"Politically correct" and the "cult of victimization" have entered the vocabularies of all of those who study current events even in a desultory fashion.
The antidote to such pious whim-wham, and incidentally a good explanation of why government spending at all levels is out of control, is P.J. O'Rourke's "Parliament of Whores" (Atlantic Monthly Press, 233 pages, $19.95), now spinning its way up the best-seller lists.
Mr. O'Rourke has long been known for his very funny social commentary for such magazines as The American Spectator and Rolling Stone. In "Parliament of Whores," he collects and expands upon his reporting from Washington, D.C., on why the American government and body politic is the way it is.
Mr. O'Rourke has a very sharp, indeed savage, sense of humor, and his targets are almost all sacred, very politically correct, cows.
At the core of his humor, there is a profane rage. Having taken the time to understand government, and the various special interest groups that feed on it, the author exposes the folly of the first, and assaults the second. And in the end, he achieves a certain sad wisdom. Mr. O'Rourke may be a humorist, but this is a pretty serious book.
Mr. O'Rourke notes in his introduction, "This book is written-...from a conservative point of view. Conservatism favors the restraint of government. A little government and a little luck at necessary in life, but only a fool trusts either of them." Such is the man's style as he treats the Washington gallimaufry with irreverent oneliners as well as a very harsh spotlight.
This book, a loosely related collection of essays, is excellent in so many of its parts. But there are notable peaks; for example, when Mr. O'Rourke takes a meat axe to the federal budget.
"The good news is I balanced the budget. It took me all morning but I did it," he writes. He did this first by not "looking for ridiculous examples of government waste." And, "The other secret to balancing the budget is the result of holding a gun to somebody's head" and making them pick up their share of the national tab.
But the cuts he makes! Out the window go $12.7 billion of farm income stabilization, $2.1 billion for the Postal Service, $13 billion in mortgage credit and deposit insurance, $29.8 billion in transportation spending. "Let 'em walk," he writes. On education: "Per-pupil spending on public school education has increased by an inflation-adjusted 150% since 1970, while reading, science, and math scores have continued to fall. The hell with the little bastards: $21.7 billion."
And so on. Along the way in his labors, he says, "Tax-free state and local municipal bonds cost the federal government $21.6 billion," which is plain wrong-headed, but nobody said municipal bonds were easy to understand.
At the end of it all, he has balanced the budget, but more importantly, has come to this sad wisdom about government spending: "Federal expenditures will never be reduced until both liberals and conservatives both quit shoveling huge middle-class subsidies such as Social Security, Medicare, Keogh plans and mortgage deductions into their own pockets." In a democracy, we are the "parliament of whores" of the title, writes O'Rourke; 95% of Americans are "on the mooch."
And this is precisely what is being wrestled with right now on the local level, as states and municipalities examine their priorities, and decide just what they want to pay for. Inevitably, the middle class subsidies have got to go. The idea, unfortunately, has not yet caught on at th federal level.
Parliament of Whores is a lot more rollicking than this meditation on the federal budget. Mr. O'Rourke gives the best, shortest, explanation of the savings and loan scam, and notes, "Beginning in the late 1970s, savings and loan lobbyists produced a bloody flux of political-action-committee funds and other influence effluvia, and members of the House and Senate stood by like toilets with the lids up."
He takes apart U.S. farm policy, which he calls, "along with North Korea and the Stanford liberal arts faculty, one of the world's last outposts of anti-free-market dogmatism."
And consider his coverage of a march for the homeless. He notes that the demonstrators seemed to come from "the kinds of homes that demonstrators generally come from -- homes where they had sufficient resources to become half-educated and adequate leisure to hate their parents."
He goes on. "They were all present and accounted for: World Council of Churches sensible-shoe types who have self-righteousness the way some people have bad breath ... Angry black poverty pests making a life and a living off the misfortunes of others ... even angrier feminists doing their best to feminize poverty before the blacks use it all up ... College bohos dressed in black to show how gloomy the world is when you're a 19-year-old rich kid."
He concludes, "Together these people constitute America's loudest special interest (and only true, permanent underclass) -- the Perennially Indignant. As always these days, they were joined by greedy celebrities who aren't contented with fame and money and want a reputation for moral goodness, too." And their message: "simply and entirely, 'give me some money.'"
It's not only that throwing money at a problem never solves it, according to Mr. O'Rourke; it's that government in general "isn't a good way to solve problems."
He continues, "I'd been to Washington and seen for myself that government is concerned mostly with self-perpetuation and is subject to fantastic ideas about its own capabilities. I understood tha government is wasteful of the nation's resources, immune to common sense, and subject to pressure from every half-organized bouquet of assholes. I had observed, in person, government solemnity in debate of ridiculous issues and frivolity in execution of serious duties ... What I hadn't realized was that government is morally wrong. The whole idea of our government is this: If enough people get together and act in concert, they can take something and not pay for it."
That's not exactly what the Founding Fathers had in mind. But one look at government at all levels right now, and you realize this: It's time to pay up.