Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Book Review: Republican Party Reptile

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Republican Party Reptile

Author: P.J. O'Rourke

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press

Date: 1987

ISBN: 0-87113-145-5

Length: 220 pages

Quote: “Sense of humor and conservatism are not supposed to go together. There are some well-known exceptions—William F. Buckley, Jr., R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., and Pat Robertson—though there's always the possibility that Pat Robertson is not kidding.”

Add to that list Aline Buckley, Christopher Buckley, William Safire, Florence King, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Thomas Sowell, Jonah Goldberg, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, not to mention Arianna Huffington in her Republican phase, Dave Barry during Democrat administrations, or Senator Robert Dole after work, and it becomes obvious that American conservatives definitely have a sense of humor. Other conservatives have, however, been known for using occasional bits of humor to keep their serious writing from becoming grim or acrimonious. P.J. O'Rourke, who claims to have dropped a lot of acid in the 1960s, is the only conservative writer who's cultivated a reputation for clowning, for writing things that are truly wacky.

On outing himself as a Republican: “We look like Republicans, and think like conservatives, but we drive a lot faster.”

On road-testing a Ferrari: “Zoom, zoom, zip, zip, I couldn't have been happier if I'd had a sack full of Iranian radicals to drag behind me.”

On a pop star of the day: “I see Freddie Aguilar, who's billed as 'the Bob Dylan of the Philippines.' This is unfair, since he's good-looking, plays the guitar well, can carry a tune, and writes songs that make sense.”

On writing comedy: “This was an important fifteen minutes for America. It was a fifteen minutes of consolidation, of reflection, and of self-realization. I, myself, realized how hungover I was and that I had to go to the bathroom.”

On the inane things some gun control advocates seem to believe: “The alarm went off about half an hour late, and I pulled out the old Smith & Wesson 9mm automatic I keep under my pillow...they're going to kill me if I'm late to work again. They killed a couple of other executives just last week—hauled them into the freight elevator and shot them...I couldn't find any clean shirts. And when I did find one it took me twenty minutes to disarm the plastique charge...behind the shirt cardboard...The mail hadn't come yet either. The doorman said there was a company of Marines trying to get through with it, but they were pinned down...I bet twenty snipers took a shot at me between my building and the subway station.” (Fair disclosure: in this exploration of how impossible the gun control advocates' fantasy is, there's some disgusting, un-funny violence, but since I'm already laughing out loud it doesn't register.)

We were all so much younger in the 1980s. We prided ourselves on being tough, able to handle gross-outs and things that weren't family-filtered. It's my duty here to tell anyone who does not already know that P.J. O'Rourke has never, to my knowledge, written anything that would make it through this web site's filter. He has enough talent that he could be funny without any profanity, vulgarity, hatespeech, or references to illegal acts. In the 1980s nobody asked him to try—although after this book was published editors started sending him to news sites around the world to give him more genuinely funny material—and there's quite a lot of reference to illicit sex, violence, hate, illegal drugs, and unacceptably messy things to do with terrorists, in this and in all of O'Rourke's books.

Most of the time, of course, he's joking. “[A] lack of death would result in an extraordinary number of old people and the Social Security system is already overextended. Therefore it is the duty of every patriotic, moral, and humanistic smoke, drink,drive...shoot guns, own Corvairs, take saccharin, leave unmarked medicine bottles open all over the house, get in fistfights, start barbecue fires with gasoline, put dry-cleaner bags over our heads, and run around barefoot without getting a tetanus shot.” A person who'd been seriously practicing this belief for more than 27 years would not have written all of those more recent books.

However, the main thing you need to know about P.J. O'Rourke, if you didn't already, is that when he joined the Republican Party he did not join the Moral Majority. I like this writer. I've collected all of his books. I'm pretty sure some of the older members of the group known here as The Nephews have read some of O'Rourke's books, and liked them; the ones who've had access to my bookshelves know that I have, too. But we don't talk about this. Over and above the reasonable idea that dead babies aren't funny, and the less reasonable idea that things published on the Internet are likely to be translated by computer programs that make a remark as ordinary as “We clobbered School X again” (literally meaning “We won 49-0”) come out like “We violently attacked visitors from School X”...“Anything that makes your mother cry is fun” (in an article about the joys of reckless driving) is not the kind of comedy that can be shared between generations.

O'Rourke started out as a left-winger, and still has “a sneaking love of the old-time left...Wobblies, Spanish Civil War veterans, the Hollywood Ten.” In one of the longer articles collected here he was finally able to take a “Peace Cruise” in the crumbling Soviet Union with “Old Leftists. I expected them to be admirable and nasty, like Lillian Hellman, or brilliant, mysterious, denying everything, like Alger Hiss, or—best of all—hard-bitten and cynical but still willing to battle oppression, like Rick in Casablanca. I did not expect them to be the pack of thirty fussing geriatrics I met...people who believed everything about the Soviet Union was perfect, but they were bringing their own toilet paper.” Waking up early one morning, he says, he “stumbled into the ship's bar” and found himself drinking alone with two Soviets. Of his fellow passengers he says, “'They are such great progressives I think I have almost all of them talked into defecting.' 'No, no, no, no, no,' said Nikolai.”

O'Rourke's next three books, Holidays in Hell, Give War a Chance, and All the Trouble in the World, consisted mostly of travel stories. There are a few of those in Republican Party Reptile as well. In addition to the Volga River cruise, he reported on anti-Marcos feeling in the Philippines, crime and vice in the Turks and Caicos Islands, and waiting for the release of hostages held in Beirut. O'Rourke was not yet a famous journalist and was not given access to the most interesting stories (for instance, he didn't actually get to see the hostages released) but he found raunchy slapstick comedy everywhere.

This book contains a full-length “product review” of the illegal drug XTC that sounds as if O'Rourke tested the product. It contains ethnic pejoratives (including some for Irish people) to express disrespect more than hate; nobody else was saying things like “dago jeans” in the 1980s, and I suspect O'Rourke did it just to rattle the cages of the p.c., but he made it a sort of trademark. It contains barroom stories, unlikely to be true, about things like drinking while driving on ice while being fondled by a “crazy girl” whose miniskirts “didn't even cover her underwear, when she wore any.”O'Rourke intended to offend the Moral Majority type of Republicans in every way; that he was a “reptile,” persona non grata in their homes, is the whole point of this book.

If you find censorship more distasteful than any amount of profanity and vulgarity, you will probably enjoy Republican Party Reptile.

O'Rourke was still alive, last time I checked, so this is a Fair Trade Book. Regular readers know the drill: send salolianigodagewi @ $5 per copy of this book + $5 per package for shipping, we send O'Rourke or a charity of his choice $1. (You could probably fit four copies into a package, in which case you'd send us $25 and we'd send O'Rourke or his charity $4.)