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P.J. O’Rourke: Too Clever and Too Comfortable to Occupy Reality

In an American Public Media Marketplace commentary, P.J. O’Rourke accurately identifies concerns of the Occupy Wall Street movement when he states, “people are right about the sins of the financial system and right about the evil of government supporting and subsidizing this malfeasance.” But he runs off the rails when he claims that Occupiers also “believe in the Zero Sum Fallacy — the idea that there is a fixed amount of the good things in life.”

Where did O’Rourke get the idea that even one Occupier, much less Occupiers as a whole, believe the ludicrous Zero Sum Fallacy. Probably FOX, maybe lazy mainstream media but certainly not a General Assembly at any Occupy site.

I don’t think what Occupiers are saying is all that hard to understand … if you actually talk to enough of them. Of course they are very hard to understand if their opinions go through a right-wing filter that strains hearsay and false assumptions down to witty irrelevant sound bites.

Even worse, O’Rourke goes on to illustrate his misunderstanding of Occupier concerns about economic justice by this condescending interchange with his 13-year-old daughter: “all I (P.J.) hear, ‘That’s not fair,’ she says. ‘That’s not fair! That’s not fair!’ And one day I snapped, and I said, ‘Honey, you’re cute, that’s not fair. Your family is pretty well off, that’s not fair. You were born in America, that’s not fair. Darling, you had better get down on your knees and pray things don’t start getting fair for you.’”

Granted, Kai Ryssdal asked a remarkably stupid question, “If the 1% had less, would the 99% be better off?”, so a stupid answer can be expected. Except, O’Rourke is a brilliant political satirist, he should do better. Satire is just mediocre standup unless it’s point is a significant truth, preferably a truth embarrassing to the powerful. O’Rourke would have done himself a big favor if he’d listened carefully to Robert Reich answer the same question the day before: “With all due respect that’s exactly the wrong question. It plays into the false idea that the economy is a giant zero-sum game.” O’Rourke and Reich both see the falsehood, but Reich knew it was the banksters who act like the economy is zero-sum, not the protestors.

Ironically, modern economic history demonstrates that the wealthy will be better off when the less wealthy are better off since A Rising Middle Class Tide Raises All Boats.

O’Rourke’s quick wit is well suited for … ummm … wait … hmmm … wait … don’t tell me … oh yeah, well suited for ‘Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me’ but this commentary demonstrated the danger of a clever mind speaking from a position of comfort about uncomfortable realities.
– Iron Filing



  1. TENTHIRTYTWO wrote:

    I actually responded to a youtube video someone linked earlier this morning with similar nonsense. It is remarkable the lengths that people are going to in order to marginalize the movement.

    Saturday, November 19, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink
  2. Arthanyel wrote:

    The Occupy movement suffers from a lack of focus, but it’s pretty clear that they all agree on two main themes:

    1) the rules of the game of American society have been rigged in favor of the 1% and against the 99%

    2) the people that write and modify those rules (the government) is a majority owned subsidiary of the 1%.

    How hard is this to understand? And why would anyone NOT want to fix it, unless they are in the 1%?

    Saturday, November 19, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink
  3. ebdoug wrote:

    from an article in Christian Science Monitor on”Stanley Dashew” “When I started looking for a job seventy-five years ago, there was record unemplyment with little prospect for growth. Kids like me with college backgrounds were a dime a dozen. Times were so bad that people were rioting on Wall Street”

    I can’t copy/paste it because it is from a magazine. Watch for it at or org. What is not mentioned is that Roosevelt made jobs (and beautiful parks for us). And that Truman and Eisenhower after the war raised the tax rates on the rich to a phenomenal level to get this country back on track.

    Saturday, November 19, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink
  4. John Hoffman wrote:

    P.J.O’Rourke was laugh out loud and spit take funny when I read his essays in the National Lampoon in the Seventies. His early books were similarly funny. Somehow, he managed to transition himself into a humorless asshole whose prose I cannot read any more. I am really sad about that, he used to be funny and I miss that.

    Sunday, November 20, 2011 at 12:53 am | Permalink
  5. Iron Filing wrote:

    John, I agree but I still sometimes spit out my coffee laughing with him on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. Some people just don’t handle success well. Seriously, it’s not becoming for a man with 16 successful books, 3 of which are NYT best sellers, to say “it’s upsetting that some people have so much while other people have so little. It isn’t fair. But I accept this unfairness.” And when O’Rourke said, “It’s not fair that 1 percent of Americans are rolling in dough while the rest of us are scrimping to pay for our Internet connection so we can go on Groupon”, I thought, “really, O’Rourke, you scrimp to pay for internet” and “they take Groupon at Tiffanys?”

    Sunday, November 20, 2011 at 3:51 am | Permalink