During the Cold War, P.J. O’Rourke got a lot of mileage from his persona of ’60s radical-turned partying conservative. With drink in one hand and Groucho glasses in the other, O’Rourke lampooned the joylessness of communism. But after the Wall fell, he seemed to have lost his way. With this latest collection of essays, O’Rourke has found a new persona – bewildered, late-in-life parent.
In “Holidays in Heck,” O’Rourke warns us he’s hung up his war correspondent flak jacket for family vacation fun. He has an odd definition for this term, though. We find him hiking in 95-degree weather, landing on an aircraft carrier and reporting from Red China. He hasn’t completely abandoned making political statements out of his encounters. Seeing the dangers firsthand of F-16 piloting, he finds conservative virtues of courage and responsibility in the otherwise RINO Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). O’Rourke confidently predicts that the low-level capitalism he finds in Hong Kong will eventually overthrow the top-level communism.
There is evidence that O’Rourke has shifted to are-we-there-yet parenting mode. He is now chasing kids at Disneyland. Women with guns are no longer Sandinistas but his quail-shooting wife. But O’Rourke retains enough of his war correspondent persona to give this new one comic bite. The man who once faced artillery shells is ill-equipped to deal with riding Space Mountain or waking up at the tender age of 63 to feed the babies.
Still, one wishes for the political O’Rourke, especially in the age of Obama. Now more than ever we need the journalist who loudly celebrated the victory of anti-communist candidates in Nicaragua in front of Ed Asner, or the jeering travel companion of Old Lefties visiting Brezhnev’s Soviet Union.
O”Rourke has been compared to H.L. Mencken. “Holidays in Heck” emphasizes this connection. Toward the end of his life, Mencken stopped jeering at politicians and began writing reminisces of newspaper days, just when perfect enemies such as Adolf Hitler were available. The same has occurred with O’Rourke. He has always defined his enemy as ’60s wannabes and big government Democrats. In President Obama, he has both, and the president’s kamikaze-like determination to socialize as much as possible before he gets the boot provides O’Rourke the ultimate foil.
This is the worst possible moment to navel watch.