Sunday, March 28, 2010

Shut Up and Listen

I had a Voltaire moment earlier this week. It was one of those moments when I paused to realise that my education had not been in vain, but it shocked me nonetheless because I actually found myself defending Ann Coulter.
Not that I like or agree with anything Ann Coulter might ever say or venture to say, you understand, but on this occasion, I felt she was worth defending.
I had read about her speaking tour of Canada and of how the president of one of the three Canadian universities where she’d been scheduled to speak, had written her an e-mail warning her that freedom of speech in Canada wasn’t quite the same thing as it was in the United States; therefore, basically, Coulter should tone her message, and the words used to convey it, down a decibel. The e-mail left a subtly understood phrase “or else” hanging at its end like a dangling participle.
This e-mail prefaced her tour, but the next thing I heard was that this selfsame president had actually cancelled Coulter’s appearance, due to an incident that had happened at the university where she spoke immediately before his institution.
Coulter had been speaking at the University of Eastern Ontario, when – during a Question and Answer sesson at the end of her speech – she was confronted by a 17 year-old Muslim student who asked that Coulter justify a remark made in one of her previous books, asserting that Muslims should be forbidden to fly, post-9/11.
Whilst I’m no fan at all of Coulter’s and I’ve never read any of her books (nor do I plan to do so), even I understand that, more than anything, Coulter is a satirist – albeit, a satirist from the Right end of the political spectrum. The satire in her works is extreme, to say the least, but a lot of political satire pushes the extreme in its limits. Even pundits such as Joan Walsh and Alan Colmes have recognised this facet of her work. The fact that most people from both sides of the political coin, who’ve read Coulter’s writings, don’t recognise this as satire and buy into a serious reading of her message, marks her out on the Left as a whackjob and on the extreme Right as the Queen Mother of the message they hope to convey.
The plain truth is, I imagine, that she’s neither.
I’ve no doubt that she’s a Republican or that she’s a conservative, but I’ve every doubt that she drinks the koolaid she sells. Coulter’s schtick, like most pure satirists, is to provoke a reaction, and her works certainly do just that. They provoke horror and revulsion amongst the Left. On the Right, these people recognise her as giving voice to a lot of thoughts they’ve harboured, but never found the courage to express vocally. To the people on the Right, Coulter’s their Bill Maher, who happens – in real life – to be a particularly good friend of Coulter. In fact, Maher’s said on several occasions, that once someone’s spoken with Coulter, and taken the politics out of the situation, it’s easy to see exactly from whence she’s come and where she hopes to take her message.
And that’s directly to the bank.
In truth, I don’t suppose Maher or Coulter differ very much in real political perspective: they both support the death penalty and racial profiling, they are both anti-union, don’t approve of government-controlled healthcare and are virulently against government funding of the arts. Both have been extremely vocal critics of George Bush. Yet Bill is considered and calls himself a Progressive, and Ann is readily identifiable as a Republican. Maher’s espousal of the legalisation of pot and same-sex marriage saves him from being branded as a Republican, but doesn’t exclude him from being accused of being a closet Blue Dog.
Anyway, the serious Canadian adolescent demanded Coulter justify her remarks about Muslims not being allowed to fly. As if she were unable to believe the content of the question, Coulter paused for a moment, before replying, “And here I thought it was only American schools that produced ignorant students.”
The nuance in the reply was clear. The remark was satirical and not meant to be taken literally. Maybe this was the first time Coulter was presented with someone taking the supposed veracity of the statement to heart, and that someone happened to be a po-faced first-year university student. In retort, the student took the argument one step further.
“I’d just like to know,” she began, “how I’m expected to travel, being a Muslim.”
Coulter gave a wise-assed reply that summed up her estimation of a sublime moment descending into the realm of ridicule.
“Flying carpet,” she quipped.
It was snark.
But still, the student demanded mollification. “But what if I can’t afford a flying carpet?” she continued. (I mean, why not ask “how long is a piece of string” while you’re at it).
Finishing off what had evolved into a conversation truly worthy of theatre de l’absurde, Coulter finished by telling the student to “take a camel.”
The next day, Coulter was informed that her second engagement, at the University of Ottawa (whose president had sent her the e-mail), had been cancelled.
Allegedly, students raised a protest, demanding that she be allowed to speak, but the president wouldn’t be budged, even though several of this group recognised the fact that she should be allowed to give her point of view in the speaking engagement already booked.
Local publications and the Huffington Post implied that the cancellation was due to the exchange with the student at the University of Eastern Ontario, which was pretty silly to say the least. It was a conversation, based on a question posed by a pretty intelligent kid, who’d probably never read anything Coulter had actually written and who’d pounced upon the remark taken out of context and taken personal umbrage at it on face value. Understandable. I, quite often, take umbrage at the blanket assumption of many people on my own side of the political fence that all Southerners are Rightwing, incestuous, fundamentalist Christian and stupid. I’m certainly none of those things, and I take exception to the inference.
