In Appreciation of P.J. O’Rourke

In my opinion, there’s usually nothing more boring than an opinion columnist writing about the opinion of another opinion columnist. This is, of course, in addition to the fact that there’s nothing more redundant than an opinion columnist starting a sentence with “in my opinion…”

O’Rourke, however, is “above” any simple writing label, as calling P.J. an “opinion columnist” is like referring to Neil Armstrong as “that astronaut.”

Through the years, O’Rourke has gone from cutting edge humor that some considered tasteless and others hilarious (the true sign that you’ve hit the comedic bullseye), such as the 1976 National Lampoon classic “Foreigners around the world” (in pdf), and “First blow job,” to the more refined and yet still riotously dead-on “Liberty manifesto” and his most recent piece in The Weekly Standard, which proves that sometimes the funniest story ideas are on a tag on the deck furniture we’re sitting on.

I spend a great deal of time writing, and, as a result, don’t have nearly as much time as I’d like for reading, but when there’s a new O’Rourke book out, I have it read within a few days. The admiration, I think, stems from an appreciation and fascination with O’Rourke’s ability to walk the tightrope between horror and humor with Wallenda family precision and balance (and not the ones who fell).

From politics, to pop culture, to sports, to cars, to cigars, no matter what O’Rourke writes about is riveting. Even if it may not have been a topic you particularly cared for going in, O’Rourke fans read it simply because it’s written by O’Rourke, and as an end-result usually discover a new appreciation for the subject matter. For example, I hate cars — I don’t like to put gas in them, I’m not interested in them, I don’t like buying them, I don’t like selling them, and I don’t like fixing them, and I don’t like talking about them — but when there’s an O’Rourke column in Car & Driver, all of a sudden I’m so motivated by the topic that I yearn to be Dale Jr.’s crew chief — for a little while, anyway.

P.J. O’Rourke is arguably the most well-known libertarian in the United States, which goes a long way in explaining why Libertarians struggle so in their efforts to occupy elected office. If there ever is a popular Libertarian who is actually on the ballot, watch out.

Part of the overall fascination with the work of P.J. O’Rourke stems from his past transformation and subsequent self-described journey from leftist hippie pessimist to conservo-libertarian pragmatist. That’s an interesting trip, in more ways than one. What happened? As O’Rourke told the Washington Post in a 2001 interview: “When I was a hippie I thought I was a Socialist. Then I got my first paycheck and found that state, federal and local governments took almost half my pay. Thereby I discovered that we had socialism already. And since I was opposed to the status quo I went out and joined the Republican Party.”

I started reading O’Rourke in my early 20’s. Until that point, I had the typical youth-induced lackadaisical approach to things in general. Perfectly happy to “la-de-da” my way through this existence, unaffected by any seriousness, and rarely taking sides, I was the Sweden of teenagers – minus ABBA and the ability to stand up on skis. Up to that point, the heaviest discussion I had was during furious debates over whether or not David Lee Roth would rejoin Van Halen.

Then one day I picked up an issue of Rolling Stone Magazine (possibly because Nancy Wilson from Heart was on the cover, though I can’t recall to confirm) — one of the names in the mag at the time was a guy named P.J. O’Rourke, who was the foreign affairs desk chief. Not only did I get hooked on O’Rourke, but I somehow got hooked on foreign affairs, and have since traveled to many God-forsaken corners of the globe via O’Rourke’s articles. Also, for only the second time in my life, I laughed at economics (the first time was when I fell asleep in Econ 101 and dreamt that Arthur Laffer’s curve was in the shape of a noose hanging over the head of my drool-inducing Econ 101 teacher).

The closest I’ve ever gotten to P.J. O’Rourke is, as far as I know, being featured on the same “Capitalist quotes” page, but he’s had more to do with my motivation to be a writer than just about anybody else. Though I must confess to having broken, several times over, one basic tenet of O’Rourkian philosophy: Never fight an inanimate object. Even more embarrassing, I’ve lost most of those battles.

P.J. O’Rourke, through his style, logic and humor, is perhaps responsible for turning around more leftists than a Berkeley detour sign, and that’s a tough thing to do.

Good on ya, P.J.! You made conservatism cool.

Suggested O’Rourke links:

P.J.’s listing at Wikipedia

O’Rourke’s homepage

How to explain conservatism to your squishy liberal friends

P.J. profile by Cigar Aficianado

Mass Transit hysteria

What to see and what to do in sunny Mexico


Note: If you’re seeing only this post, the entire blog can be accessed at

Author: Doug Powers

Doug Powers is a writer, editor and commentator covering news of the day from a conservative viewpoint with an occasional shot of irreverence and a chaser of snark. Townhall Media writer/editor. alum. Bowling novice. Long-suffering Detroit Lions fan. Contact: