Excerpt: 'Don't Vote It Just Encourages the Bastards,' By P.J. O'Rourke

Enfranchisement is the lively, fortunate, and honorable freedom, for the sake of which our political ancestors pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Nothing concerning the goal of enfranchisement is ignoble except its attainment. Among those who choose the congressmen, senators, and presidents of the United States we now include people who are not considered mature and responsible enough to have a beer. (If it's any comfort, we should remind ourselves of the purpose of voting. We don't vote to elect great persons to office. They're not that great. We vote to throw the bastards out.)

Toleration is the best comfort of a free life for most people most of the time, especially if they experience as well as practice it. But tolerance is of minor interest to politics. Politics aspires to a big, positive role in things. And the role of politics in toleration is small except in the usually negative actions of keeping the peace. Yet it was two consummate American politicians who supplied us with a model for the universal formulation of tolerance: "Mind your own business and keep your hands to yourself." These may be rightly called the Bill and Hillary Clinton Rules. Hillary, mind your own business. Bill, keep your hands to yourself.

The ontological freedom known as autonomy isn't part of practical politics, it's all of practical politics -- imposing my will and thwarting yours. If the actions of mankind and the events of history turn out to have been foreordained it will be a good joke on politics. This leaves us with the nub or butt end of politicking: privilege and opportunity. Ignore everything politicians say about opportunity. They're lying. When politicians tout "opportunity" either they are trying to help voters disguise an extortion as a gift or they are the groom of government complimenting the bride of private property while in bed with the socialist maid of honor. And ignore all of politicians' sniffing at and scorn for privilege. Privilege and opportunity are the names for rights -- opportunity being rights you'd like to get and privilege being rights you'd like someone else to surrender. A politician doesn't ask if he may have the privilege of a dance; he says he has a right to it.

* * *

Our gassing about our rights is almost equal to our gassing about our freedoms when we're bent over and puffed full of air concerning our form of government. We're inordinately proud of the Bill of Rights. But it's an odd document.

The First and Sixth Amendments are straightforward enough, reassuring us that we may pray (OMG!), Twitter, kvetch, and be tried in the same court as O. J. Simpson. And the Fifth Amendment says that when we screw up big time we don't have to give our version -- like anybody's going to believe us. But the Second Amendment is woefully confusing. (Not that it confuses me about gun ownership, in case you were considering a mugging to get my Jitterbug mobile phone.) The principal right that the Second Amendment seems to guarantee is the right to be a soldier. To judge by our various episodes of national conscription -- Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam -- this is a right we sometimes have to force people to enjoy.

Page
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...