P.J. O'Rourke's Advice? 'Don't Vote'

The very title of P.J. O'Rourke's new book will anger some people. Just wait until they actually read it. Host Scott Simon speaks with the author and humorist about Don't Vote, which looks at what O'Rourke considers to be the excesses of government.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The very title of P.J. O'Rourke's new book will anger some people. Well, wait until they actually read it. Mr. O'Rourke's new book is called "Don't Vote." P.J. O'Rourke, of course, is an author, satirist and humorist. He's also a fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. He writes regularly for the Atlantic and the Weekly Standard, and has written numerous best-sellers, including "Give War a Chance" and "Parliament of Horrors." He's also a regular panelist on NPR's WAIT WAIT DON'T TELL ME, and is reportedly the most quoted living man in "The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations." P.J. O'Rourke joins us from New York. Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. P.J. O'ROURKE (Author): Well, thank you for having me on the air.

SIMON: Could I get you to read the whole chapter on climate change?

Mr. O'ROURKE: And folks, this won't take long. Climate change: There's not a damn thing you can do about it. Maybe climate change is a threat, and maybe climate change has been tarted up by climatologists trolling for research grant cash. It doesn't matter. There are 1.3 billion people in China, and they all want a Buick.

Actually, if you go more than a mile or two outside China's big cities, the wants are more basic. People want a hot plate, and a piece of methane-emitting cow to cook on it. They want a carbon-belching moped, and some CO2 disgorging heat in their houses in the winter. And air conditioning wouldn't be considered an imposition if you've ever been to China in the summer.

Now, I want you to dress yourself in sturdy clothing, and arm yourself however you like - a stiff shot of gin would be my recommendation - and I want you to go tell 1.3 billion Chinese that they can never have a Buick. Then, assuming the Sierra Club helicopter has rescued you in time, I want you to go tell a billion people in India the same thing.

SIMON: P.J. O'Rourke reading from his new book, "Don't Vote."

Chapter after chapter, you enumerate ways in which you think there's just too much government. Is that fair to say?

Mr. O'ROURKE: Yes, I think it is, and it isn't really that I'm criticizing, you know, saying that there's too much government because Medicare's too expensive -or too much government because of Social Security or welfare. It's simply a quantitative thing. If you ask the government to solve all of your problems, it's a bit like asking your wife to cook and clean, to raise the children, to hold down a second job to help with the family finances, to keep her parents happy and well and keep your parents happy and well, and to also - to do the lawn and clean the gutters. And on top of all that, to be fetching, alluring, and wearing something quite attractive when you come home from work at night, and to have a pitcher of martinis in hand.

Now, I think any married man can tell you what will happen if you try that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. O'ROURKE: It's just not going to work. And I feel we do that with the government. Government is a very powerful tool, and it's tempting to use this tool to solve every one of our problems. But if we try to solve all of our problems with government, government gets a bit overburdened.

SIMON: It's interesting because obviously, in the one breath you talk about how democracy is a process whereby we establish these priorities of whats really necessary year after year - because they change. You point out that populism, which Ill refer to as for some people a heightened democracy, has been responsible for - I think I wrote it down - the perpetuation of slavery, the extermination of Native Americans, official segregation, anti-immigrant legislation.

You say that these were enterprises and movements that weren't carried out by a wealthy elite.

Mr. O'ROURKE: Well, no. They certainly weren't. They were populist sentiments. Now, on the other hand, let us not forget that the Civil Rights Movement was also a populist movement; that the Reconstruction Republicans, the radical Republicans after the Civil War. Abolitionism was a populist movement, too.

Simply because something is a populist movement doesnt make it either good or bad. But one of the reasons that they created this elaborate and somewhat clumsy system - with all its checks and balances and oddball things, like the Electoral College and so on - was that our government should reflect the will of the people but not the whim of the people.

And you know, we've all - especially those of us who drink - have had whims. And we all know that they all shouldnt be acted upon.

SIMON: Can I get you to talk about how your thinking has changed over 40 years, as you suggested? I mean, you were once, I think - didnt you refer to yourself as a leftist, hippie-loving, "National Lampoon" satirist?

Mr. O'ROURKE: Actually, I'd straightened out quite a bit by the time I got to "National Lampoon."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. O'ROURKE: But yes, I was raised in a very strict Republican family - not so strict with me personally, but just strictly Republican. In fact, so Republican that I remember asking - as a kid about 10, I asked my grandmother, a rock-rib Republican, downstate Illinois grandmother: Whats the difference, Grandma, between Republicans and Democrats?

And she gave me an icy stare, and she said: Democrats rent.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. O'ROURKE: Well, that was it. So Im raised in this environment, and I go off to college. And actually, I became a Communist to meet girls. So I came home at Christmas with my hair down to my shoulders, and a jean jacket with a big, red fist on the back - you know, saying, you know, arise ye proletariat or whatever.

And my grandmother, the same they-rent grandmother, looks at me and she says: Pat, Im worried about you. Are you becoming a Democrat?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. O'ROURKE: I said, Democrat? Grandma, of course Im not a Democrat. Im a Communist. And my grandmother paused and she said, well, just as long as you're not a Democrat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. O'ROURKE: And I never have been. I was a Republican, and I was a Communist, and Im a Republican again. I never have been a Democrat.

SIMON: P.J., I have to ask you. As one of America's foremost humorists, and you write about politics, obviously, a good deal - this book and others - what do you think of the Stewart and Colbert rallies taking place this weekend?

Mr. O'ROURKE: Well, as a longtime former resident of 15 years in Washington, I wish that everybody would stay off the Mall with their political cause so that we can get out there, you know, and play flag football or Frisbee, or walk the dog or something - you know, which is, you know, what the National Mall should be for, in my personal opinion.

SIMON: P.J. O'Rourke, his new book is "Don't Vote."

Thank so much for being with us.

Mr. O'ROURKE: Thank you, Scott.

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