Atlantic Monthly Press
As a teenager and then particularly in my early 20s I read a lot of P.J. O’Rourke. At first I probably didn’t even notice his political worldview…I’m guessing that because when I did ascertain that he was right-wing, libertarian, Republican-voting I simply didn’t care. His writing was always great. If I didn’t agree with any part of his point of view I was entertained; dazzled sometimes by the word-play, the word power, the tall tales of truth, the crazy assignments. He was a journalism hero, a writing hero. His world weariness was funny. His sense of outrage was funny. His writing…very funny. Always funny.
I haven’t read anything by O’Rourke in many years. I picked up his latest as a way of reconnecting with him, his words, his manner, his way. But also because it was about last year’s unfair and loathsome campaign trail and election.
How The Hell Did This Happen? rips along with O’Rourke’s usual wit and timing. It’s a diary-like look at the colourless, bland and bad candidates, their poor policies and policy-free politics, their absurd statements and theatrics and it rolls along knowing it isn’t ever going to answer its big question; that it can’t and that it doesn’t need to. We’re there for the ride because the rank-outsider beat every other Republican candidate and then beat the best woman for the job. We’re there not because we want answers but because the absurdity of it needs going over again and again, with colouring over and across the lines, with extra jokes, with “insight” that is simply satire of the already absurd and overreaching.
So O’Rourke does a great job of some funny lines, of satirising himself in the process, pointing out that the Republican party’s destruction of itself to win a campaign only by choosing its least politically savvy candidate is a sublime and ghastly irony. It also had supporters like himself, deep-seated conservative supporters/voters switching sides.
But to revisit that now doesn’t really mean anything.
There’s the rub. Not only that – there’s the extra rubbing in.
And the real target of scorn, the real frustration, the real anger to vent and explore is in and around the voters, not the people seeking the vote. And the P. J. O’Rourke that first wowed me would have nailed every pot-shot at anyone and everyone that deserved to be in the firing line. Not just the obvious fish in the barrel.