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Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government Paperback – January 7, 2003
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If satirists are at their best when tussling with something they hate, then this is P.J. O'Rourke's masterpiece. He clearly hates government--and has hated it since before it was cool to do so--and for all the right reasons, too: it's clumsy, inefficient, hypocritical, greedy, and arrogant. In other words, it magnifies the faults of the poor saps who staff it. Parliament of Whores is the humorist's howl of bitter laughter at the entire bloated, numskulled mess. As befits an ex-editor of National Lampoon, nothing is out of bounds for O'Rourke. Speaking of the fabled "football"--that satchel that follows the president around 24/7--the author doubts there are really launch codes in there at all--nothing but "a copy of Penthouse and a pint bottle of Hiram Walker--a Penthouse from back in the seventies, when Penthouse was really dirty, I'll bet."
Parliament of Whores is perfect for anyone who longs to cultivate an entertaining brand of cynicism, to be "a lone voice--not crying in the wilderness, thank you, but chortling in the rec room." O'Rourke is a master at making you laugh in spite of the better angels of your nature, and the only negative thing to be said about this tour de force is that his flamethrower brand of satire leaves nothing in its wake--certainly not the suggestion of an improvement. --Michael Gerber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
As a conservative, political humorist O'Rourke ( Holidays in Hell ) can get on liberals' nerves with his mindless characterization of environmentalists as "tree huggers" or his mockery of Jesse Jackson's "daft notions." Then again, any satirist who compares George Bush to Captain Kangaroo and would lop millions from the military budget can't be accused of partisan target practice. O'Rourke's basic theme--there's too much government, and what government we have is tremendously inefficient and wasteful--reverberates through his vitriol, as he takes readers through a congressman's typical day, unmasks the hollow charade of presidential conventions and offers squibs on the savings-and-loan bailout, the war on drugs, housing policy, the Supreme Court, etc. Loosely organized as a civics textbook, these essays at their best are deadly accurate, very funny and on-target, a purgation of the Augean stables of American politicswhew! .
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Among the current crop of humorists, P. J. O'Rourke is one of the very best. Though it must be acknowledged that he's operating in a target rich environment, his stories of government stupidity, overreach, waste, and arrogance are truly funny. He's pretty much a libertarian, though made uncomfortable by many of the social behaviors that it would allow and overly enamored of the armed forces, so he's just as likely to light out after stupid Republican ideas as he is to castigate Democrats. Parliament of Whores finds him in the perfect position to flail both, as he follows George Bush the elder to Washington in 1989, and sets out to examine the entire U. S. government.
Unsuspecting readers may assume that O'Rourke is just going to snidely lambaste bureaucrats, politicians, institutions, and government generally, but that assumption really underestimates him. He's after much bigger game, as he reveals in the title of the book :
Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy, the whores are us.
The various government employees and elected officials actually come out looking pretty good. As portrayed by O'Rourke, they seem for the most part to be genuinely dedicated to their work and trying to do the best they can. It is the American people who come out of this looking pretty awful. Time and again, as he shows how useless, wasteful, and outrageously expensive the myriad government programs are, O'Rourke also makes it clear that they exist, and exist at such bloated sizes, because they have constituencies. And those constituencies are not the easily caricatured and vilified underclass, they are more often the regular work-a-day middle classes. You don't end up with a government as elephantine as ours unless those folks, we folks, in the broad middle have a huge appetite for government services.
In what I think is the best chapter in the book, "Protectors of a Blameless Citizenry," O'Rourke tracks a terrific example of this : the demand for government investigation of sudden-acceleration incidents (SAIs). If you recall the hysteria, this was the allegation that some vehicles, when you were just parked innocently in your garage, would suddenly lurch forward into a garage wall. Any objective observer could have taken one look at these SAIs and figured out that they were merely episodes where people shifted into Drive without their foot on the brake, or stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brake. But to draw such a conclusion would have meant blaming people, blaming taxpayers, blaming voters, for their own carelessness and stupidity, and that would be intolerable. Instead, it has become the particular duty of government to absolve us of blame for such manifestations of our own ineptitude, recklessness, and stupidity.
P.J. O'Rourke is a national treasure, if for no other reason than this willingness to hold us all up to well deserved ridicule. The troubling question that he raises in this book, one which Alexis de Tocqueville made in rather more measured tones in Democracy in America, is whether democracy is ultimately doomed by this very phenomenon, of the citizenry trying to avoid responsibility for their own lives. Once the people in a democracy realize that they can simply blame others for all of the problems in their lives, even those of their own making, the democracy is morally doomed. And worse, as Alexander Tytler said some 200 years ago, in a quote that O'Rourke cites :
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until a majority of
voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse out of the
clueless I've been for many years about how corrupt our republic has become.
The author's sharp wit and breezy style are just frosting on the cake.
The subject matter is deadly serious and the author has done an impressive
amount of study, research, travel and interviews with informed people.
This is a serious study and analysis of how far we have migrated from
the intentions of the admirable founders of our nation, and the extent of
our modern failures. I wish he would write another serious book that
brings us up to the present disastrous situation, and the dilemma of a
presidential election with no acceptable candidate on the ballot.
Eighties, P. J. O'Rourke (in his conservative incarnation) was a
hurricane of fresh air. After years of finger-wagging about how evil
America is, how the middle-class straight white male taxpayer is the
root of all evil, his satires horse-laughed all that liberal
self-righteousness right out of our systems.
All his books follow
the same convention--he collects his previously published essays of
observational humor, and writes linking material to create a unified
theme. Here, it's the federal government. Example: What are the
three branches of government? Money, television, and b.s. It's hit
or miss, as most humor is, but the hits really score
Whenever I read O'Rourke's stuff aloud to friends, there
isn't a dry seat in the house. I had the great pleasure of telling him
so in person at a book signing once. Parliament of Whores shows
P.J. to be more than a humorist--he is, if nothing else, the present
era's greatest political aphorist. Example: "When buying and
selling are legislated, the first thing to be bought and sold are
legislators." A keeper.
His budget proposal, from his cuts on bloated agencies to his final cut, the "circumcision" one, is both hilarious and a good, hard look at the way the American federal government throws money around and, often, away.
But it's not their fault, O'Rourke wryly observes. We ask them to do this TO us in the name of doing things FOR us. Or, perhaps, do it to the other guy so they can do something for me. The best idea might simply be to take some of the money off the table and not let them have so much to spend or waste.
Conservatives will love O'Rourke's condemnations and even the most liberal will have to concede many of his points. He's like Peggy Noonan on acid and, for all we know, he just might be. O'Rourke knows how to live on the wild, not just to comment on the other side.