But the kid, having never read whatever book from whence that statement came, either didn’t understand that Coulter’s works were satirical (and straight satire is, quite often, not intended to be funny), or – if she had read the work – she didn’t understand satire in general. Was she wrong to have asked the question? Probably. Certainly, she was wrong to challenge someone on a statement made in a published work, without either having read or understood the work, in question.
And Coulter was probably wrong to give the answers she gave – certainly, the initial answer, which implied that American students were stupid and inferred that Canadians were also. In actualy fact, a remark like that reeked of something Bill Maher would say – only in that instance, the audience intended, both sides of the 44th Parallel, would have howled with glee and nodded in agreement.
Huffington Post reported the incident in an article, which was repeated on their Facebook page. Immediately it appeared, the article was inundated with comments from both Canadians and Americans, alike, the majority of them calling for Coulter to be silenced, commending the Canadians on quelling Coulter’s voice and wishing there were some way America could shut her up. Some clever clogs, an American, remarked that the fact that the Canadians had, effectively, denied Coulter her right to speak, implied that they were actually better than Americans, and this comment was followed by several, expressing a desire to move to Canada.
Or the fact that the Canadians appear not to have anything remotely resembling a First Amendment, so they can silence any remark they deem to be particularly offensive anytime they choose?
On Bill Maher’s MySpace page, a regular Canadian commentator dove in, feet first, with a gloating remark, pungent with sarcasm, at the triumph of the Canadians not to tolerate racist remarks and condescendingly explaining to the Americans peopling the forum that in Canada, they have race hate laws that forbid this sort of thing.
Well … wait a moment.
Let’s look at what Coulter said.
She actually didn’t declare during the speech, that she thought Muslims should be prohibited from flying. This was something brought up by a member of the audience. Her initial response – that Canadian students were probably as stupid as Americans, which surprised her – held no racist or racial content. Was it rude? Yes. Offensive? Most definitely, to Americans as well as Canadians, and the exchange should have stopped at that point, and Coulter should have moved on; but she allowed the student to persist, in what proceeded to become an almost surreal conversation.
Were the “flying carpet” and “camel” remarks racist? I think they were intended to be sarcastic, and their intent was probably to shut the kid up, implying that the initial question wasn’t worth a serious answer. Coulter could have stopped and laboured a point with the student that her work and the comment, therein, were satirical; but Coulter’s a single woman, pushing fifty, who’s never been married or around students since she was one, herself. She’s the product of a private education and the holder of an Ivy League degree. She probably assumed that anyone attending a university ought to have some concept of satire, or she should have realised that the kid had probably never read the book she was querying. A good reply would have been to ask the student if she’d read the book, and to suggest that she do so before attempting to analyse and question a controversial remark, taken out of context.
So were the remarks racist? Not really. Stupid. Ignorant. Almost puerile, yes, but racist, no.
Anyway, the gloating Canadian commentator on the forum was just advertising his own ignorance in his remarks, because Muslims are not one particular racial group. A Muslim is a follower of Islam. “Muslim” is a religious term, not racist. Keith Ellison is an African-American (by race), who is a Congressman and a Muslim. His religion is Islam. Sarah Joseph is a British author and lecturer, who is Caucasian (by race) and who is also a Muslim. “Jihan Jane”. John Walker Lindh. Mike Tyson. Salman Rushdie.
If you take Coulter’s remark literally, all of those people would be denied access to travel by aeroplane.
Did Coulter’s remarks imply or incite religious hatred? Not at all.
Canada probably does have race hate laws, much in the same way the UK does – laws, which prohibit direct incitement of hate against people for reasons of race. There are also laws in the UK, which do the same, regarding religion. Maybe this is true in Canada as well, but Coulter, in this instance, was guilty of nothing more than silly, snarky remarks.
What is disturbing about this entire incident is the readiness, the eagerness of the people on the Left to silence any sort of controversial viewpoint that isn’t in lockstep with their own views. Lockstep is supposed to be something identifiable with the Rightwing. We’re supposed to be the Big Tent. Yet when I made a remark, recently, on another forum, in support of Markos Moulitsas’s view that Dennis Kucinich’s eleventh-hour obdurance, which threatened passage of healthcare reform, was not helpful to the cause, I had several people, who prided themselves on their own tolerant image, go viral on me. This is tolerance? Not much.
The Coulter incident reminded me of an observation Coulter’s sparring partner, Bill Maher, made about a year ago in an interview with Howard Kurz – how it always shocked and alarmed him that the people most vocal in wanting to deny First Amendment rights to opposing viewpoints were young college-aged people who purported to be from the Left.
These seem to be the same demographic of people who are expressing a longing to move to the Canadian Utopia, more or less, for what they perceive to be “free healthcare”. That’s another fallacy being promoted by Canadians, who should know better, one of whom is the selfsame Mr MySpace, who pronounced upon Coulter’s remark. He’s gloatingly gone on record, as have many other Canadian commentators I’ve read, staking bragging rights to Canada’s “free healthcare”.
It’s not, and he knows it. Free at source, yes, but “free at source” doesn’t mean “free.” It means you pay for it, beforehand, via taxes, doofus. Regrettably, a lot of Americans buy into the “free lunch” notion attached to this, so maybe Coulter does have a point about American and Canadian stupidity.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pussy Fear and Penis Envy

