Wednesday, November 12, 2008

P.J. O'Rourke's Nostalgic Nihilism

P.J. O'Rourke can certainly turn a witty phrase, but wit can sometimes cut so deeply and so thoroughly that it reduces to sheer nihilism.

If I read him correctly -- and I did try -- his wish is for the Wide Stance party to trade platforms with the Libertarian party, but do so in some unspecified manner that steers clear of the difficult business of trading constituencies. The Libertarian party has roughly 312 dedicated members, mostly fraternity guys who just read some Ayn Rand, whereas the Republican party has membership in the millions. I would be loath to understate the GOP flock's ability to miss the blindingly obvious, but I suspect they'd eventually notice that while their shiny new Libertarian platform brays eloquently about the damnable injustice of paying taxes, it neglects to impose the Christian Sparta that so enlivens their daydreams, nor does it provide for glorious and permanent debt-funded war on the oil-endowed nations of the earth.

His take on conservatism is quaint:

Sensible adults are conservative in most aspects of their private lives. If this weren't so, imagine driving on I-95: The majority of drivers are drunk, stoned, making out, or watching TV, while the rest are trying to calculate the size of their carbon footprints on the backs of Whole Foods receipts while negotiating lane changes.

People are even more conservative if they have children. Nobody with kids is a liberal, except maybe one pothead in Marin County. Everybody wants his or her children to respect freedom, exercise responsibility, be honest, get educated, have opportunities, and own a bunch of guns.
American conservatism amounts to nothing more than careful driving and raising good kids? Who knew? But he gives the game away by mocking the idea of a carbon footprint; American conservatism is also, he admits, a willful insoucience about anything not presently easing one's commute.

The bomb-throwing nostalgia continues:
Agriculture is a business that has been up to its bib overalls in politics since the first Thanksgiving dinner kickback to the Indians for subsidizing Pilgrim maize production with fish head fertilizer grants. But never, since the Mayflower knocked the rock in Plymouth, has anything as putrid as the Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act of 2008 been spread upon the land. Just the name says it. There are no farms left. Not like the one grampa grew up on.

A "farm" today means 100,000 chickens in a space the size of a Motel 6 shower stall. If we cared anything about "nutrition" we would--to judge by the mountainous, jiggling flab of Americans--stop growing all food immediately.
I enjoy the chicken comment, but does O'Rourke see farming as an enterprise worthy of keeping around or not? Does he like or dislike the fact that it was dependent on community support at least as far back as the Pilgrims? Does he want the 100,000 chickens crammed in a small space or doesn't he?

I get that O'Rourke is a Republican who wants to smoke pot -- while, apparently, shaming others for smoking pot while, for a third juggled thought, insisting on "respecting freedom" -- but try as I might, I don't know what to make of his prescription for getting the Wide Stance out of its current malaise. Not that I particularly want him or anyone else to find one.


Sheldon said...

Ok, so this is my take on trying to make sense O'Rourke. He really wants to make arguments to support his rabid right-wing ideology, but he doesn't want be challenged with counter-arguments that he might have to respond to. So to do this he throws in a ton of satire and silliness so he can easily shift the grounds of debate against those who try to argue against what they think he is serious about. He can then mock his critics as too uptight and not sophisticated enough to know when he is "just kidding". Its really quite brilliant rhetoric in the service of stupidity.

Dale said...

Sheldon, well said. I think you have him exactly right.

I don't hate PJO'R -- he's at least charming and funny -- but jeez. He lacks a certain ... rigor.

If more right wingers were like him, conservatism would still be just as dumb but it would be a little easier to put up with.