I have long been a fan of Bill Maher. At his best, I find him one of the most astute and perspicacious politcal observers on the scene today, unafraid to speak a truth many of us were only thinking. I felt, more than anything, that he spoke, and spoke well, for my generation.
Now, I’m not so sure.
My doubts started in mid-June, when he issued one of his end-of-program editorials, lambasting what he perceived to be Obama’s quest for publicity at the expense of not having achieved anything substantive since taking office. That baffled me, mostly, because there it was June 2009, and Obama hadn’t taken office until 20th of January, 2009 – oddly enough, Bill’s birthday. When Bill gave this interview, Obama was two weeks’ short of having been President for five months, yet Bill was castigating him for not having achieved anything of not in health care, climate change, the banks’ position and the economy. He even went so far as to criticize the President in what he deemed to be a quest for publicity, even likening him to Lindsay Lohan.
Pot … kettle … black.
This editorial annoyed me to no end, primarily, because the week before, Bill had issued a similar editorial, criticizing the Republican Party and Fox News for actively and consistently criticizing the fact that the President seemed to be ceaselessly on television, that he had not yet been in office half a year and they expected miracles, whilst working against him to obstruct any and all policies that he proposed.
It annoyed me because, as well, I knew Bill knew better. He’s certainly been around politicians and the political game long enough to know that, ideally, a democracy is something that exclusively involves debate and compromise, that government – big government – moves slowly. He also knew well enough by then that the GOP had acquired the well-deserved nickname of ‘the Party of NO’, determined to thwart everything Obama sought to deliver. He had even called them out for this tactic earlier in the season.
And, finally, he knew very well, that Obama was (a) a pragmatist and (b) someone who, by definition, would have to govern from the centre. He stated as much on his final program of the 2008 season, which aired November 14, 2008, and he reckoned this in a serious discussion with Jon Meacham, the editor of Newsweek. Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Leitenen and celebrity toyboy and professional douchebag, Ashton Kutcher, were witness to the discussion.
Now, all of a sudden, within a week, in fact, Bill was blathering about Obama was spending too much time promoting the celebrity brand and not enough ‘effecting change’ we could believe in.
And then I realised something.
Real Time, until that point, had been on shaky ground for the four months it had been on air. Bill’s first two shows were muted, considering he’d gone out on a high in the aftermath of the Obama election in 2008. In fact, the third and fourth shows shouldn’t even have been aired. Bill had contracted to do a Speakers’ Series trio of debates with Ann Coulter in New York, Boston and Chicago, which necessitated extensive preparation.
The third show of last season produced a two-person panel of Newark Mayor Cory Booker and CNBC correspondent, Erin Burnett, the week of Rick Santelli’s clarion call for Tea Party action.
In fact, I was in the US the week of the Santelli rant, and I remember turning to my aunt that morning it aired, remarking that surely Bill would take up the gauntlet on this one and run with it.
Even with Burnett ensconced within two feet of his chair on the Real Time panel, Bill didn’t utter a word about Santelli or the ensuing brouhaha. In fact, Bill didn’t mention the Tea Party phenomenon at all, until after it was well under way in late April, when he was on one of several ‘breaks’ from airtime; and then he did so in a hilarious editorial published in the Los Angeles Times. You can read the article here:-
Instead, the Santelli phenomenon was adressed with great verve and insouciance, by Jon Stewart:-
The fourth episode of Real Time, quite honestly, should not have been shown. Airing live on Fridays with a rehearsal on Thursday evenings, it caught Bill just when he’d finished the Speakers’ tour with Coulter. He’d obviously returned home to L A that Thursday afternoon, only to find that his administrative staff had only managed to secure, again, two guests for the panel, academic Michael Eric Dyson and ueber conservative blogger-journalist, Andrew Breitbart.
That Bill was woefully unprepared for the live airing was patently obvious. He introduced Dyson as a professor from Princeton – Dyson teaches at Georgetown, Bill obviously mistook him for Cornel West – and he didn’t even know who Breitbart was at all, decompensating for a moment to rail about the fact that his teleprompter wasn’t working! The panel, needless to say, degenerated into an argument between the two men, which centred around the perceived racism of one by the other. Bill could only sit at his end of the table and watch, helplessly.
By the time the mid-June anti-Obama editorial had surfaced, the following had happened in the realm of late night fundits:-
1. Barack Obama became the first serving US President to appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
2. Stephen Colbert took The Colbert Report to Iraq, where there were satellitie link-ups with both Obama and George W Bush for some banter.
