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Jewish World Review Sept. 28, 2004 / 13 Tishrei, 5765

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Consumer Reports

Satire with a spin ... 10 minutes with P.J. O'Rourke


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Humorist P.J. O'Rourke passes himself off as a Wall Street Journal-certified funny guy, best-selling book author and excellent magazine journalist who satirizes the idiocies he finds in Washington, D.C., international politics and bachelorhood.

But anyone who's followed his writings in Rolling Stone or read any of his books -- "Peace Kills" and "Parliament of Whores" come to mind -- knows he's really a clever propagandist for the libertarian-conservative cause.

Q: A review of one of your books on Amazon.com said -- and I don't know if this is a compliment or not, you tell me -- that "you're less bitter than Ann Coulter but funnier than Al Franken."

A: (laughs) I think that's fair. I'll take that as a compliment. I don't know how bitter Ann actually is. I don't really know her. But she's scary, I know that. I'm definitely less scary. I'm shorter too, I think. But I'm taller than Al Franken.

Q: You -- I think you know this -- combine humor, satire and sarcasm with a very specific political/ideological and, dare I say, philosophical message or point of view. What is that?

A: To put a single word on that, it would be "libertarian." I am a libertarian conservative. Or as we libertarian conservatives like to say, a classic 18th-century liberal. Now that everybody's thoroughly confused (laughs). ... But it's just -- from a political and I suppose philosophical point of view -- that the ultimate good is human liberty and the concomitant responsibility that goes with that liberty. And that's what we measure everything against: Does this increase human liberty and responsibility, or not?

Q: I'm a longtime libertarian, so I know the difference between a classical liberal and a John Kerry liberal, for instance.

A: Yeah, about 180 degrees.

Q: Right. Are you deliberately trying to proselytize in your writings? Are you trying to speak to the unpersuaded?


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A: Definitely. Definitely. But of course it depends on what I'm doing. A lot of the time I'm just being a reporter, so my job is just to tell people what things are like -- how many people died in the car crash. So I'm not proselytizing then. But when I do something like a book like "Eat the Rich" or "Parliament of Whores" or "All the Trouble in the World," definitely I am.

Q: What do you think of President Bush and will you vote for him?

A: Yes, I will vote for him. I am aggravated with him. I've got a whole long list: I hate the faith-based initiatives. I hate No Child Left Behind. I hate the deficit spending. I hate the fact that he hasn't even attempted to cut back on government spending.

From my point of view, government spending is the key issue, not deficits or taxes.

Milton Friedman pointed out some years ago that when the government spends, it will figure out a way to finance its spending, whether by taxes, by deficit borrowing or debasing the currency. The real key is how much of a nation's economy, and hence of people's material freedoms, the government is allocating to itself.

Q: Is there anything you can say nice about Mr. Kerry?

A: Yeah. Well, "consistency" wouldn't be the word that leapt to mind. I think he's an honest-enough fellow. I don't think there's any reason for him to be president, and I don't think he has one.

If it were (Dick) Gephardt, there would lots to talk about. He'd be a worthy opponent. Kerry, I don't know. Just to take Iraq, as an example, here's something from my speech: What does Kerry propose to do, give Saddam Hussein a mulligan and let him take his tee shot over? No.

Q: Are you a dove or a chicken hawk on Iraq?

A: Chicken hawk (laughs)... a proud chicken hawk. I was in Kuwait. I covered the first Gulf War. I saw what the Iraqis did to Kuwait, so I was very much in favor of finishing the job. These are bad people -- not all the Iraqis, but the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein.

Q: On foreign policy, I've always tried to figure out if you were a quote-unquote "real" libertarian -- a noninterventionist. Where are you on foreign policy?

A: I'm pretty hawkish. I guess that's where I kind of come apart with at least some of the people at the Cato Institute. They and I just don't agree about this. I just think it's a big, bad world out there. Evil is an outreach program, and we've got to do something about it. I wish it were otherwise, but I don't think there is a way around it. These people are after our butt.

Q: Do you still think going to Iraq was a good move?

A: I don't want to Monday-morning-quarterback the thing. I always thought Bush should have come out after it was clear there weren't any WMDs and say, "Look, Saddam Hussein didn't have any weapons of mass destruction. How crazy does that make him?!"

I'm not sure this tactically was the right thing to do. I think this was a battle that was going to have to be fought. Should it have been fought right when it was, I don't know. I'm glad I didn't have to make the decision. It is evident that the administration was a little short on Plan B in case things didn't work out. On that, they're obviously open to criticism.

Q: Do you do predictions on the election?

A: Not I. Not I. I gotta say I'm less worried than I was a couple months ago, but I'm still worried. I really don't know how this is going to go.

Q: You will be speaking to an audience -- and I'm sure you've done this before -- of urban liberals who probably won't like much of what you're going to tell them about freedom, government, Republicans. How are you going to shock them?

A: Well, it's not a matter of shocking them. My idea of a balanced approach is to show them that I am fully aware of the shortcomings of the side that I am allegedly on. I try not just to be funny about my views but to give them a little idea of why I feel the way I do.

The thing I always try to get at with people is that the political process is just not a good way to make decisions -- that you don't have to make it that way. I try to explain why political decisions in our lives should be limited. We can't get rid of them completely, but they definitely should be limited.


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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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02/12/02: Has Soldier of Fortune gone soft?

© 2002, Bill Steigerwald