One of the things I admire most about Bill Maher is the ability he has to make one think. He has a way with words – he would, having been an English major – that at first infuriates or intrigues a listener, but which then implants a thought in one’s mind that simply refuses to go away until the listener strikes obedience and thinks about the sense (or lack of) in the remark. It provokes an almost dichotomous thought pattern, because if you initially agree with something he’s said, by the time the next Real Time rolls around, you’ll be thinking otherwise; conversely, if you initially disagreed with his opinion, after a week’s cogitation, whilst you might not agree, you’ll certainly understand how he arrived at a stated conclusion.
I look and contribute to both Bill’s MySpace and Facebook pages, and I read a lot of the comments and criticisms made by other fans, and sometimes, they make me think too. This is what happened this week.
A regular commentator on the MySpace page criticized Bill’s handling of an incident which occurred during the panel discussion.
Amy Holmes was one of the panel guests on Bill’s show last week. She’s pretty much a dependable regular on Real Time, appearing at least once per season. I definitely get the impression that Bill’s having trouble securing panellists this season; as much as he had the same problem last year, this year it seems to be worse. Already, we’ve seen faces so familiar they probably have personal possessions stored someplace in the Real Time studios.
I’ve never been able to stomach much of Amy Holmes. Five minutes of listening to her regurgitate what amounts to rote-learned rehashings of whatever the current GOP talking points happen to be, drive me to imbedding my fingernails into the fabric of the nearest wall. I find her, at worst, to be a snooty, entitled, walking advertisement for everything that’s pejorative about Affirmative Action – at best, to be the poster girl for Republican diversity.
But I always felt she had a bit of a crush on Bill Maher and that he had a thing for her also. He’s got form for conservative women, after all, considering his long friendship with Ann Coulter and his mommy-fixation on Arianna Huffington. (Look, she’s as Rightwing as Rush, only she hides it better. Leopards never change their spots). Whenever she appears on Bill’s show, she gets her points across in a sing-song-y little girl voice which reduces Bill to soft-peddling a retort which always begins with the exasperated phrase, “But, Amy, you’re so bright …”
That phrase always niggled me, whenever he used it, and he used it almost exclusively with Holmes. I couldn’t put my finger on the reason why it annoyed me. She certainly is bright. She’s articulate. She’s got a more than decent education. The fact that he constantly felt the need to refute her party political rhetoric with an allusion to her intelligence just irritated me to no end.
And now I know why.
The panellists on Friday were Holmes, Gary Johnson, the Republican former governor of New Mexico, and the actor Hill Harper. Bill initiated a discussion about global warming, concentrating on the Right’s constant denials about this trend and illustrating it with the conservative magazine, The Weekly Standard, depicting a cover cartoon with a nude Al Gore in arctic surroundings.
Holmes immediately took up the baton of the deniers, jumping into the fray with both feet, employing her usual tactic of talking points, emphasized with facts, figures and fiction – speaking loudly, interrupting and muscling in on anyone who dared to speak. The whole argument lasted around 8 minutes, and consisted mostly of Holmes going into meltdown (pun intended), Bill trying to get a word in edgeways, Hill Harper briefly making a point so sensible it was rendered forgettable by the Holmes machind in overdrive, and the ineffectual Governor just sitting in silence, only once interjecting a mild point in support of the denialists’ theories.
Inevitably, the subject green technology and job creation entered into the equation, which introduced China into the discussion and the fact that they were leading the way in both green technology and jobs, as opposed to the United States dragging its heels and bogged down in debates as to whether or not the actual condition of global warming existed. Holmes refused to admit China’s progress.
“I’m not seeing any of that,” she maintained.
Then came the killer punch from Bill: “Then you don’t read."