3. Stewart skewered Jim Cramer on The Daily Show (see above).
4. Letterman inadvertantly walked into controversy with Sarah Palin regarding a joke she deliberately misunderstood.
But no one was talking about Real Time or Bill. Until that editorial, that is.
First, it produced this winner with Keith Olbermann, who, gigglingly, takes up the gauntlet Bill throws down:-
The disturbing thing about this criticism of Obama by Bill is the plea for Obama to be more like Bush – to stand up to the Congress and all opponents and push through his agenda.
Wait a minute … This guy’s spent the past 8 years lambasting Bush for the very behaviour he now wants Obama to assume?
The editorial had its desired effect … for Bill. After a mere 5 months, Bill’s dissatisfied with Obama’s performance in office thus far. Five months after Bush assumed office in 2000, the tragedy which afforded him kudos had yet to occur, and Bush was on perpetual holiday, whilst his operatives, according to his ex-Press Secretary, Scott McClellan, were in continuous campaign mode. After five months in office, was anyone wailing utter disappointment in Bill Clinton? Ronald Reagan? Nixon?
The portals were then opened. Bill carries a strong following as a seemingly Progressive voice of common sense and reason. Suddenly, it was mete, it was acceptable, it was fashionable to criticize the President. When he addressed the Human Rights’ Commission and committed himself to ensuring the repeal of Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell, it wasn’t enough for some. He didn’t specify when. On health care, voices from the Progressive Left’s base argued that Obama was betraying them, asserting that he’d actually run a campaign on either single-payer or the much-vaunted public option. When he finally made the tortuous decision to up the ante in Afghanistan, the Progressive Left shouted betrayal again. And all to the clarion call of Bill for Obama to be ‘more like Bush.’
Well, here’s the truth.
The Progressive base is just as ill-informed and just as ignorant, in some matters, as the teabagging, teagagging Right of the GOP. And just as intolerant on all counts.
Many of these people demanded, insisted that the President could, with one fell swoop and an Executive Order, end the oppresive DADT. He couldn’t. DADT is a law enabled through Congressional legislation – and ACT of Congress. Any student of high school government should know that only one thing can repeal an act of Congress: another act of Congress.
Obama followed the Constitutional dictate of allowing Congress to form the legislation regarding healthcare reform. Fact: Congress legislates; the President executes that legislation into law, with a signature. Obama never ran on a platform of single-payer. Years before, as a state senator from Illinois, he investigated the possibility of enacting such a program into being for residents of the state, but his studies proved it wouldn’t have been feasible. He never mentioned a public option in campaigning, merely stating that people should have the same opportunities to have the same sort of healthcare cover afforded members of Congress and Federal employees. And he ALWAYS stated his intention to focus on Afghanistan as the ‘good’ war, whilst winding down engagement in Iraq.
In the months that followed Bill’s mid-June editorial, he wasted no opportunity to remind the public, in chat show appearance after chat show appearance, that it was he who started the ball rolling on ‘acceptable’ Obama criticism – something that escalated, in the ensuing months, to all-out, full-on Obama-bashing.
The funny thing, was that we only saw Bill make these sorts of critiques in front of a camera lens. I attended his NYC gig in early November at the Avery Fisher Hall. Bill was positively complimentary about Obama. There was no criticism, whatsoever. And in a late summer appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show to discuss healthcare, he almost quoted ver batim and agreed with Paul Begala’s recent op-ed in the Washington Post, likening the proposed legislation to FDR’s struggles with Social Security. Bill, like Begala, opined that Congress should just pass the bill on offer and use it as a base on which to build, that Social Security, in its original form, wasn’t nearly as extensive as the program we know today. Get the thing passed and build on it – a premise, which seemed reasonable.
However, in recent months, away from the limelight and communicating with his masses through Twitter, Bill’s back on the Obamablast train once more. The West Point speech produced a snarky ‘Barry’ remark about Obama sounding more like Bush – much of the same old same old.
(What’s that? I thought Bill wanted Obama to sound more like Bush?)
When Obama addressed the public in the aftermath of the underpants bomber incident, Bill twittered another ‘Barry’ moment, moaning that Obama was ‘repeating himself’ – this, from the man takes an originally clever joke or turn of phrase and repeats it continuously in various venues until the listening audience knows when the line is about to surface and can veritably recite it for him. Besides, I thought and still do, the only people I’ve seen refer to the President as ‘Barry’ are disaffected, uninformed, bitter, reactionary, old white men of the teabagging persuasion.
