"Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys." The image of our government careening through our rights like a drunken teenager is funny, but too true. We owe this colorful image to P.J. O'Rourke.
O'Rourke is our generation's premier political humorist. Granted, he gets some competition from Dave Barry. But O'Rourke penetrates deeper into the morass of modern politics and distills gems of wisdom for us to ponder. (O'Rourke will be speaking at noon on Thursday, September 5, at the Ritz Carlton in Phoenix. Those still needing tickets can call the Goldwater Institute-602-462-5000-to see if there are any left.)
While many of us are frustrated and appalled by the stupidity of government, O'Rourke has a way of depicting it that enables us to smile through the pain. In dealing with the necessity to have a government, O'Rourke admits that "a little government and a little luck are necessary in life, but only a fool trusts either of them."
It is said that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Eternal vigilance, though, may be too much to ask. The 21st century's entertaining diversions leave little time for guarding one's liberty.
Wading into the political battle for the hearts and minds of the voters requires an investment of effort that most would prefer to devote toward having fun. This is where O'Rourke is a real asset in the struggle to preserve and expand human freedom.
By being entertaining, O'Rourke can elbow his way into the average person's field of vision. People like to laugh. They're willing to listen to someone who's funny. By packaging sound political and economic insights into his satirical writing, O'Rourke gets attention that more staid advocates for liberty have trouble achieving.
Consider, for example, the issue of inequality of wealth. Leftists and liberals make the rich into villains. Income redistribution schemes that transfer wealth from the rich to the poor are a staple of so-called progressive politics.
While it is true that some of the rich obtain their gains through parasitic means (mostly by manipulating government power), the largest fortunes are usually founded on a record of customer service and productivity. Walmart became the biggest retail business by giving its customers great bargains. Microsoft became the leader in software sales by providing continuously improved products.
The left is fundamentally off base in portraying the rich as villains. O'Rourke's claim that "rich people are heroes" is closer to the truth.
Besides, as O'Rourke points out, confining the debate solely to inequalities of wealth misses some of the more important values in life. "Why shouldn't we all get the same love and respect, the same health and happiness, the same cute little butts and big boobs?" he asks.
There are many more dimensions in which people can be unequal than are dreamt of in leftist philosophy. Equalizing incomes or wealth will still leave the homely and unloved in substantial deficit compared to their fellow citizens.
Power corrupts. Giving government more power-as so many are eager to do in the delusion that it will make them safer or more secure-will make government more corrupt. With its legal monopoly on the use of force, a corrupted government is a danger to our health, wealth, and freedom.
O'Rourke illustrates the danger by asking the question: "can men who have guns [the government] restrain themselves from interfering in the affairs of men who have nothing but checkbooks [the taxpayers]?"
In the long run we cannot count on restraint from those who wield government power. As voters we must scrutinize their actions and rein them in when necessary. Writers like O'Rourke help with the scrutinizing. The reining-in is up to us.