Show Hide image

The NS Interview — P J O’Rourke

The great gonzo satirist and former writer for <em>National Lampoon</em> and <em>Rolling Stone</em>

You're a well-known libertarian but had a communist phase . . .
To say I had a communist stage would put me at the level of intellectual seriousness of, say, Christopher Hitchens. I had a confused early hippie phase, which was like a cafeteria tray of sloppy, semi-Marxist thoughts, absorbed second-hand. Have you ever actually tried to read that crap? I was a communist but I would spell that with a small "k".

Do you have a serious side?
I do, but I try to keep it under control.

Are there any topics that are beyond satire?
As I get older, all sorts of things become less funny. Once one has children, any cruelty involving children becomes far less amusing than when one was at the mercy of one's friends' and relatives' children.

What do you think of the likes of The Daily Show and the Onion?
The quality of the jokes is extraordinary. We could have gone months, back in the Seventies, without generating that many good jokes.

Is satire a tool for bringing about change, or a way of blowing off steam?
The latter. Satire doesn't effect change. The most brilliant satire of all time was A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift. You'll notice how everything got straightened out in Ireland within days of that coming out.

Does Washington have any redeeming factors?
We need a government, alas, because of the nature of humans. We [also] need the rule of law. Politics is a necessary evil, or a necessary annoyance, a necessary conundrum. [But] we need to turn as few things as possible over to it.

Are there any politicians that you like?
I rarely meet a politician that I don't like personally. They are generally well endowed with charm. Therein lies the danger.

Do you have a favourite in the Republican primary race?
I really don't feel like I have a dog in that fight.

What do you think about the Tea Party?
Their hearts are in the right place. All previous populist movements were demanding things from governments, whereas the Tea Party is saying give us less, go away. That's heartening to see. Whether it means anything or not, I wouldn't bet your savings.

What do you think of the Occupy Wall Street protesters?
The useless in pursuit of the pointless. I have no idea what they are on about and apparently neither do they.

People have drawn comparisons between Occupy and the Tea Party . . .
The Tea Party can be naive and didactic at times, but they are extremely clearly focused on what they want and what upsets them. Their analysis is quite smart. The Occupy Wall Street people are just pissed off. I've been there.

Is Obama a socialist?
I'm sure there is some sort of collegiate, grad-school way in which he might mildly qualify as a socialist. But I don't think that Barack Obama has any very radical political agenda.

Do you think he will be a one-term president?
It looks that way now, because Americans are under the incorrect impression that presidents somehow control the economy. But everything could change, if the economy were to perk up or at least to look optimistic.

What about British politics?
Oh, for Christ's sake, you folks are just out of control. Things like the hunting ban - can't your politicians just mind their own business? [It's] like the French headscarf ban. The French imposed fashions on the rest of us and now they are telling people they can't wear funny things on their head. Who invented wearing funny things on your head, if not the French?

In a different life, what would you have done?
Been nicer to my parents, studied a bit harder at school, become an investment banker - I don't know.

Is religion a part of your life?
Despite my name, I wasn't raised a Catholic. My mother was a Protestant, of a traditional American, vague kind: she belonged to the church that the nice people in the neighbourhood went to. My wife is a Catholic, the kids are Catholic, so I'm a Catholic fellow-traveller.

Is there anything you'd rather forget?
That's the beauty of rising 64 - I've forgotten it!

Was there a plan?
No. Decisively no.

Do you vote?
Oh sure. Of course. Always.

Are we all doomed?
In this life, yes, so far as we know. In the next life only those that deserve it are doomed, or so I'm told. As a race and a society and planet, I rather think not. We're a flexible type.

Defining moments

1947 Born in Toledo, Ohio
1973 Joins National Lampoon, rising to editor-in-chief in 1978
1981 Becomes a freelance writer and turns his attention to world affairs
1986 Is appointed foreign desk editor at Rolling Stone, where he stays for 15 years
1988 Publishes bestselling Holidays in Hell
2008 Is diagnosed with treatable anal cancer

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 09 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Forget Obama