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Checking Bill Maher in Real Time

In June 2009, Bill Maher readied himself to pick a fight with his comrades. He lashed out against those defending Obama for rather indefensible positions (in this case, protecting the bankers) the young president was then assuming. Apparently Maher must have gotten some nasty leers at his favorite brunch spot or outraged emails from the limousine liberal crowd between his weekly shows for his treatment of the Democratic president. In typical Maher fashion, he got really upset and then, I assume, told his writers he wanted them to do something about it. ‘Make it real clever’, I imagine him saying, and the resulting speech was the typical schoolyard attack on Obama supporters. He told the audience and the world that “He’s your president, not your boyfriend.” Again though, in typical Maher fashion, it seemed like he could have been talking to himself. In fact, he couldn’t finish the monologue without declaring that he was very much still on board the Obama express, but, he said admonishingly, “let’s not make it a religion.” We know how much Bill hates that.

Over the years, Maher has been consistent in his treatment of Obama. He might criticize number 44 but he invariably follows it up with some pronouncement of blind faith. It very much seems that Maher can’t separate his personal feelings for the cardboard cutout image of Barack Obama from the reality that the US leader is in fact a cold, calculating, would-be emperor stuck between a rock and a military-industrial complex. We certainly don’t need Maher repeatedly telling us that Barack Obama really is a fine man whom we are lucky to have in power. That simply doesn’t make for good democracy.

This type of cantankerous support for his hero/benevolent dictator was evident on the latest installment of Real Time. I actually tuned in because I knew that Maher would be loathe to criticize Obama at a time when it seems people across the spectrum have had enough, particularly the left, in the wake of the PRISM revelations. I didn’t think that he would be such a diehard contrarian as to say that he supports this expansive state monitoring. It’s worth noting that Maher has spent much of his career advocating civil libertarian principles. What really gets Maher’s goat in this latest thrashing of Obama is that no one on the right was as outraged with the PATRIOT Act and Bush’s illegal surveillance. Really? In other words, Maher is not concerned with the illegality or immorality of the Obama Administration’s actions necessarily; he is concerned with the perceptions of those “teabaggers” with whom he loves to disagree.

On the National Security monitoring issue, Maher said that this amounts to a slippery slope position where he can go either way. This means that he ‘knows’ there are evil-doers out there who are interested in acquiring nuclear weapons to destroy an American city in “one second”.

Imagine that! Maher, who has criticized scaremongering in the past by pundits and politicians (his favorite target was Cheney), is now telling his audience and the world that it is not unlikely that a monster (presumably a Muslim male) can get a nuclear weapon and kill millions of Americans in the blink of an eye. Therefore, he is OK with the fact that the government is now ramping up the blanket surveillance of everyone around the world. Interesting logic and sure to win the man some attention, but repulsive nonetheless.

Let’s assume that Maher and Obama and Cheney are right and there are these evil people out there who have no problem bombing and irradiating an entire city. Would this be enough for us to trade our “silly obsession” with guarding against pervasive government power? As Edward Snowden, the analyst responsible for the leak has pointed out, there is a lot at stake:

The storage capability of these systems increases every year consistently by orders of magnitude to where it’s getting to the point where you don’t have to have done anything wrong…they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with.

Maher and California Democrat Dianne Feinstein in their defense of the program do not speak for the millions of other American citizens on this issue, notwithstanding the recent attack in Boston.

Some history might be in order here. Exactly who has wiped out entire cities throughout the 20th and 21st centuries? Surely not any individual or even terrorist group. It takes a government hell-bent on destroying an enemy to carry out such monstrous attacks. We don’t have to go far back in time to find examples of such dastardly use of radioactive weaponry deployed against civilians, setting the stage for decades of serious problems.

It is likely that NATO dropped tons of depleted uranium munitions in Libya ostensibly to free the people and the US and its allies had also used these disturbingly destructive weapons in Kosovo and Afghanistan. The real showcase of ruthless power though was the Iraq War, where estimates range from 400 to well over 1,000 tons of depleted uranium artillery used between both Iraq wars. The effects on Fallujah have been downright horrific.

In case you need a reminder, depleted uranium from nuclear waste is added into the shells of munitions to give them an extra punch (and one that lasts for many years to come). So when you hear of bunker busters and armored vehicle piercers, you’re talking about dirty bombs.The United States government has never apologized or offered to help attempt some remediation or even acknowledged the enduring problems of our inhumane use of such weaponry. It’s odd that Bill Maher doesn’t reflect on state terrorism the way he does fanatical religious terrorism. I guess that is a luxury he is afforded, being an honored voice among the liberal class and all.

This feigned ignorance of rather serious issues ties in with the praise of the man holding the Oval Office today. You can trust Obama, Maher assures us. The next guy, he is not so sure about. Maher’s obsession with the benevolent, cool, nice guy leader is thus revealed yet again.

