American satirist P J O’Rourke died earlier this week at the age of 74. He made his name as a conservative commentator but was an equal opportunity satirist. For example, according to the obituary in the Washington Post, he once explained his position as follows:
During the 2016 presidential election, he came out against Donald Trump and endorsed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, even as he called her “the second-worst thing that can happen to his country.”
“I mean, she’s wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters,” he said on an episode of [PBS program] “Wait Wait.” Referring to Trump, he added, “This man just can’t be president.”
The New York Times offered other examples:
In 2010, The New York Times invited him and assorted other prominent people to define “Republican” and “Democrat.” He offered this:
“The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer and remove the crab grass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then get elected and prove it.” […]
For many fans, his signature book was “Parliament of Whores,” subtitled “A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government” and first published in 1991.
“Although this is a conservative book,” Mr. O’Rourke explained in the opening pages, “it is not informed by any very elaborate political theory. I have only one firm belief about the American political system, and that is this: God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat.”
Simon Evans in the website Spiked wrote this:
O’Rourke had been an active commentator on America, both as a place to live and as an evil eye of Sauron projecting power into the darkest, dankest corners of an ungrateful, resentful world, for as long as I’ve been alive. His worm’s eye view of abroad was at least as interested in finding – and funding – the Way to the Next Whisky Bar, as it was in the more traditional, or at least official business of the foreign correspondent (most notably at Rolling Stone). He was clearly someone who regarded Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop as much as a manual as a satire. But that didn’t mean he ignored the political realities. It means he saw how theory impacted on reality, and which tended to come off worse.
As noted in previous posts, O’Rourke also expressed his enjoyment of Waugh’s novels Black Mischief and Put Out More Flags. I was reminded of some of Waugh’s 1930s writing (such as Black Mischief and Scoop) about what we now call third world countries by this quote in the Post:
“I was not prepared to do anything but upchuck and die,” he wrote of a trip to Paraguay, “after the eight-hour night flight from Miami on an Air Paraguay DC-8 older than most second wives that flew through the center of five Dr. Frankenstein-your-lab-is-on-the-phone lightning storms and aboard which I was served a dinner of roast softball in oleo.”
That may not be the way Waugh would have written it, but the sentiments are the same. P J O’Rourke will certainly be missed, particularly as this is an election year.