September 20, 2009


PJ O'Rourke: a hellraiser who had to slow down: PJ O'Rourke, America's favourite living wit, talks to Philip Sherwell about drugs, cars and his recent brush with cancer (Philip Sherwell, 20 Sep 2009, Daily Telegraph)

As a fervent foe of “big government”, he reluctantly accepts the need for the bank bail-out to prevent the entire financial system grinding to a halt. But he has no truck with the attempt to keep afloat the motor industry, most notably General Motors. “Saving GM was folly,” he says. “Millions of investors around the world were looking at GM and all agreed it was worthless. Then a guy who’s a lawyer with an Ivy League liberal arts education [Obama] comes along and tells me that my tax dollars are going to bail out GM. If I had wanted to own part of GM, I’d have a stockbroker.”

He looks across the Atlantic for evidence of where this policy will lead. “We have the British motor industry as a role model for what happens when you try to save an industrial dinosaur. Britain was the first country to industrialise and the first to de-industrialise. We should learn from this.” [...]

O’Rourke and his friends did much to shape modern political satire at National Lampoon. Surveying the impact three decades later, he notes: “We may have fostered it a little too well as I’m told now that a majority of young people get their news from The Daily Show [a topical comedy programme]. Or maybe I’m just jealous as there’s only room for so much humour, so my share might be reduced.”

Still, he criticises the smugness and self-importance that he feels has crept into some political satire – not surprisingly, a trait he sees more on the Left than on the Right. “It does not do for a political humourist to be smug. We’re not offering policy alternatives; we’re pointing out political absurdities. We’re the ones switching on the kitchen lights and watching the cockroaches scamper. But we’re not going in there to stamp on them. That shouldn’t be our role.”

His slew of witty one-liners has earned him the status of the most quoted living writer in The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations. “Note the emphasis on the living. The moment I die, I’ll drop way down the list.”

As for his own favourite, he opts for an observation he made in 1993 that is enjoying a new lease of life today: “If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free,” he famously opined at a gala dinner for the libertarian Cato Institute as the then First Lady Hillary Clinton pursued her doomed efforts to reform the health care system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 20, 2009 6:53 AM
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