Wednesday, January 31, 2007

P. J. O'Rourke Revisited

In his 2001 book "The CEO of the Sofa", humorist P. J. O’Rourke takes aim at two of his favorite targets: socialism and liberalism. According to O’Rourke, next to fascism and communism, these two "isms" are the silliest political philosophies extant insofar as they prescribe government intervention for the commonweal.

Given that much of the 20th century was guided by socialism and liberalism, O’Rourke had lots to satirize and ridicule. Well now it’s my turn. Since Mr. O’Rourke took his shots at the political left in 2001, there have been six years of his favorite styles of governance: plutocracy and neo-conservatism. I wonder how that turned out.

If you’re an average American, ask yourself how George W. Bush’s compassionate conservatism has worked out for you. I bet the trickle down effect from all those tax cuts for the wealthy has already kicked in, right?

Yeah, I didn’t think so. You see, if you put neo-conservatives in power, it’s like handing your teenage son a case of beer and the keys to the car and telling him to have a good time. Neo-cons talk a good tale in opposition but become unrestrained, irresponsible ideologues when in power.

As I recall the turn of the millennium, things were pretty good. Healthy economy, annual surpluses, social stability. "What the heck happened?" you’re probably asking. Well, as the kids today might put it: "Bush happens."

It’s not as if we didn’t have warnings. The Reagan years provided ample evidence that neo-conservatives shouldn’t be left home alone. Eight years of "Morning in America" may have superficially felt good with the avuncular Mr. Reagan in charge. But it turns out that old Uncle Ronnie was up to no good. By the end of his sunny reign, the country had been devastated by Iran-Contra, the Savings and Loan scandal and a tripling of the national debt.

That’s right; a tripling of the national debt. Brought to you by the folks who condemn Democrats as tax and spend liberals. Some think it ironic that it took a Democratic administration to clean up the mess and restore the government books to a surplus position. But there’s no irony in that, just history.

If you want a fiscally responsible government, your better bet is to go with the Democrats. They may not be the greatest administrators in the world but, even at their worst, they’ll take longer to piss your money away than the Republicans.

And with the Democrats, at least at the end of the day, you’ve probably got a little something to show for your money. But with the Republicans at the wheel, when the ride is over, the interior’s trashed, the stereo’s stolen and the engine’s blown. And worst of all, they forgot to renew the insurance.

Contrary to the ardent belief of the neo-cons, liberals don’t want to kill capitalism. It’s just that if you have big business, you need big government to keep it in check.

Big business is kind of like a nineteen-year old frat boy at a kegger. It has no conscience, no sense of social responsibility and no long term view. All it cares about is generating higher profits and CEO salaries - the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll of the corporate world. Beyond that, who cares?

And that same philosophy is evident in big business’s political apologists. Cut taxes for the wealthy today and don’t worry about debt and deficits. Invade Iraq now, get rid of Saddam Hussein and don’t give a thought to what happens next. Cut regulatory spending to the bone and forget about long term consequences like post-hurricane flooding, global warming and e-coli outbreaks.

This myopic governance is ironic for another reason. For if neo-conservatives actually sat down and applied economic fundamentals to governing, they’d likely become neo-liberals.

Time and again, studies have shown that a dollar spent now on such things as health, education and welfare for the poor will save three, four or five dollars in the future. Spend a buck today on an inner city school or clinic and you’ll avoid forking out many more dollars ten or twenty years from now on additional police and bigger prisons.

You’d think that such a hefty return on the dollar would have neo-con capitalists lining up to support poverty assistance programs. But unless they can see results in the next ninety days, they’d rather spend the big bucks years down the road.

In the fable of the ant and the grasshopper, Republicans would have you believe that liberals play the role of the free-spending, unproductive grasshopper. But neo-cons are, in fact, the ones who don’t plan for winter, much less the next quarter.

P. J. O’Rourke is undoubtedly a funny man. However, looking back at his words of six years ago, it’s hard to fathom that he actually believed all the nonsense he wrote. Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. But the sad fact remains that his misguided wit was, in some small way, partly responsible for the election of George W. Bush and the resulting national nightmare.

Now I’d like to have some fun and play the role of a liberal P. J. O’Rourke. But given the mess his boy has created, there’s really no time for that. If we’re going to clean it up, it’s going to take all hands on deck working around the clock to restore America to its former greatness.

So what do you say, Mr. O’Rourke? We’ve only got two more years to ensure a Democrat gets back in The White House. Apology accepted and let’s get to work.

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