That wasn’t the end either. Later, whilst speaking with the fourth guest, author John Heilemann, Bill relayed an anecdote about an altercation on a plane between Presidential hopeful and Mormon, Mitt Romney and a rap artist, which resulted in the rapper being asked to leave the plane before take-off. The story illustrated nothing more than a third-class dust-up the the First Class section of a plane between two first-class pricks. As Hill Harper opined, Romney probably should have been asked to leave the plane as well, but Bill played up the racial aspect of it, bringing in – as always – a pejorative religious stance.
Remarking on the fact that Mormons allegedly view the black population as morally inferior, being descendents of Cain, their black skin evidence of the infamous “mark of Cain,” Bill tried to imply that Romney’s confrontation with the rapper had its roots in the Mormon belief of black racial inferiority.
Holmes made a cack-handed attempt to defend Romney, and Bill’s verbal machinations resulted in her awkwardly defending the politico against racism as well. When she protested that she wasn’t wantonly defending Romney or Mormonism, Bill prissily sniffed, “I would hope you’d be defending black people!”

He almost sounded like a disapproving, maiden aunt.
Whilst I’ve no liking for Holmes and, in a purely political sort of way, I enjoyed the smackdowns, I enjoyed them in the sense of watching an articulate conservative being deftly and effectively silenced by a more articulate, intelligent liberal. I even commented as such on Bill’s MySpace page, and another commentator, also a woman, made a similar remark.
But someone else saw it differently. A male commentator, an ueber-liberal, himself, saw Bill’s behaviour toward Holmes as rude, citing her intelligence as deserving of respect, whilst at the same time, reminding Bill of his own chivalrous defence, the previous year, of Meghan McCain, in the face of a smackdown by Paul Begala.

