In P.J. O'Rourke's new book, "Don't Vote -- It Just Encourages the Bastards, " the satirist takes a look at national politics through the venerable lens of a teenage party game to find an unsettling, and humorous, side of the political machine.
Read an excerpt of the book below, and head to the "GMA" Library for more good reads.
When I first began to think about politics -- when mastodons and Nixon roamed the earth -- I was obsessed with freedom. I had a messy idea of freedom at the time, but I had the tidy idea that freedom was the central issue of politics.
I loved politics. Many young people do -- kids can spot a means of gain without merit. (This may be the reason professional politicians retain a certain youthful zest; Strom Thurmond was the boyo right down to his last senile moment.) I was wrong about the lovable nature of politics, and even at twenty-three I probably suspected I was wrong. But I was sure I was right about the preeminent place of freedom in a political system.
Freedom is a personal ideal. Because politics is an arrangement among persons, we can plausibly assume that freedom is a political ideal. Our favorite political idealists think so. They've been unanimous on the subject since Jean-Jacques Rousseau convinced polite society that human bondage was in bad taste and John Locke showed the divine right of kings to be a royal pain.
The signers of the Declaration of Independence declared us to be residents of "Free and Independent States." John Adams demanded, "Let me have a country, and that a free country." Tom Paine warned that "Freedom hath been hunted round the globe." And he exhorted us to "receive the fugitive and prepare in time an asylum for mankind." Calling America an asylum may have been a poor choice of words, or not. Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address, preached "Freedom of religion; freedom of the press, and freedom of person." Jefferson was quite free with the person of Sally Hemings. And a dinner toast from Revolutionary War general John Stark bestowed upon New Hampshire a license plate motto that must puzzle advocates of highway safety: "Live Free or Die."
With Bartlett's Familiar Quotations as a useful gauge of what we think we think, we find that Emerson poetized, "For what avail the plow or sail, or land or life, if freedom fail?" Hegel weighed in, "The history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom." As unlikely a character as the crackpot Nietzsche had something to say: "Liberal institutions straightway cease from being liberal the moment they are soundly established: once this is attained no more grievous and more thorough enemies of freedom exist than liberal institutions." The UN Commission on Human Rights comes to mind.