A Night of Jokes, Politics Aside

At the OPC Book Night for P.J. O’Rourke‘s latest book, Don’t Vote: It Only Encourages the Bastards, Christopher Buckley asked O’Rourke about his political evolution, from a bong-toking hippie in the early 1970s to a McCain voter in 2008. He said it happened over time, seeing the amount of taxes taken out of his pay check and meeting a former member of the Weather Underground who was terrified of the group.

Buckley opened the event held at Club Quarters on Monday, September 27, stating that this latest book is O’Rourke’s fourteenth book. “I hate PJ,” Buckley said with joking envy. “He is one of the few authors of whom I have read all of his books. Would that I could make this same claim about Tolstoy and Shakespeare.”

The titles to O’Rourke’s oeuvre do provide a glimpse at the tone and political persuasion of who The Wall Street Journal dubbed “the funniest man in America”: Parliament of Whores, Give War a Chance, Eat the Rich, Peace Kills and now Don’t Vote: It Only Encourages the Bastards. “I can now honestly state, that this is his best yet,” Buckley said. “It’s high-octane stuff, like his Porche 911.” Buckley said that O’Rourke is not merely funny, he is erudite, deeply read and a sharp analytical thinker. “P.J. has a gift of making his insights sound funny and that is no mean fete. He has more entries in The Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations than any other living American author.”

O’Rourke gave the crowd a “micro reading” of his book starting with the aforementioned chapter with the untoward title. He’s developed a new theory of political science, because a book based on “throw the bums out” would only be a few pages. “Instead of basing my theory on the big thinkers, John Locke, Tom Paine and John Stewart Mill,” O’Rourke said. “I’m basing my theory on a stupid game played by teenager girls during all-night giggle sessions at sleepovers, which my wife told me about. To put it politely, ‘Kill/Boff/Marry.’”

In the game, girls have to decide which three boys to kill, hook up with and marry. O’Rourke had his eureka moment during his wife’s explanation: “Wait a minute,” he said. “That’s politics! Instead of dates, think about candidates. It’s an excellent analytical tool.”

Here’s how the game works in action: Government entities: kill postal service, get in bed with FEMA, marry the armed forces. Government policies: screw farm subsidies, marry social security, health care reform kills us. And presidential races: “Take for example the 1992 race: kill Ross Perot. Hardly avoid a boff from Bill Clinton. And marry George H.W. Bush. But the outcome of that particular game is not a foregone conclusion,” O’Rouke said. “Witness our mysterious elopement with Clinton instead of our walk down the aisle with George H.W.” Now for 2000, people of good will were evenly divided about going to bed with Gore or get married to George W. Bush, though I think we all agreed to kill Ralph Nader. Power, freedom, responsibility: kill, boff, marry.”

O’Rourke was asked about the Tea Party movement and he’d recently written an article for World Affairs titled: “Innocence Abroad: The Tea Party’s Search for Foreign Policy.” He said that the article was difficult to write on two counts: there is no Tea Party foreign policy and there is no Tea Party.

“I have spent time with people of the tea party-ish inclination,” he said. “Like many populists groups, these people are not terribly articulate and many of their ideas are still inchoate. However, they grasp the ‘gimme rights’ or as political scientists like to say ‘positive rights.’ Tea Party supporters are well aware that an expansion of ‘positive rights’ beyond what’s wise, certainly beyond what we can afford, is a central problem in our politics and are willing to face that problem.”

He said that if some Tea Party candidates are elected in the upcoming mid-term election they’ll be tested to see if they actually have the courage to do something about the quagmire of “positive rights.” “It will be a sacrifice for all of us in order to contract positive rights,” O’Rourke said. “But most politicians refuse to acknowledge that just the quantitative size of positive rights in our system is a serious burden, so you have to give the Tea Party some credit for looking at a political problem that doesn’t actually affect their daily life. They’re angry about certain abstract principles and trends and that is civic engagement.”

Politics wasn’t the only evolution he spoke about. He lamented that since the dawn of the Internet, he’s gone from being a writer to being a “content provider.”

“I realize the other day I no longer work for a magazine that makes a profit. This internet thing is horrible,” O’Rourke said. “What’s horrible about it is that it sends a message that content is free. For 40 years I was a writer, now I am a content provider. Content is free. This sucks. When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone was it going to be free? Was Henry Ford making cars for free? Why is the internet free? Because it was invented by the military and academics, in other words, by fascists and communists. Somebody’s got to unfree this thing immediately.”

Some attendees wore campaign buttons to toast O’Rourke’s book. The OPC displayed its own framed campaign buttons from the presidential campaign of 1896 (free silver) to the Humphrey/Muskie ticket in 1968- a span of 72 years.

Watch more videos of Buckley’s introduction and O’Rourke talk about the current state of media, the Tea Party and how schools should be sold, at www.youtube.com/opcofamerica