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?

Being a poke-nose, a nanny-pants, and a wowser satisfies the pathetic need of the political class to feel self-important and powerful. Banning paper and plastic and making shoppers carry their groceries home in their mouths like dogs is just the thing to make a little tin humanist in the Obama West Wing think he's admiral of the Uzbek Navy.

Not that Pecksniff Buttinskiism is a strictly partisan matter. Long-lipped howler Republican Drys teamed up with spigot-bigot William Jennings Bryan to enact Prohibition. The GOP is home to blue noses of a size as if room had been made on Mt. Rushmore for a bust of Andrew Volstead. Meanwhile Democrats do have their pleasures--drinking bong water at gay weddings and so forth. Plus there is the Kennedy family to be considered, with their penchant for exciting risk--skiing into trees, sleeping with the babysitter, and claiming entitlement to New York Senate seats.

Republicans stick their schnozollas into other people's underpants and stashes (but not gun cabinets). In the matter of scolding foreigners and muscling in on the governance of lesser breeds without the law, Republicans are a regular pain in the atlas. But it is the Democrats who've learned to make political honey out of minding other people's beeswax. Not satisfied with mere bossy irritation of the public, Democrats have created whole branches of government--the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, the Department of Tofu and Sprouts. Democrats have opened barrels of (USDA inspected!) pork sufficient to feed all of their high-binding and wire-pulling friends, relatives, cronies, and the state government of Illinois. Democratic wisenheimers have managed to get themselves elected Big Chief Itch-and-Rub of every worry and to be appointed Pharaoh of Fret for every concern. They are the Party of Eliot Spitzer. And we the citizenry are Eliot Spitzer's wife.

How are the Democrats going to demean and humiliate us next? What issue will the Democrats fasten upon as a threat to the commonweal and a hazard to the planet? What busybody ordinance and ass-and-elbows regulation will be put upon the books for our own good?

It's important to find out what type of private interest or kind of human enjoy-ment the Democrats are going to pass a law against. We could lobby to defeat it. (Although our best lobbyists are in jail.) We could brace ourselves to endure it. (Although our endurance--witness the paltry vote against Timothy "H&R Block" Geithner--is nearly exhausted.) Or we could plan strategies to resist the oppression. (Dig hole behind garage; buy enormous freezer; hide the red meat.)

There are several ways to make a prediction about what the Democrats will outlaw. We might calculate the greatest statistical danger to Americans. That would be death. According to The Statistical Abstract of the United States there is a 1:1 rate of occurrence. But it's hard to engage in an Obama-style "dialogue" with dead people, even though they do vote in Cook County. There is, in theory, a "death tax," but enforcement difficulties arise when the deceased don't pay it. Rahm Emanuel is, we are almost certain, a vampire. But whether this will give the Obama administration a pro- or anti-death tilt is unclear.

Another way to foretell proscription is to look at the most common or frequently occurring danger to Americans. What causes the most crime, violence, unemployment, divorce, disease, and mental illness? But that brings us back to Andrew Volstead, who was a Republican. Democrats will have to be satisfied with nibbling around the edges of this issue, providing additional funding for local enforcement efforts to curtail Managing a Hedge Fund While Impaired, etc. Also Democratic party loyalist trial lawyers can be given greater scope, allowing more bar and restaurant patrons to sue for being "Over-Served." Some friends of mine and I are bringing a class action suit against P.J. Clarke's in New York, where we met our first wives.

Or we could simply poll the nation and determine what the average American perceives as the greatest danger. Young black males in hoodies. But any action on this front would put the Obama administration in danger of support by Bill Cosby.

In fact, we'd be wrong to use any of the above methods to foresee what Democrats will attempt to constrain or forbid. A better way to approach the problem is to ask, "What would annoy the most people the most often?" That is the true test of government intervention in life. The Secular Grail of liberal Democrats is a program or policy that combines the intrusion of the census, the depredations of the income tax, the duress of school busing to achieve racial balance, the expense of Social Security, the nuisance of Medicare paperwork, the inconvenience of car registration, the pettiness of a congressional investigation, and the fine print on the label of flame-resistant children's pajamas.

My guess is that the next great government crusade will be against soap. The president will appoint a Blue Ribbon Commission, which will determine that soap releases polluting grime into the ecosystem, leads to aquifer depletion, and contains fatty acids that laboratory studies have shown to be acidic and not fat-free. Soap encourages teenage pregnancy as well as adult sexual activity with multiple partners, driving America's divorce rate higher, causing more children to live under the poverty line in single-parent households. Soap is a factor in many cases of child abuse, according to small boys in bathtubs. Soap bubbles may contain methane, especially if rising to the surface of bath water containing small boys. Soap marketing sends the wrong message about the Ivory trade and also about Irish Spring, which is being altered by climate change. Soap degrades the flame-resistant properties of children's pajamas. And soap makes whales foam when they spout.

Socialism--you can smell it coming.

P.J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.