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Customer Review

88 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars belly laughs and common sense, November 4, 2001
This review is from: Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government (Paperback)
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
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 21, 2007 8:13:56 PM PST
I seldom say anything about reviews, preferring the write them, but this is one hell of a grand review, Judd. Nice work!
--Michael A. Banks
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