The Pequod Review:
Parliament of Whores is another essay collection in the vein of Republican Party Reptile (1987), but of meaningfully higher quality. P.J. O’Rourke still too often goes for the cheap yuks and he relies too much on anecdotes, but a few of these essays are polemical masterpieces. My favorite by far is his investigation into the Sudden Acceleration Incident (SAI) automobile craze of the 1980s, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) subsequent study of the problem. The book is worth purchasing for this chapter alone but here is his essential conclusion:
In the twinkling of an eye (by the standards of bureaucratic time, which is slower than geologic time but more expensive than time spent with Madame Claude’s girls in Paris) the thing was done. On March 7, 1989, the DOT-NHTSA-ODI-TSC-OPSAD-VRTC . . . effort produced an eighty-one page report written by an eight man group of engineering savants with more than fifty years of college among them. This document presented evidence from exhaustive experiment and analysis that proved what everybody who understands how to open the hood of a car had known all along about SAIs: “Pedal misapplications are the likely cause of these incidents.”
Yes, the dumb buggers stepped on the gas instead of the brake . . . the truth was out at last. The government had released a huge report showing that there was no such thing as unintended acceleration in automobiles. Stand by for huge government reports on fairies stealing children and poker wealth gained by drawing to inside straights. Meanwhile cars did not fly away of their own accord. They could be safely left unattended. You can fold up the camp cot and quit spending nights in the garage keeping an eye on the family minivan.
. . . So the truth was out, and we people who like automobiles and can tell our right foot from our elbow should have been glad. But there was, in fact, no reason to celebrate. This message from the federal bowl of Alpha-Bits had cost us taxpayers millions of dollars and came too late to save Audi from the ignorance, credulity, opportunism and sheer Luddite malice directed toward that corporation and its products. Furthermore, the Department of Transportation press release introducing the SAI report absolved the paddle-shoed, dink-wit perpetrators of sudden acceleration. It just let Betty Dumb-Toes and Joe Boat-Foot right off the hook: “NHTSA declined to characterize the cause of sudden acceleration as driver error. Driver error may imply carelessness or willfulness in failing to operate a car properly. Pedal misapplication is more descriptive. It could happen to even the most attentive driver who inadvertently selects the wrong pedal and continues to do so unwittingly.”
The next time I get pulled over by the state highway patrol, I’m telling the officer, “You probably intend to ticket me for speeding, which would be driver error. But pedal misapplication is more descriptive of what occurred. It could happen to even the most attentive driver who inadvertently selects the wrong pedal and continues to do so unwittingly.”
Another strong chapter is the final one ("At Home in the Parliament of Whores"), in which O'Rourke shows how local politics are just as self-centered as national politics, and how core principles of freedom and property rights are quickly abandoned (even by O'Rourke himself) when it costs money. In this case, O'Rourke and his fellow New Hampshire townspeople created a sewer regulation in order to prevent the development of a golf course that would have led to higher taxes:
The golf-course developer had been punctilious in meeting the town's Planning Board, Board of Adjustment, Conservation Commission and Historic District Commission requirements and in obeying all applicable state and federal laws. The golf-course and condo-complex owner had needed to obtain forty-seven permits from eleven different government agencies in order to start building his golf course and condo complex. But he had done so. An all-sewage special town meeting was the last possible way to stop the guys in plaid pants and kiltie shoes.
As I mentioned before, I hold private-property rights to be sacred – in theory. Which is like saying I'm rich – in Bulgaria. In theory we're all lots of things: good, kind and, above all, consistent. I hold private-property rights to be sacred in theory, but in practice I had thrown in with the anti-golf-course faction...
What we were trying to do with our legislation in the Blatherboro Town Meeting was wanton, cheap and greedy – a sluttish thing. This should come as no surprise. Authority has always attracted the lowest elements of the human race. All through history mankind has been bullied by scum. Those who lord it over their fellows and toss commands in every direction and would boss the grass in the meadow about which way to bend in the wind are the most depraved kinds of prostitutes. They will submit to any indignity, perform any vile act, do anything to achieve power. The worst off-sloughings of the planet are the ingredients of sovereignty. Every government is a parliament of whores.
The trouble is, in a democracy the whores are us.