Roy Childs once argued that nobody but H.L. Mencken qualifies as truly Menckenian, but that perhaps P.J. O'Rourke comes closest to inheriting the mantle (too many of the other aspirants being mere imitators).
Like Dave Barry, O'Rourke has been labeled a "humorist," but that title trivializes his true calling. What he really is, is a cop. The purveyors of balderdash are the bad guys he does battle with. Common sense and literary ingenuity are his weapons.
Time magazine calls O'Rourke "one of the funniest writers in America." The Wall Street Journal regards him as "the funniest writer alive." And we here at TDO certainly take what the Journal has to say very seriously.
A former editor of National Lampoon, his articles have appeared all over the place, especially Rolling Stone. Appropriately enough, he is a Mencken Fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. (Let's hope there's only one Mencken Fellow at Cato.)
"What is this oozing behemoth, this fibrous tumor, this monster of power and expense hatched from the simple human desire for civic order?" asks O'Rourke in Parliament of Whores. "How did an allegedly free people spawn a vast, rampant cuttlefish of dominion with its tentacles in every orifice of the body politic?"
And he says stuff like this:
"Our government gets more than thugs in a protection racket demand, more even than discarded first wives of famous rich men receive in divorce court. Then this government, swollen and arrogant with pelf, goes butting into our business. It checks the amount of tropical oils in our snack foods, tells us what kind of gasoline we can buy for our cars and how fast we can drive them, bosses us around about retirement, education and what's on TV; counts our noses and asks fresh questions about who's still living at home and how many bathrooms we have; decides whether the door to our office or shop should have steps or a wheelchair ramp; decrees the gender and complexion of the people to be hired there; lectures us on safe sex; dictates what we can sniff, smoke and swallow; and waylays young men, ships them to distant places and tells them to shoot people they don't even know."
"The government is huge, stupid, greedy and makes nosy, officious and dangerous intrusions into the smallest corners of life—this much we can stand. But the real problem is that government is boring."
In his review of Parliament of Whores, Roy observed that, "Oddly enough, it is courage that seems to be at the heart of this book; humor seems to endow us with it, or at least to endow P. J. O'Rourke with it. He deflates the pompous pretensions emanating from Washington; he pierces the odorous balloons of self-importance and self-deception; he clears the air of political pollutants."
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10 Apr 2009