I’ve been aware for some time now that Dave Barry is a libertarian, but I’d never really given it any considerable thought. In part, this is because Barry’s humour, while fiercely libertarian, is just that: humor. So, when Barry lampoons the political process, the bloat of pork barrel politics, or the extreme encumbrance of bureaucracy, it comes off to the reader as mere shenanigans—comic hyperbole ha ha! What a funny guy!
Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway is a funny enough book at its strong points, namely when Barry’s libertarianism qua humor is rampaging through Washington. In fact, it’s when he delves into “so ridiculous it’s funny” stories rather than wholesale fabrications that Barry is at his funniest and most original.
The book lacks a certain cohesion, and feels like it was written as several long articles and pasted together under a vaguely political theme. It starts out with a brief treatment of the dawn of man through the writing of the constitution. It dwells heavily on giant prehistoric zucchini for a bit, and then more or less resembles a ghost of Dave Barry Slept Here: a Sort of History of the United States, which is hands-down one of his funniest books ever. But his cursory musings about early American politics don’t inspire mirth so much as a longing for the early 90s, when Barry was in his prime. Next in line comes a significantly funnier look at modern Washington and the scope of the federal bureaucracy, followed up closely by a thorough smear of political campaigning (including a short skit which I found hilarious). This section is funny enough, but the more I thought about Barry’s political stance, the less it seemed like humor and more like thinly-veiled punditry. Or, as Al Franken would say, “kidding on the square.”
The final section is a long diatribe about South Florida that veers from joshing about the 2000 election to a digression about Cuba and Castro1 to a long and detailed discussion of the various colourful politicians and their ever-present and ever-seedy lawyers that turn places like Miami into a living cartoon. Once again, this latter section was the most entertaining of its “I’m not creative enough to make this shit up” sort of nature.
And that’s it: a mere 180 pages, much of them filler, surrounding a few articles’ worth of decent material. I got this book for all of $3 (used book store), and I’m sure glad I didn’t pay full price for it, because it’s certainly not the treasure trove of humour that Barry used to put out.
- Barry’s wife is Cuban, and so I imagine Barry considered himself ‘in the know’ about such matters, which isn’t to say that he’s wrong—I am only a little taken aback that he takes many pages to very seriously denounce Castro in what is otherwise a spastically lighthearted book[↩]