The recent State of the Union message produced one remark from Bill … that in the proposed budget freeze (to be enacted in 2011), the defense budget wasn’t affected at all.
Bill’s about to begin another season of Real Time in a couple of weeks, and a lot has happened during his hiatus. He’s begun his blogging early, however, and he’s chosen to focus on the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed civil trial and where it may or may not take place. You can read the blog here:-
He uses the dilemma faced by New York City as yet another excuse to portray the Democrats as pussies and to suggest that they use his own favourite method of reverse psychology in order to get healthcare passed, reckoning that if they just oppose healthcare, then the Republicans would be for it, out of pure spite work.
However, as cleverly constructed as this essay and this rationale may be, I’m sorry to say that Bill is wrong on all counts.
Bill poses the question: “…why is the decision to have the trial of Khalid “Shake Shake Shake” Mohammed in New York a Democratic position, and not having it in New York a Republican position? Republicans are usually the 24 loving macho warriors. Isn’t it the more macho position to be saying, “Damn right we’re going to try them at the scene of the crime! We’re going to make that bastard look at Ground Zero right out the window of the courtroom every day — we’re going to stick his nose in it like a dog who’s made a mess on the rug: ‘Look what you did! Bad dog! Bad!!'” … And yet, because its the Democrats who suggested it, the Republicans automatically piss all over it and find themselves backing the opposite approach, then make up a bunch of stupid reasons why: it’ll fuck up traffic in Manhattan; it’ll be a platform for Mohammed to “mock” us.”
This isn’t true at all.
I remember the press conference that Eric Holder gave in which he announced that the gentleman in question, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, would be tried in a civil trial in New York.
I also recall that, initially, there was mainly blanket approval for this procedure from the main-stream news media, Fox withstanding. The three main networks and CNN hailed this as a brilliant manoevre. Even New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg, originally a Republican, but most recently more of an independent, also welcomed the gesture.
However, over time, things changed. City operatives assailed Bloomberg about the scope and nature of the cost for the trial, which had the potential to run months, if not years. There was the logistics aspect to plan, the policing of the event, the traffic rearrangements – in short, the scale of cost to the taxpayer, in general. Then, individual citizens, residents and businessmen of the area concerned weighed in – and not just with Bloomberg, but also with Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Short summary: The people of New York City – many, if not most, of whom were Democrats – spoke through their legally elected representatives. And their representatives listened and acted in their interests. The result is that Bloomberg, Schumer and Gillibrand, in what is essentially a bipartisan agreement, approached Holder about a possible change of venue for this trial.
This really is an example of politicians listening to and acting in the interest of constituents. It’s not a case of pussy-mandering or posturing to accommodate the Republican party’s dissent. In point of fact, it wasn’t that the Republicans opposed the trial being held in New York City as much as they opposed a civilian trial in favour of a secret military proceeding held at Guantanamo Bay. In the eyes of the GOP, these people, like the pathetic underpants boy in Detroit, are enemy combatants and need to be tortured and treated as such.
If Eric Holder had bowed from the waist to the GOP god and reneged to the point of allowing the Gitmo alternative, Bill’s point would have held water. As such, now it only holds bong water.
In Bill’s most recent television appearance, emerging from his hibernation period to grace Jay Leno’s final 10pm show, Bill lamented the President’s perceived recent conversion to the ‘populist’ philosophy, saying that he wanted Obama to be elitist, not populist.
I know that Bill wants a President who’s visibly smarter than the smartest of us – and I guess that means Bill, I say with tongue in cheek – but that doesn’t mean a forced dichotomy of those of us who are educated from those who, for whatever reason, are not. The President, as a figure, should inspire. That Obama is an unlikely figure to have risen from his antecedents, unusual for a President of the United States, to reach the highest echelon of success, should be an inspiration for all children of any racial hue in our country.
