Apres his National Lampoon days, P.J. O'Rourke made his bones as a serious journalist (horrible phrase) at Rolling Stone by doing some of the best and most-involved shoe-leather-times-10 travel reporting ever since Tocqueville decamped to America. Via Arts & Letters Daily comes this excellent recent piece based on a trip to China O'Rourke took in 2006. From the opening:
It took me almost two years to realize that what I have is a survey of "the tacit consent of the governed." Not that the Chinese I talked to were taciturn. They were forthcoming enough about their government, but they didn't care much about the political theory of it. Tom said, "Their attitude is, 'Shhh, politics is sleeping, don't wake it up.'"
I talked to people who worked in private enterprise and people who worked in government and people who worked on furthering cooperation between the two. That is, I talked to the kind of people who are necessary to the advocating of freedom and democracy but who, so far, aren't advocating it. We need to listen to what they don't say. Here is a record of what Chinese think of politics when politics isn't what they're thinking of.
This is O'Rourke at his best. Informed by ideological suppositions but not enslaved to them; talking to a wide range of people; bringing his perspective to bear; and more.