The Magazine

The Next Big Stink

The killjoys are back. What do they have in store for us?

Feb 9, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 19 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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The killjoys are back in charge--the mopes, the fusstails, the glum pots. Their wet blanket has been thrown over the White House and Congress. They're worrying up a storm. (Good thing that George W. Bush is no longer in charge of the weather and FEMA the way he was during Hurricane Katrina.) America is experiencing a polar ice cap and financial meltdown, causing sea levels to rise and sending cold water flooding into Wall Street where the rapidly acidifying ocean is corroding our 401(k)s and releasing mortgage securities full of hot air into the atmosphere until our every breath is full of CO2 especially when we exhale, which should be banned when children are present lest their uninsured health care be harmed by second-hand greenhouse gases that are causing endangerment of plant and animal species (Republicans are extinct already), leading to a shortage of green, leafy vegetables vital to the fight against America's growing epidemics of obese hunger and housing foreclosures on the homeless.

You remember the killjoys. They've been all over liberal Democratic politics like ugly on an ape since the Carter adminis-tration. They are the people who conceived the late, little-mourned, double-nickel speed limit, which is doubtless now rising undead from its grave to turn us all into road zombies dragging ourselves down I‑70 numbed to a state of murderous catatonia by our 55-mile-per-hour rate of travel.

The killjoys initiated automobile crash standards so rigorous that we can't buy a car that hasn't been dropped from the top of a phone pole with our whole family strapped inside. (Click It or Ticket!) And they wrote the infant car seat regulations that require devices so complex, with such arcane rules for use, that each car seat now comes from the manufacturer with its own mechanical engineer and each infant comes from the maternity ward with its own lawyer.

Nor is the kid exempt from legislative backseat driving just because she (the pronoun that every publication with a Second Class mailing permit is federally mandated to use in alternate sentences) has emerged from the car. Children must now wear helmets to bike, ski, rollerblade, or skateboard and wear an additional helmet--in case they collide with hard porcelain and injure their tailbones--on their butts when they go to the toilet. The only time children are allowed to remove their safety helmets is when they catch a parent smoking cigarettes. In that case they can doff protective headgear to better reveal facial expressions of shock, horror, shame, and disappointment. (Barack, you stand warned.) Children learn these facial expressions in the 1,000 hours of compulsory anti-tobacco education that America's public schools have made time for by eliminating the minute of silence in the morning (courtesy of the ACLU) and also reading and math.

The only way I can sneak a smoke nowadays is to borrow a buddy's hunting cabin in the Maine backwoods, lock myself in the bathroom, and stand in the shower stall with the curtain pulled tight and the water running. You'd think this would extinguish my Marlboro Light. However, thanks to low-flow shower heads required by federal law to conserve a precious resource that I thought we were about to have too much of due to the melting of polar ice, I can smoke in the shower with the faucets on full blast and stay bone dry. (Flushing the filter tip down the water-conserving john is another matter.)

Sucking the fun out of life has always been a key component of political science. The inventors of modern politics, the English Puritans, are rightly a byword for buzz-kill and gloomocracy. The Puritans banned all theatrical performances because of the dangers of .  .  . mmmmm .  .  . they'd think of something .  .  . actors playing Mercutio and Tybalt having a sword fight in Romeo and Juliet without wearing bike helmets.

Creating alarms about trans fats or energy sustainability expands the purview of government almost as well as war, without all the patriarchal, exclusionist, sexist heroism and hurtful, insensitive, patriotic language. Gas prices frighteningly high? Declare a moral equivalent of Nagasaki. Arteries clogged? Pass a law requiring the chicken nugget fry-basket to be dunked in boiling mint tea.

Raining on parades requires no skill or effort on the part of a politician. This is what draws people--and Democrats--into politics. All a Democrat needs is the upper-story window of public attention and the chamber pot of rhetoric. How else to explain Joe Biden's rise as a flannel-mouthed, four-flushing, limelight-stealing head louse?