And for as much as Obama and the Democrats have been accused by all and sundry (including Bill) for not being able to communicate effectively their message about healthcare, well, maybe Bill’s got a problem with communication. Harken, if you will, your mind back to the Bush editorial, wherein our lad assailed the President for not being more like Bush. Now, watch Jon Stewart’s latest, much-touted interview on Fox News’s O’Reilly Factor:-
In this extended interview, devoid of shouting but injected with appropriate humour which didn’t detract at all from the subjects touched upon, Stewart says something very interesting: that although he realises that the President recognises the fact that our government has three ‘separate but equal’ branches with a system of checks and balances in place to police each other, in view of the fact that, at this present moment in time, Congress – i.e., the legislative part of our government – is effectively dysfunctional (due to the obvious reasons contingent upon the last 8 years), maybe Obama should just, for the time being, throw the ‘separate-but-equal’ bit out with the bathwater. Maybe, until Congress gets its mojo back, the President should lead, should guide, should shoot from the hip with Congress, especially now that he’s got the majority party in both houses. This wouldn’t be a precedent, but simply a temporary factor until such a time as Congress was able to resume ‘business as usual’ – or rather, until the Democrats found their collective backbone again.
Obama like Bush? Well, in so many words, and in words that make sense and aren’t a blatant act of willful self-promotion.
It also amazes me that in Bill’s return from political hibernation, he’s made no mention – either by tweet or in Leno’s interview – of some of the other positive things that have been happening concerning our President and the majority party:-
– that Obama met with the Republican Congressional caucus and bitch-slapped them roundly
– that his State of the Union address admonished the Democrats to embrace the fact that they were the majority party and not ‘run for the hills.’
– that he roundly proclaimed that he would not accept second place for the United States of America in anything – a statement that, very presciently, omitted any mention, whatsoever, of military might, but instead focused on education, innovation and technology (a point that Stewart, in his analysis of the speech, pointedly, observed).
– that in his meeting with Senate Democrats, Obama smacked down Blanche Lincoln’s plea to unify more with the Republican Party, effectively throwing this Blue Dog under the GOP’s Teabag Express. (In the UK, the Brits would call this ‘withdrawing the whip.’)
– and that, finally, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff eloquently argued on Capitol Hill for the repeal of DADT and two things happened:
(1) John McCain showed what a partisan hack he was, when – after months of being sympathetic to this repeal on the campaign trail – he has to lockstep along with the Party of No, and
(2) Senator Carl Levin remarks in a most casual way that this repeal could be speeded up, simply by tacking it on as an amendment to existing defense legislation, thereby necessitating only 51 votes to pass, instead of the now-impossible-to-achieve 60.
(Sigh) … maybe Bill’s saving all that up for Real Time. However, in his conversation with Jay, he did manage to touch upon the recent, highly-controversial (and unpopular) Supreme Court ruling regarding corporations and the First Amendment:-
The sad part about that reference was that it was clear that neither man understood the concept or the details of the ruling. Jay, clearly, was confused, and Bill came across as only paying lip service to something that ‘the chattering classes’ of HuffPo had rendered unpopular. In short, he was bored with it.
And that leads me to something else that’s bothered me about Bill. He describes himself as a Progressive, whilst saying at the same time that he’s neither a Democrat or a Republican; but let’s look at some history here:
– In 1996, Bill voted for Bob Dole over Bill Clinton, solely because of the fact that Dole was, in Bill’s words, a genuine war hero.
– In 2000, Bill opted to vote for Ralph Nader (the selfsame Ralph Nader, who has referred to the current President of the United States as being an Uncle Tom – not once, mind you, but twice), reckoning that Bush and Gore were one and the same. That vote, like many others, enabled the presidency of George W Bush. Very astute political punditry there, Bill.
– Bill is in favour of the Death Penalty, and most recently stated his support in his show which aired on October 3, 2009, in an interview with comedian David Cross.
– Bill is in favour of racial profiling, something he condoned in a tweet, after the underpants bombing attempt, reckoning that US airports should follow the lead of Israel.
– Bill is against government-controlled healthcare, after spending all of last season bigging up the concept, even to the point of promoting a single-payer alternative (with his famous analogy with the post office), only to contradict himself entirely in the infamous interview with Bill Frist in the penultimate episode of Real Time.
– Bill is vehemently anti-union. This was first revealed in the show which featured Dyson and Breitbart, when Bill lauded Obama in what he perceived to be the President’s stance against the teachers’ union, and later in the season, in answer to a remark someone made about union support, Bill quipped, ‘Don’t start me on unions.’
So, I wonder, how the self-proclaimed Voice of Progressives can even claim to be so, based on the facts listed above. Don’t get me wrong, I love the bones of Bill, and I still want him to be one of my heroes; I just can’t help but wonder if he’s not the leader I thought him to be or even he thinks himself to be. I wonder if, at the end of the day, at worst, it’s all about Bill and Bill’s self-promotion, or if The Kinks have him pegged in a song they made popular when both Bill and I were children:-