Parliament of Whores

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In PARLIAMENT OF WHORES, P. J. O’Rourke looks directly and unflinchingly at the federal government, and he makes it both hilarious and surreal. O’Rourke began the book while covering the 1988 presidential race, then kept at it for another two years, trying to learn more about how the government works (“which is complicated,” he notes, “by the fact that it doesn’t”).

O’Rourke is brilliantly and wickedly funny. He is also very conservative. Some readers will laugh as they exclaim, “Yes! You tell ’em,” while some will laugh through a grimace in spite of themselves. For example, in “Would You Kill Your Mother to Pave I-95?” he balances the federal budget (“It took me all morning but I did it”) by blithely doing away with social programs while keeping the defense budget intact. In the chapter “Defense Policy,” virtually the only section of the book that is serious in tone, he waxes rhapsodic over military hardware and over how wonderful the invasion of Panama was. O’Rourke briefly examines the three branches of the federal government, then provides close-up looks at such imponderables as the 1990 Farm Price Support Bill and the savings-and-loan bailout.

A central theme is that the people of the United States have been willing, even eager, participants in creating a federal government that is expensive, bureaucracy-bound, and endlessly expansive. As have other conservatives before him, O’Rourke lays much of the blame on people’s desire to have the government do things for them, including absolving them of responsibility for their own actions. O’Rourke concludes by describing a town meeting in his own town in New Hampshire. Watching his fellow townspeople—and himself—vote for limits on expansion of the town’s sewer system in order to keep a developer from building a golf course/condominium complex, he comes to the conclusion that “government in immoral.” Moreover, he realizes—in this small-scale setting it can be seen more clearly—that in a democracy, the “whores” of government are the citizens themselves.