P.J. O’Rourke, RIP - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
P.J. O’Rourke, RIP
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P.J. O’Rourke’s full name was Patrick Jake O’Rourke. It was so like P.J. to obscure the coolest middle name out there.

Everyone’s world stopped when word got out Tuesday that he had died. He was one of those rare creatures who made his readers and admirers feel better about being alive. It came from an innate generosity, kindness, and underlying seriousness shorn of any self-importance. And he was so wonderfully funny.

He gave us more than 10 years of his life, had great fun with all the absurdity of our times, and as an erstwhile lefty knew exactly why he needed to move right.

Whether calling Lee Iaccoca “The Big Lasagna” or launching a very popular “Enemies List” series to coincide with Joe McCarthy’s birthday, P.J. did things his way. On December 2, 1992, he emceed our 25th Anniversary Dinner, just as we were getting used to the idea that Bill Clinton and his beloved had been elected to the White House. In his introductory remarks to those in attendance that night, he struck the perfect tone. They’ve lost none of their luster.

– Wlady Pleszczynski


We are here tonight to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of The American Spectator — the magazine, the men and women, the way of life.

But we are also here to celebrate something else — our return to political opposition. Let’s be honest with ourselves. What a relief to be on the attack again. No more gentle sparring with the Administration. No more striking with the flat of our sword. No more firing blanks. Ladies and gentlemen, we have game in our sights. Clinton may be a disaster for the rest of the nation, but he is meat on our table.

What a joy to be able to turn to the helmsman of our good ship Spectator and say, “Captain Bob, bring the guns down to deck level and load with grapeshot.”

So stand warned, Boy Clinton … Mr. Bill … Wet Willie … You and your “Presidential Partner” … President Clinton and First Person Hillary … Pudge and Ruffles. (If the Fathers of the Christian church had known these two, divorce would not only be permitted, it would be a sacrament.) Anyway, stand warned the pair of you. We’re going to laugh you out of office. We did it to the Carters and we’ll do it to you.

The Clinton people like to say that they are “non-ideological.” Let me translate. It means that they don’t know right from wrong.

So we’re here tonight not just to congratulate ourselves for writing and reading and founding and editing and — most important — contributing lots of money to The American Spectator. We are also here to work ourselves into a delicious battle frenzy. Let us take our text from that great paean to individual rights, Animal House. I quote the ultimate paleo-conservative hero, Bluto, as played by John Belushi: “Take no prisoners!”

You know, some people think we lost this election. We didn’t lose it. Some people we know … people we like personally … people whose politics we can just barely tolerate … They lost this election. We’ve been in opposition for four years already. And opposition is where we belong. Being opposed to government is what defines true conservatism. We know that government doesn’t work even when the most brilliant people in the world — us — run it. We know government is an ineffective and morally unacceptable means of delivering life’s benefits.

Clinton doesn’t know this. Clinton thinks Americans can vote themselves richer, vote themselves smarter, vote themselves taller. He probably thinks some inches can be voted off his own waistline.

We know people have free will and responsibility for their own actions. Clinton thinks people are victims. Victims of a Republican Administration — you remember how George Bush liked to sneak out of the White House at night and sell crack and get teenage girls pregnant.

We believe in God. Clinton believes in going to church. And Clinton’s staff believes that 12-step programs are the only way that God manifests himself in the modern world.

We believe in freedom and we know that there is no freedom without economic liberty. Clinton has never had a real job in his life. And won’t have another after 1996.

The Clinton people like to say that they are “non-ideological.” Let me translate. It means that they don’t know right from wrong. The Clinton people claim to be “pragmatists.” And I agree. Because pragmatism is a fancy term for “don’t know can’t from shouldn’t.

Well, the American voters elected Clinton. But one of the many good things about being conservatives is that we never have to feel betrayed by the common people. Sure, they voted for Clinton — that’s what made them so common.

Another great advantage of conservatism is that we don’t have to fill this evening with sanctimonious twaddle and self-righteous blather. Think of the dreadful dinners that liberals will be sitting through for the next four years … Yes, welcome to the 1990s. Let us all salute (and be sensitive to the needs of) the shiftless, the feckless, the senseless, the worthwhileness-impaired, the decency-challenged, and the differently moraled. And hello to their leaders — progressive, committed, and filled to the nose holes with enormous esteem for themselves.

But that’s their problem. Our problem, on The American Spectator’s silver anniversary, is to lead the straying nation. To lead our straying nation, not forward — we’re conservatives — but back. Back to that lost golden age of yore — the eighties.

The eighties, when Communist dictators were losing their jobs, not presidents of American and General Motors. When Bill Clinton was only a microscopic polyp in the colon of American politics and Hillary was still in flight school — hadn’t even soloed on her broom. Back when health care was a tummy tuck, not an unalienable right. When, if you wanted a better environment, you went to Laura Ashley. When sleeping with the President meant you’d attended a cabinet meeting.

Let us return to that glad epoch when we knew the proper order of words in our language — “free alcohol” not “alcohol-free.” When we preferred a Shining City on a Hill to a whining Hill all over Clarence Thomas. When the Malcolm who mattered was Forbes. When tax cuts were in bloom. And Clinton was in Flowers.

N.B. and Author Plug: The above remarks were adapted, in part, from a rueful preface that Mr. O’Rourke wrote for a new edition of his book Bachelor Home Companion (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1993). Companion was originally published during the Reagan Administration.

“Wasn’t that a grand time?” says Mr. O’Rourke. “Cash grew on trees or, anyway, coca bushes. The rich roamed the land in vast herds hunted by proud, free tribes of investment bankers who lived a simple life in tune with money. Every wristwatch was a Rolex. Every car was a Mercedes-Benz. A fellow could romance a gal without having to negotiate the Treaty of Ghent. And I actually was a bachelor.”

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