P.J. O’Rourke, who is known for his razor-sharp insights on national and world affairs, is considered one of America’s premier satirists on the conservative end of the political spectrum. His comments on the inner workings of Washington bureaucracy and the shifting political and economic landscape have been known to leave readers and audiences, alike, in tears from laughter.
The journalism veteran has authored 17 books on subjects as diverse as politics, cars, etiquette and economics, and touts more citations in The Penguin Dictionary of Humorous Quotations than any other living writer. When Western Growers (WG) recently caught up with him to get a sneak peek of what he would be discussing at the PAC Luncheon during the WG 92nd Annual Meeting in Las Vegas on October 31, he nearly knocked us over with his wit.
WG: Can you give us a preview about what you’ll be speaking about during the annual meeting?
O’ROURKE: I will be discussing the interface between business and government. Now, keep in mind that this will not be a partisan message. I have no partisan axe to grind, but am a firm believer that we have to be very careful when we try to ask government to solve our problems.
The government runs like a post office. They can read the label but still don’t necessarily know where things go. Take for example, the 2018 Farm Bill. Government is sticking its nose into agriculture and making the Farm Bill more and more ominous.
WG: We heard that when you attended John Hopkins University you were a “left-leaning hippie.” And now you are a Libertarian. What happened? What spurred the change?
O’ROURKE: I got a job. [laughter ensues]
I landed a job in New York, and when I received my first paycheck, I was netting about 55 percent of my gross pay! There were deductions for federal, state and city income tax, Social Security, union dues, pension fund contribution, you name it.
Here I was thinking I was a communist; then I get a job with a big capitalist corporation and come to find out that we’ve already got communism! And they just took half my paycheck.
WG: Trump is a little over 200 days in office. How do you feel about the progress of the current administration?
O’ROURKE: I’m upset by the disorder. Look, I’m not a big Trump hater. I understand that people—especially in agriculture—were tired of the intrusion that rules and regulations caused and wanted a change. I live in rural New Hampshire and have a tree farm. Granted, my crop only comes in every 30 years or so, but I have seen a glimmer of ag’s regulatory issues.
I think that people wanted to shake certain things up, and Trump isn’t shaking up the things they wanted him to. He is shaking up everything.
WG: In general, what do you think about the state of politics today?
O’ROURKE: I’ve been covering politics since 1972. Though people feel like it’s in a dismal state right now, what we are living through today is not as bad as Watergate or the Clinton impeachment.
I feel as if America is like a ship with a lot of holes. Whether we are leaning toward the left or are leaning more toward the right, we always come upright without taking in too much water.
WG: Anecdotally, it seems like the public is interested in politics more than ever—especially millennials and the younger generation who are among the hardest audiences to reach in regard to politics. Do you feel that this spurt in interest is a good thing for society?
O’ROURKE: Yes. We all benefit from a small efficient government and it’s good that more people are recognizing things our government does. However, if people start to get too involved, they will start to expect for government to solve their problems. For example, students or recent graduates can’t say “make my school debt vanish” and expect that it will happen.
WG: You’ve written for countless outlets—Rolling Stone, National Lampoon, The Weekly Standard, The Atlantic Monthly and even Playboy. Are you willing to share with me which publication has been your favorite?
O’ROURKE: There’s not just one. I spent 20 years as a foreign correspondent and loved traveling around the world. I still do. Visiting spots much worse than where you live really gives perspective on America. You cover one story in Somalia and then you come back here to the States and you just say to yourself “What was I b*tching about?!”
It got to a point though, after the Iraq War, where I was too old to keep being scared stiff and too stiff to keep sleeping on the ground. When I first started, the biggest danger we were in was getting our ear talked off by people who wanted to share their story. But when they started chopping off the heads of journalists, it was just too many bad manners for me.
WG: We know you have three children. Do you have hopes and dreams that they’ll follow in your footsteps as a journalist and political satirist?
O’ROURKE: No, no, no, no, no. I want them to go into investment banking. [laughter ensues]
I was lucky to work in the golden days of magazine where profits were a lot higher. Journalism hasn’t always paid a ton, but I always had access to a translator and a driver who would look out after me when I was on assignment. Now, the budget for all that stuff is gone.
Everything is moving much faster now and content is free. There are messages going out into the internet that are unfiltered. Things pop into people’s mind at 2 a.m. and they immediately put it out there for everyone to see, but it all comes back to an old rule: no one is so good of a writer that they don’t need an editor.