Wall Street Journal
In Vino Veritas
P.J. O’Rourke with a modest proposal for a more honest politics
By P.J. O’ROURKE
MAY 28, 2011
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Raising a glass: Barack and Michelle Obama in Chile in March
The most important question in politics is, “What do politicians think?” Not that they don’t tell us. Politicians are capable of a great, vague prolixity about their social policies, economic theories, political philosophies and legislative agendas. But are we hearing what they really think? And do they have any idea what they’re talking about?
Maybe politicians don’t think at all and make their decisions the way that the rest of us do—because it seemed like a good idea at the time, it got somebody’s goat, or it would make a great YouTube video.
Anyway, how would we find out? For years I had an idea that the key was to make speechwriters illegal. Ditch the shining rhetoric that lets politicians, with tongues of boughten silver, give Tiffany settings to rhinestone notions, decorate nonsense with bells of ringing phrases and frame their sorry bragging in glittering rodomontade.
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Tim Pawlenty with George W. Bush in 2008
Boy, does this show my age. When was shining rhetoric last heard from an American politician? Generation upon political generation has passed away since Ronald Reagan. And I’m even older than that. I’m still mad at Ted Sorenson for making those flibbertigibbet Kennedy boys sound like Winston Churchill with bangs.
It’s no longer the dark arts of grandiloquence that obscure our politicians’ thinking. Barack Obama sounds like a junior professor who won’t yield the floor at a faculty senate meeting.
Just as I was wondering how we might discover what is really on the minds of modern politicians, Donald Trump stumbled briefly across the political stage. Trump said everything that was on his mind. Everything. It was wonderful. All we have to do is to get every other politician to act like Donald Trump, which is easy, because Mr. Trump acts drunk. He isn’t. He achieves inebriation by drinking his own bath water. But it’s the effect that counts.
So let’s pass a law: Before any politician makes a speech, gives an interview or answers questions shouted by the press corps, he or she has to have a snootfull. Several highballs should do it. We don’t want them three sheets to the wind. We just want them to be like the fellow on the next barstool, who got a slight jump on happy hour and wants you to hear all his big ideas.
This is a venerable custom. In vino veritas is a proverb cited by both Plato and Pliny the Elder. Of course it wouldn’t have worked on American politicians of the old school, who were perfectly capable of keeping their footing in heavy weather. But today’s office-seekers are mostly healthy-living lightweight types, with imbibing limited to occasional sips of chardonnay at Sonoma fund-raisers, campaign stops in rustbelt taverns or teachable moments in the Rose Garden.
We can’t know for sure what boozy revelations will spill forth when our politicians put on the beer goggles and tell us what they see inside themselves. But there’s no harm in taking a few educated guesses:
Newt Gingrich: “The thing is I’m brilliant—dazzlingly brilliant. I’m dazzled by my own brilliance. I’m so dazzled sometimes I can’t see where I’m going. I bumped right into Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. I’m a deer in my own headlights.”
Mitch Daniels: “I could solve America’s problems. But I won’t. Know why? Americans like their problems… Am I really too short to be president?”
Herman Cain: “What you learn when you run Godfather’s Pizza is what you need to know about American politics. No anchovies. That’s what the Democrats are offering America—anchovies. Some people say they like anchovies. They’re lying.”
Michael Bloomberg: “America’s broke. I have a lot of money. You do the arithmetic. Anybody feel a draft in here?”
Hillary Clinton: “Men! Moammar Gadhafi! Bashar Assad! Kim Jong Il! It’s the damn men. Barkeep, make that a double.”
Mitt Romney (with apologies for making him violate his religious principles by taking a drink): “I’m a technocrat. I fix problems. I fix a problem whether the problem exists or not. Like health care in Massachusetts. It wasn’t a problem. I fixed that.”
Tim Pawlenty: “Look, I’m just trying to get out of Minnesota. Wouldn’t you?”
Barack Obama: “I give everybody hope. I give everybody change. I give everybody health insurance. I save the banking system. I stimulate the economy. I provide America with a living example of how we’ve overcome our history of racism. And the only thanks I get is when I kill Beardo-the-Weirdo while he’s locked in his hidey-hole watching porn and not doing jack.”
Sarah Palin: “Maybe I will run for president. It’d make a great YouTube video.”
—Mr. O’Rourke’s many books include “Don’t Vote—It Just Encourages the Bastards.”