The Real Time host also conveniently forgets a whole host of other facts concerning illegal US actions overseas and at home. The problem is that Maher doesn’t see the US government when he looks at issues like PRISM and grants the government a pass. (Maher also scoffed at the scandals involving the Benghazi attack, the DOJ targeting Associated Press and Fox reporters, and the IRS’s scrutiny of Tea Party groups.) Instead, he sees his beloved Barack Obama, a liberal black man that he is bound to support. Liberalism has always had appalling paternalistic sentiments and racism, but Maher elevates this paternalism to an art with his “comedy”. He typically drops some dirty one-liners, points out that he “kids” the target and becomes annoyed if his audience doesn’t laugh out loud. In Obama’s case, he is quick to let us know that this president must get a pass but I assume he is incapable of a real, logical defense of this position. Maher gets really upset when the Republicans or conservatives defend their guys with the same amount of fervor and the same blatant lack of honesty.

It is no secret that the liberal darling/bastard Maher has serious hatred for religious types, but this becomes dangerous vitriol when it is focused on Muslims. Maher has repeatedly attacked Islam and Muslims and he rarely gets called out on it. Men like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the late not-so-great Christopher Hitchens shared, and perhaps helped to shape, Maher’s repulsive views about Islam and apparently seek to excuse the horrific crimes against Muslim nations by the US and UK. Many Westerners, especially pundits, share similar views so Maher rarely gets challenged.

Sometimes though,the host’s racist views are bared for all to see, as was the case when he invited Glenn Greenwald on the program and Greenwald set about deconstructing the atheist-and-proud approach that is often used as cover for anti-Muslim bigotry. Suffice it to say that Greenwald destroyed Maher, as the Guardian columnist (who broke the PRISM story) did earlier in the year to Sam Harris. When you have someone as independent-minded, quick-witted and versed in the facts as Greenwald, it is a delight to watch Maher be forced into his reactionary corner.

As with most critiques of Maher, I will agree that he does raise some important issues, he can be funny and he introduces some interesting people and ideas now and again. He also helps set records straight and I appreciate those moments, yet they are few and far between. A perfect example of this is the same most recent episode, June 7th 2013, when he addressed the cult of Reagan. It is rare that you get to hear such an honest rant on mainstream airwaves against the Gipper and I was enjoying it, until his usual elevation of Obama appeared. Maher admonished Obama for his praise of Reagan (which he should be admonished for):

Obama talks about him like he’s a brother from another mother. “He changed the trajectory of America”. Yes, but not for the better. When you mainstream Reagan, the far right becomes the new middle. He wasn’t a friend to all Americans, he was patient zero for everything you’re fighting against now. He was the original teabagger. Stop agreeing he was a saint!

So there you have it; another example of Maher’s aggressive and mostly clear-headed criticism of the practice of putting politicians on pedestals (though I think the “brother from another mother” bit reveals the host’s obsession with Obama’s race and how he is cool enough to embrace useless stereotypes, as comedian Wayne Brady pointed out recently).

Of course Maher and other Obama supporters regularly boost the president upon their pedestal and there is a clear correlation between both phenomena. Sorry, but I am not convinced that Obama doesn’t agree with Reagan a lot more than he disagrees with the xenophobic, jingoistic nature of Reagan’s world view. Perhaps a genuine fondness accounts for the way in which Obama always has on multiple occasions declared his admiration. Reagan and Obama both stand in the paternalistic tradition of Hamilton and regard the people as a beast to be tamed, not a constituency to represent and protect. It is worth pointing out here that Obama also proclaims himself as a born-again Christian, a fact that Maher chooses to disregard in his ridiculous blind faith.

Then again, just as Obama has a cult following of supporters that will follow him to the depths of absurdity, so does Maher. Some of his fans relish that Maher is a voice for them in the same way that Rush Limbaugh resonates with his followers. People will always look up to those with a public platform who voice, with eloquence, views similar to their own. This is not such a terrible problem. The danger, however, comes when these followers accept mostly everything they say and are willing to believe so much nonsense. Maher was likely instrumental in bringing reluctant Obama supporters back into the fold when he gave $1 million to Obama’s Super PAC. Hard-working people certainly may have dug into their own much smaller pockets when they heard what their idol had done.

Maher rails against the idiocy of religion and putting blind faith in religious or political figures, but unbelievably expects everyone to look the other way when it comes to his treatment of Obama. Bill Maher, through his excuses and cover for Obama, is doing what he claims to hate most. By blindly supporting Obama when he is clearly in the wrong, by advancing racist causes (Maher on Muslims), and by never owning up to the facts when they are relevant and worthy of attention (stuck in his very own bubble), Bill Maher is responsible for diverting people’s attention and helping to move the country further to the reactionary right. I call bullshit!

Adam Chimienti is a teacher and a doctoral student originally from New York. He can be reached at ajchimienti@gmail.com.

 

 

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Adam Chimienti is a teacher and a doctoral student originally from New York. He can be reached at ajchimienti@gmail.com.

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