Rourke
The American Spectator, September 1993)
    -ESSAY : Why I am a Republican (P.J. O'Rourke)
    -ESSAY : No Fiscal Conservatives Here (P.J. O'ROURKE, NY Times, February 17, 2000)
    -ESSAY : The Liberty Manifesto (P. J. O'Rourke,
    -ESSAY : A Message to Redistributionists (P. J. O'Rourke, Cato Institute)
    -ESSAY : Democrats Are The Bad Guys (P.J. O'Rourke, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY : A New Birth of Hypocrisy (P.J. O'Rourke, The Weekly Standard, March 1, 1999)
    -ESSAY : How to Explain Conservatism to Your Squishy Liberal Friends: Individualism 'R' Us
(P. J. O'Rourke)
    -ESSAY : An Open Letter to the Other Party. "Dear Democrats..."  (P.J. O'Rourke, The Weekly Standard, 08/21/2000)
    -ESSAY : Catching the Greased Pig (P.J. O'Rourke, The Weekly Standard, February 2, 1998)
    -ESSAY : Welcome Delegates! To Your Democratic National Convention (P.J. O'Rourke,, 08/13/2000)
    -ESSAY : Putting the Moi Back in Memoir (P. J. O'Rourke, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY : My Fellow Americans . . .; All My Priorities (P. J. O'Rourke, NY Times)
(P. J. O'Rourke, NY Times)
    -LECTURE : Closing the Wealth Gap (P.J. O'Rourke, June 1997 Cato conference in Shanghai, China)
    -REVIEW : of A Man in Full (PJ O'Rourke, Policy Review)
    -REVIEW : of WHY NOT ME? The Inside Story of the Making and Unmaking of the Franken Presidency. By Al Franken (P. J. O'Rourke, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Guidelines for Bias-Free Writing, by Marilyn Schwartz and the Task Force on Bias-Free Language of the Association of American University Presses (P.J. O'Rourke, The American Spectator August, 1995)
    -REVIEW : of L.A.WOMAN By Eve Babitz (P. J. O'Rourke, NY Times Book Review)
    -AUDIO : P. J. O'Rourke (Salon)
    -BOOKNOTES : Author: P.J. O'Rourke Title: Eat the Rich  Air date: January 3, 1999 (C-SPAN)
    -DISCUSSION : Live with TAE : Two men who represent different generations and different branches of conservative thought find they have a lot in common : Robert Bork & P.J. O'Rourke (The American Enterprise Institute)
    -DISCUSSION : 1997 The Year in Review (P. J. OíROURKE, CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, KATE OíBEIRNE,The American Enterprise Institute)
    -DEBATE : WHERE THERE'S SMOKE THERE'S P.J. O'ROURKE Churchillian oratory -- American style -- from the Oxford Union (P.J. O'Rourke)
    -INTERVIEW : with P. J. O'Rourke (Chris Wood, Pure Fiction)
    -INTERVIEW : P.J. O'Rourke talks politics (JIM SLOTEK, Toronto Sun)
    -INTERVIEW : P.J. O'Rourke ... a Q&A  (December 18, 1998, London Observer Service)
    -The Unofficial PJ O'Rourke Homepage
    -PROFILE : Laughing at Big Government, and Crying, Too (Richard Bernstein, NY Times, 1991)
    -PROFILE : P. J. O'Rourke : The Laughing Libertarian (Alysse Minkoff, Cigar Afficianado)
    -ARTICLE : At American Spectator, A Firing Offense (Howard Kurtz , The Washington Post, October 20, 1997)
    -REVIEW : of ALL THE TROUBLE IN THE WORLD The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty (Florence King, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of All the Troubles in the World (Eugene Linden, TIME)
    -REVIEW : of PARLIAMENT OF WHORES A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government. By P. J. O'Rourke (Signe Wilkinson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of GIVE WAR A CHANCE Eyewitness Accounts of Mankind's Struggle Against Tyranny, Injustice and Alcohol-Free Beer. By P. J. O'Rourke (1992) (Terry Teachout, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of HOLIDAYS IN HELL By P. J. O'Rourke (1989) (Tom Ferrell, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of REPUBLICAN PARTY REPTILE Essays And Outrages. By P. J. O'Rourke (1987) (Lewis Burke Frumke, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of EAT THE RICH By P.J. O'Rourke (1998) (Peter Passell, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Eat the Rich  Readers Digest (Gary Marshall, Spike)
    -REVIEW : of Eat the Rich (JIM SLOTEK -- Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW : of Eat the Rich , By P.J. O'Rourke (Diane Hartman, Denver Post)
    -REVIEW : of John Preston reviews The CEO of the Sofa by P J O'Rourke (booksonline)
    -REVIEW : of CEO of the Couch by PJ O'Rourke (Griff Witte, The Denver Post)
    -REVIEW: of Cry from the Far Middle: Dispatches from a Divided Land, by P.J. O’Rourke (Jonathon Van Maren, American Conservative)

    -ESSAY: The real American model: A dynamic free market? No. America's economy is about massive public subsidy of the middle class. The lesson for the world? Don't copy it. (James Galbraith, OpenDemocracy)
    -ESSAY : The Mirth of a Nation : Black Comedy's Reactionary Hipness (Justin Driver, New Republic)
    -ESSAY : Kristol's Ball : William Kristol's feisty Weekly Standard urges on the GOP Revolution (DAN KENNEDY, Salon)
    -ESSAY : The Death of Libertarian Outrage  (Timothy Sandefur, Laissez Faire City Times)
    -Laissez Faire City Times

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