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Not Dead Yet

Introducing the pre-obituary: a few choice words before you go.

Jun 7, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 36 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) was, in and of himself, a bad person. He taught economics at Harvard, served in FDR’s Office of Price Administration, was chairman of Americans for Democratic Action, and, after 97 years of comfort and achievement in a free market society, still believed that a free market society is wrong. Maybe it is, if it provides comfort and achievement to John Kenneth Galbraiths. There’s a special stove-top perch in the kitchen corner of hell for witty, urbane, prosperous, and celebrated leftists. It would have been nice to tell John about it before he took his seat.

And then there’s that missed opportunity of all opportunities, Ted Kennedy (1932-2009). One Pre-Obituary hardly would have done the job. Teddy left us with 50 years of unperformed dances upon his future grave. There was the death of his self-respect in 1962 when he was given his brother’s Senate seat the way a child is given a toy to keep him occupied on a long trip. There was the death of his conscience in 1969 when he killed Mary Jo Kopechne. There was the death of his political fortunes in 1980 when he couldn’t wrestle the presidential nomination from even Jimmy Carter. And there was the long, slow death of what little sense he had as he became the Grand Old Moron of the Senate.

We mustn’t let these passings pass us by again. There are all sorts of knaves and fools ready to be put to bed with a shovel. Why should they sit at their ease in God’s waiting room reading old issues of the Nation?

Jimmy Carter is 85. We must hasten to throw the Camp David Accord in his face before he heads to his eternal camp-out with Anwar el-Sadat. Gore Vidal is 84. There’s no chance he’ll end up in the same place as Bill Buckley. We ought to take up Buckley’s gauntlet and slap Gore’s face here and now. Noam Chomsky is 81. Why should Satan have all the fun? We own pitchforks of fact aplenty with which to prod his living flesh. Norman Lear is 87 and will be married to Maude forever any minute now. (Although Lear may find himself forgiven. He never meant to make Archie Bunker a hero and a role model, but perhaps the road to heaven is paved with bad intentions.) Ed Asner is 80. Put him together with Ben Bradlee (88) and Alan J. Pakula, director of All the President’s Men (died in 1998, darn it), and you have the villains in the tragic tale of the American newspaper’s self-congratulatory ossification. Ross Perot also will be 80 soon. We owe him one Bill Clinton-sized philippic. Ralph Nader is 76. High time that someone, metaphorically, flipped him in a Corvair. And Paul Ehrlich is 78. In these days of the graying workforce, baby bust, and demographic decline, surely he needs a population bomb in his underpants.

The beauty of obituaries for the still-extant is that they needn’t be limited to those who are about to go home feet first. Preemptive necrology can be practiced on persons who are in the prime of life, especially if they’ve had their little turn in the limelight and will never do anything else of note if they live to be 1,000.

Maybe “prime of life” isn’t the right descriptive phrase for Ted Turner (71) and Jane Fonda (72), Barney Frank and Harry Reid (70), Bernie Sanders (68), Christopher Dodd (66), Bernadine Dohrn (68), and Bill Ayers (65). They’ll all receive medical treatment paid for with our Medicare tax dollars when they have the stroke they’ll get after reading their Pre-Obits. But, aging though these pests may be, they strike this writer as the kind of people who will live on and on and, before they buy the (organic) farm, may be declared “national treasures” if we don’t do something about it now.

Among the younger of the “dead-but-too-dumb-to-lie-down” we find Andrew Lloyd Webber (62). What a joy to get out the knives and hatchets and hammers and tongs and craft fresh reviews of Jesus Christ Superstar, The Phantom of the Opera, and Cats. A careful reinspection of the career of Donald Trump (63) might send the man to federal medium security prison (naming rights available). What a stink there is rising from the rotting corpse of the body of ideas held by Paul Krugman (57). And to Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (both 59), late—as it were—of Ben & -Jerry’s, let us suggest the flavor “Grateful Deadly Nightshade.”

Chronological age means nothing, of course, among show business types. They pop off at random all the time. An announcement of the untimely continuing existence of Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, or any of the Kardashian sisters would provide an always welcome chance to denounce every aspect of what passes for entertainment in modern America. As a bonus, such advance post-mortems have every likelihood of proving more prescient than premature. “Sudden Collapse in Pilates Studio” seems a likely all-purpose headline. Let’s throw in Sean Penn for good measure.

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