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Wednesday, May 17, 2006 

Two People I'd Love to Have Over for Dinner

I recently found this conversation between Robert Bork and PJ O'Rourke, facilitated by the American Enterprise Institute. In case you don't know these two, they occupy a lot of space on my book shelf. Robert Bork was a judge, Supreme Court nominee, and continues to write about Constitutional law. PJ O'Rourke is a humorist and political commentator. They discuss mostly the 60's and that decade's effect on modern culture and politics. The introduction notes that these two come from fairly opposite ends of the conservative political spectrum. O'Rourke is more libertarian while Bork is more traditionalist. The discussion is fairly interesting, highlighting the similarities and differences in their viewpoints.

Here's one of my favorite parts. The AEI editor is throwing out names to see what the guys think of these people...
TAE: Bill Clinton?

BORK: I have a hard time discussing Clinton without getting a nasty edge on, because I really despise the man, both in his private life and his public life.

TAE: What do you dislike the most?

BORK: It's hard to say. He's world class in all areas. He's the hedonistic side of the '60s. His wife is the ideological side of the '60s. She looks to politics as a way of finding meaning in life, which is not a very safe kind of a person to be.

O'ROURKE: It's easier to forgive her than him. In the first place, she'’s been married to him for a long time. That in itself is punishment enough.

I did a review of Hillary's It Takes a Village, and I actually read that whole book pretty carefully. I felt I was in the presence of a very silly woman, somebody who probably did very well in school because she always did exactly what the assignment was. I'm sure she's good at memorizing things.

BORK: I wish she'd stop talking about how her unpopularity is due to the fact that Americans are not ready for a strong woman.

O'ROURKE: Nonsense. We all had mothers, just for starters. America is not ready for a strong woman who's wrong about everything.
Bork actually taught the Clintons while they were at Yale Law School. He doesn't remember them much, especially because Bill's attendance record was less than stellar.

Aside from making fun of the Clintons (which is always a worthwhile endeavor), the guys actually talk about more weightier issues, including this view of law...
TAE: What if, let's say, citizens in Utah want to restrict certain individual activities, would libertarians say no, you can't do that?

O'ROURKE: Say, for instance, that Utah wanted to pass laws against public expression of homosexual affection or selling Coca-Cola. I'm basically in favor of allowing local areas to pass the laws that they think are good and just as long as those laws do not clearly violate the Constitution. They may be very stupid laws and if they are, the locality that passes them will feel the effect. They lose business, lose quality of life, crime increases, and so on, because of the silly laws that they'’ve passed.

BORK: Even if they don't feel the effect, that's a great advantage of federalism. Unlike the national government, you can get away from an oppressive local government. In Salt Lake City, I've had a lot of fun trying to get a martini. The last time I was there they announced they were not allowed to mix it, but they brought the ice, the vermouth, the gin, and everything else over to the table. I had to make my own. They do pass silly laws. It's their right. I didn't feel oppressed.
I've tended to agree with this point of view, which I think is at the core of Justice Thomas' dissent in Lawrence v Texas. It's not unconstitutional to have a stupid law. I think the alcohol laws that Bork describes are stupid. I think the law in Lawrence was stupid. But that doesn't mean that those laws are unconstitutional. That is a different and, in my view, a much more narrow analysis.

It's an interesting conversation. O'Rourke is probably the one human being who I agree with on every issue. That's incredibly rare for me, because I tend to find something about everyone else's point of view that I disagree with. I highly recommend Parliament of Whores and All the Trouble in the World. I'm usually in agreement with Bork, except on some of the moral issues. I'm not what you would call a social conservative. However, Bork's level of insight is undeniable, and The Tempting of America should be required reading. For a little Summer reading, these two guys are well worth your time.

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  • I'm Steve
  • From Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States
  • "There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences." P.J. O'Rourke
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