Libertarian curmudgeon and author P.J. O'Rourke muses about fatherhood at 50, the politics of cigar smoking, and why economics is funny.
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Arguably, it is hard to make economics interesting, and even tougher to make it funny. O'Rourke says, "When it affects every aspect of your life, how can it be dull? Once I got into it and I started to face this as a determined amateur, just go places and see how circumstances were and how they were changing for people, it was lots of fun. I didn't have to talk about numbers and graphs and crap like that. I talk a little bit about their gross domestic product, but only as much as I absolutely have to. Mostly it's looking at how people live. Do they have enough to eat? Are they living in garbage heaps or are they living large?"
It's every middle-aged man's dream: O'Rourke is driving fast down a heavily wooded New Hampshire road in a Porsche, holding an illegal Cohiba in one hand, downshifting with the other. (For O'Rourke devotees: The only drug consumed was nicotine. There were neither cocktails spilled, nor any Wing-Wang squeezing during the drive. Sorry.) O'Rourke seizes the opportunity to rant eloquently about the government: "The government must have something better to do with themselves! Everybody knows what tobacco does to you and to what extent it's good for you and to what extent it's bad for you. Bug off! Free people should be able to make an informed decision."
Without missing a beat, he takes a puff. "Obviously, the government is looking for new sources of revenue. People don't want to pay any more income tax, they don't want a national sales tax, their property taxes are too high, their state sales taxes are too high. The government is looking for some place that they can raise revenue without taking a real beating in the polls. And since everybody is at least publicly opposed to cigarette smoking, the government is saying, 'Boy, can we get some more revenue here!' "
Typically, O'Rourke has issues with people on both sides of the aisles. "Liberals can't get over [their belief] that government has some of the answers for all of our problems. It just doesn't. And conservatives can't seem to get over [their belief] that there aren't any answers for quite a few of the problems, or the answers only work to the extent that individuals can figure them out for themselves. It comes down to something that's very fundamental to politics: everybody wants to boss everybody else around. It's chock-full of big brothers and big sisters, bossy aunts and interfering grandmothers."
Slowing down momentarily to point out local points of interest, O'Rourke makes the larger, more important point that underlies the issue. "The whole idea of freedom is to let people do what they want and take the consequences of their actions. Anytime the government tries to curtail peoples' freedoms, the weight of that argument should be very much on the government's shoulders. The government should have to defend its intervention, and it's only justified under the most grave circumstances. But to say to people that you can't smoke, or you can't drink, or you can't mow the lawn on Sundays and so on, I mean, why? You better have a very, very good reason for this, because any time you violate freedom, any time you detract from human freedom, you're moving away from everything that civilization has been moving towards since 500 B.C.--which is greater respect for the individual, sanctity of the individual, more responsibility for the individual. And little freedoms are just as important as big freedoms. If the government can regulate your health and your safety, why shouldn't the government be regulating your finances? And, of course, in a lot of countries, that's what happens. It's not the kind of country I want."
A frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado, Alysse Minkoff is a freelance writer based in Beverly Hills, California, and co-author with actor George Hamilton of Life's Little Pleasures (General Publishing Group).
P.J. O'Rourke on the Politics of Cigars
THE RECENT POPULARITY OF CIGARS:
"I was glad to see other people enjoying something that I enjoyed, especially in that it was something that annoyed a whole bunch of other people. The bad part of it was watching 26 year olds from Wall Street smoke half a Cohiba and leave it in the ashtray while they went and got green. It was sorta funny to watch them get green, but it wasn't funny to watch the Cohiba go to waste. I would prefer that if they were going to do something that they really don't want to do in order to look cool, that they would stick with Martinis."
"I don't smoke the band. Anytime there is something good, whether it's wine or whiskey or cigars and, I suppose, women, there's going to be somebody around making too much of this. A nice little pleasure is a nice little pleasure. If you're smoking good cigars, it's rude to throw that in other people's faces. And of course, if you were smoking bad cigars, why would you want anybody to know, so you take the band off."
THE IRONY OF SMOKING RESTRICTIONS:
"Russia is the world's smelliest country and Russians are the world's smelliest people [and yet, on the Trans-Siberian railroad, you can smoke only on the platforms between cars]. Neither dry cleaning nor soap have caught on there yet, let alone pollution control. I'd spent nearly a month being gagged by coal smoke, diesel fumes, industrial effluvia and BO. Then I stepped out into the train car vestibule, lit a Montecristo No. 3 and all the Russians ran away holding their noses."
HIS FAVORITE SMOKE:
"Montecristos are my favorite cigars in the world, but I can never remember what's a Number 1 or what's a 2. If somebody were to call me up and say, 'Would you like a box of [Montecristo] 19s?' I would have no idea what they were talking about."
An O'Rourke Sampler
"Democrats are...the party that says government can make you richer, smarter, taller and get the chickweed out of your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it." --from A Parliament of Whores
"You say we [reporters] are distracting from the business of government. Well I hope so. Distracting a politician from governing is like distracting a bear from eating your baby. Or like getting a dog to quit chewing on your wallet, anyway." --from Age and Guile
"We're told cars are dangerous. It's safer to drive through South Central Los Angeles than to walk there. We're told cars are wasteful. Wasteful of what? Oil did a lot of good sitting in the ground for millions of years. We're told cars should be replaced by mass transportation. But it's hard to reach the drive-through window at McDonald's from a speeding train. And we're told cars cause pollution. A hundred years ago city streets were ankle deep in horse excrement. What kind of pollution do you want? Would you rather die of cancer at eighty or typhoid fever at nine?" --from Age and Guile
"You can't shame or humiliate modern celebrities. What used to be called shame and humiliation is now called publicity. And forget traditional character assassination. If you say a modern celebrity is an adulterer, a pervert and a drug addict, all it means is that you've read his autobiography." --from Give War a Chance
"It's better to spend money like there's no tomorrow then to spend tonight like there's no money." --from Modern Manners