Book of the Fortnight: Republican Party Reptile

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There comes a time for many of us when the weight of the world is too much for serious reading; a time when something more lighthearted, but no less intelligent, is in order; a time when we could plain ol’ use a good laugh. Thank Heaven for P.J. O’Rourke and that Republican Party Reptile is ideal for such a time.

The book is a collection of essays O’Rourke wrote for other publications including Rolling Stone and The Wall Street Journal, among others, and while it is both funny and smart, it also serves as an interesting lesson in more recent history – the Roaring 80s. From modern day experiments in media to a travel log through Soviet Russia, Republican Party Reptile has something for everyone – except perhaps those who can’t laugh at themselves.

The book opens with “A Brief History of Man” and it indeed lives up to its name. In two paragraphs, O’Rourke manages to not only sum up human history concisely but also humorously, adding conservative jabs as he goes, such as, “The barbarians, who had time on their hands, invented feudalism, but it proved too complicated to survive anywhere but in the lexicon of liberal social critics when they discuss South America.”

The next chapter, “An Intellectual Experiment” is an insightful and hilarious look at 1980s media in the form of a comparison between The New York Review of Books and a night of prime time television. While remarking on TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes, O’Rourke wrote an interesting bit of insight, at least it’s interesting with the passing of time and hindsight: “Has fame replaced wealth as a criterion of class division? Is being unknown the modern equivalent of being oppressed? Are fameless people therefore justified in rising up against the better publicized?” Well – the internet has certainly leveled that playing field.

One of the more insightful essays in the book is “Ship of Fools,” recounting a 16 day boat cruise on the Volga River in 1982 Soviet Russia with a tour group of “peaceniks” and progressives, all very keen to see the USSR for themselves. O’Rourke not only captures the pitiful state of the Soviet Union, but also offers a case study in left-wing delusion.

O’Rourkes “peace cruise” came complete with Soviet “peace experts.” O’Rourke asked his fellow passengers what the point was. “‘Soviet-American relations are very important’, said the leftists. Were we going to convince those experts that their government ought to pull its troops out of Afghanistan? ‘Huh?’ said everyone.”

One leftist becomes a running gag throughout the rest of the piece for always asking the same question to every “expert” he could, “What is the cost of housing in the Soviet Union as a percentage of workers’ wages?” Apparently he never got a satisfactory answer.

O’Rourke makes many friends among the Russians and there is also a group from New Mexico not associated with the “peace cruise.” One Russian yanked O’Rouke off a bus tour to take him drinking because his WWII veteran father had been so fond of the American soldiers in Germany he made his son promise if he ever met an American, he would buy him a drink.

The progressives, on the other hand, made everyone on the ship miserable. The New Mexicans took over the paromenade-deck lounge by smoking. “Smoking cigarettes seems to alarm peace activists much more than voting for Reagan does,” O’Rourke quips.

O’Rourke finally decides the peaceniks are crazy. “One, who was from the deep Midwest and looked like Millicent Fenwick, told me, ‘You know, if the people who put Reagan into office prevail, they’re going to take the vote from women.'”

In nearly 30 years, progressives have yet to formulate or articulate an argument to support their position besides fear mongering lies based on nothing more than their imagination. Because, of course, the Reaganites did prevail, and while the USSR was “taken away,” women’s suffrage was not. Not to mention the USSR was not then, or ever at any time, the utopia the “peace cruise” activists thought it was. Even when viewing it with their own eyes, they convinced themselves it was paradise. Thankfully, O’Rourke makes the entire trip quite humorous in his account, as well as the rest of his essays.

Because Republican Party Reptile is a collection of short essays, it makes the book easy to read in short chunks or all at once. A book to enjoy cover to cover, or to take of the shelf and enjoy just a few essays before returning to other reading, Republican Party Reptile is perfect reading when a good laugh is what you need.

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