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P. J. O'Rourke left his mark on UWF

PJ ORourke UWF.jpg
University of West Florida
P.J. O'Rourke speaks at commencement at the University of West Florida. O'Rourke, 74, died Tuesday (2/15) due to complications of lung cancer.

Tributes are coming in for political satirist and best-selling author P.J. O'Rourke, who died Tuesday of complications arising from lung cancer at age 74.

In 2009, O’Rourke spent time at the University of West Florida as an artist-in-residence. He was also promoting his new book “Pirates in Neckties: Government vs. the Free Market — Which is Worse?”

“I don’t like politics; and I say that as somebody who’s been covering them in one way or another for 40 years,” he said. “It’s an informed dislike — it’s not just an instinctive dislike.”

One his pet peeves about governing was the various committees that would spring up, looking at what he called “the most minor of projects.”

“And of course politics is nothing but a giant version of the committee at your church or at your school and your PTA organization, your Boy Scout troop, your T-ball league,” O’Rourke said. “It’s that same committee, with the same idiots (laughs).”

With the government vs. free market debate, when it comes to the economy, O’Rourke says the latter must take the lead and set the example.

“There really is no alternative; one thing that various experiments with socialism have shown us, is that central planning is not an effective way for an economy to grow, said O’Rourke.”

Government’s role, he added, is to maintain the rule of law — part of that being a monopoly on deadly force.

“We do not want the privatization of deadly force; every episode of 'Gunsmoke' was basically about this,” O’Rourke said. “We don’t want people settling their quarrels with each other by means of vendetta [and] physical violence. We do not want vigilantes or vigilantism.”

On the lighter side, O’Rourke reminisced about his time as a writer — and later editor — at the National Lampoon from 1971 to 1980. National Lampoon went beyond the boundaries set by other satirical magazines, such as "Mad" and "Cracked" from the 1950s.

“The dullness of the ‘50s was followed by too much excitement entirely; the experiment of the 60s had been equally or more disastrous,” O’Rourke said. “Perfect for a guy of sophomoric cynicism to come along. And it was combined with a kind of technical expertise in terms of writing.”

When asked which Lampoon articles still stood out for him, O’Rourke said it was more of how they were done in the style of parody.

“It was our art director who taught us this lesson: If you’re going to do parody comic books, hire the actual artists that really draw those comic books to draw your parody,” he said. “They’re broke, and they don’t mind making fun of themselves. And so what we were able to do is we would do these photo spreads.”

While he said no one article stood out, O’Rourke did give one of his creations as an example.

“This one wasn’t a particular parody of a magazine; it was kind of a generic, sort of holiday magazine called ‘Dog Fishing in America.’ Where you went around, in the back of a pickup truck bed with the fighting seat that you have on a deep-sea fishing boat and tackle, and dragging pork chops.”

For an issue during the 1980 presidential campaign, P.J. O’Rourke co-founded a new political “party” in a National Lampoon article. And in 2009, he said nothing had changed.

“I’m still a ‘Pants-Down Republican,’” he said. “We are a two-party system; the two parties in this country are the Stupid [Republican] Party and the Silly [Democratic] Party. I am a loyal and faithful member of the Stupid Party. Because they have fewer ideas.”

P.J. O’Rourke returned to UWF in May of 2012 to deliver the spring commencement address. He told the graduates that giving more money to the government was like giving a teenage boy the keys to your car and the liquor cabinet.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.