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The wit and wisdom of PJ O’Rourke

David Howells/Corbis/Getty

Writing a tribute to the great American journalist PJ O’Rourke – who died this week aged 74 – “is a breeze”, says Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph. “All you need to do is quote him.” Here he is on military interventionism: “Wherever there’s injustice, oppression and suffering, America will show up six months late and bomb the country next to where it’s happening.” On Europe: “I’ve had it with these dopey little countries and all their poky borders. You can’t swing a cat without sending it through customs.” On chivalry: “A hat should be taken off when you greet a lady, and left off for the rest of your life. Nothing looks more stupid than a hat.”

What really made O’Rourke stand out was that, almost uniquely, “his jokes were right-wing”. These days, nearly all political humour is left-wing. In fact it’s often argued that “political humour has to be left-wing”. But really it’s the reverse. The terror of causing offence puts a “straitjacket” on what left-wing comedians dare joke about, so they all end up taking the same boring pot-shots at Brexit and Donald Trump. By contrast, O’Rourke’s writing was “bracingly free”. It made you feel you’d been forgiven for the sin of not agreeing with the type of “trendy left-wing opinions that seemed to prevail everywhere else”. He had a formula for pricking such sensibilities: the more earnestly an opinion was expressed, the more wrong it was bound to be. Earnestness, he said, was just “stupidity sent to college”.

But O’Rourke was far from a conventional conservative, says Harrison Smith in The Washington Post. He was frequently lacerating about stuffy “country club-type Republicans”. Explaining his unique brand of curmudgeonly libertarianism, he declared he and his ilk were against “government spending, Kennedy kids, seat-belt laws, busing our children anywhere other than Yale, trailer courts near our vacation homes, all tiny Third World countries that don’t have banking secrecy laws, aerobics, the UN, taxation without tax loopholes, and jewellery on men”. What they liked, he said, were “guns, drugs, fast cars, free love (if our wives don’t find out), a sound dollar, and a strong military with spiffy uniforms”. Many thousands of people in America felt this way, he said, especially after three or four drinks. “If all of us would unite and work together, we could give this country… well, a real bad hangover.”

O’Rourke on…

🏛 Politics: “A chilling characteristic of politicians is that they’re not in it for the money.”

🇺🇸 America abroad: “Each American embassy comes with two permanent features – a giant anti-American demonstration and a giant line for American visas.”

🐘 Republicans: “The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, and then they get elected and prove it.”