The commentator went onto shame Bill for his rebuke of Holmes, whilst castigating him defence of McCain, who – he said – really was stupid and deserved to have her ass verbally smacked by Begala for making what was, essentially, an immature remark.
And that’s when I realised that Bill had essentially patronised and disrespected both women on this occasion, and that it was wrong of the commentator to chide Bill for what was two cleverly exhibited facets of the same type of behaviour: misogyny. Equally, it was wrong of the commentator to deem one woman deserving of respect because of her alleged intelligence and the other deserving of scorn because of her stupidity. In a curious way, he was being patronising too.
First of all, both Holmes and McCain have Ivy League degrees – Holmes from Princeton and McCain from Columbia. In fact, I’d go as far as guessing that both women each probably graduated with grade point averages superior to any accumulated by Bill Maher at Cornell. Bill’s grammar, syntax and spelling in some of his writing are nothing short of disgraceful in someone who got a degree in English.
Secondly, Holmes is a good decade older than McCain, who – at 24 – was the youngest panellist to appear on Real Time. McCain’s nervousness was apparent for all to see; in fact, she twittered in the hour before the show that not one of the waiting guests bothered speaking to her, except for the journalist, Joel Stein. It’s easy to imagine Begala and Katty Kay, the only other woman on the panel, cosying in a corner of the Green Room, exchanging whispered bitcheries about McCain.
When she made a particularly puerile observation in her nervousness, Begala pounced, but Bill’s over-exaggerated defence of her from ‘that bad, bad man” was not only patronising, it was humiliating. In one instant, she’d become the kid at the adults’ table, whose presence was suffered with great patience and forebearing, but who needed, now and then to be reminded of her rightful place. She was the dumb blonde, the bimbo.
This is a woman, who is an Ivy League graduate, an author and a columnist in her own right. She may have got a leg-up from her old man’s name and political position, but having got the leg-up, she’s managed to stay where she is and hold her own.
With Holmes, the treatment meted was more openly meaner and just as undeserved. The remark about reading, whilst linked to Holmes’s party line defence of the climate change deniers, also implied a wider stupidity. It bought into the standard attitude assumed by the Left that anyone who is on the Right side of the political fence is ignorant, benighted; that that ignorance is willful and, therefore, deserving of disdain.
In her previous appearances on the show, Bill’s reaction to Holmes’s rhetoric was weary bemusement. He was the kindly, tolerant liberal guide trying to ease her into seeing the error of her ways. Now she was just another soulless member of the Dark Side, and her cack-handed attempts to respond to Bill’s assertion that because Mitt Romney was a Mormon, he must also be a racist (as assumption any other conservative would have treated with the contempt it deserved) resulted in her being tacitly identified and exposed by Bill as being an oreo, ashamed and almost admitting to bearing that ubiquitous mark of Cain.
The treatment meted both these women was derogatory and a mixture of pity, revulsion and condescension, a view that both were ignorant creatures who needed either protection from themselves or exposure of their inadequacies.
Neither of these women deserved this, and it’s difficult to imagine Bill treating Tucker Carlson or Michael Steele the way he reacted to both these women.
I’m not surprised at the level of misogyny prevalent today, either in the media or in politics. After all, Bill’s fellow Cornell alumnus, Keith Olbermann, was recently taken to task by Jon Stewart for referring to Michelle Malkin, another obnoxious conservative voice, as having a face “like a beaten-up piece of meat with lipstick”. And if Bill ever bothers to read John Heilemann’s Game Change, so prominently displayed on the bookshelf behind his desk, he’d realise that the two most intellectually astute people in the Senate recently, besides Ted Kennedy, were Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and the one most universally disliked and disdained was Clinton.
Pussy fear? More than just a bit all around.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Real Tense Real Time

Real Time with Bill Maher hit the boards running for its eighth season a couple of weeks ago, and I held out great hopes for my favourite fundit program, after a decidedly iffy season last year which ended in confusion.

However, I’m hoping I didn’t speak too soon, as it stalled in what it sought to deliver in the third episode of the season, which aired Friday evening.

A commentator on Bill’s MySpace page deemed the episode ‘caustic’, another friend of mine thought it was ‘quirky’ more than anything else. I thought it just oozed tension, and I’m at a loss to understand why.

To begin with, the guest list was a bit thin on the ground – three guests in the studio, including the one-on-one interview and a satellite interview with a dodgy connection. I think Bill struggles to get people to commit to appearing on the program, and whether that’s the nature of the host or the venue (Los Angeles is as long a flight time from the East Coast as New York is from London), I don’t know.

We’re three programs into the new season, and there’s yet to be a elected politician to appear. The result of this difficulty is that we keep seeing the same recurring guests, almost as ‘regulars’: most of the guests who’ve appeared already are repeat performers.

I approached this week’s instalment reluctantly. Arianna Huffington was a panel guest, and to say I loathe this diehard neocon corporate media whore disguised as a Progressive voice only when it became openly fashionable to hate Bush is being kind. The last time she appeared on the show last season, in the cohorted company of fellow (open) Republicans Darryl Issa and Jack Kingston, that trio so railroaded the discussion sequence that Bill, the host and moderator, was reduced to looking like a cross between a bewildered child at the adults’ table and a confused spectator at a tennis match watching such a never-ending volley that he’d forgotten who had the serve.

I’m still at a loss as to why the media in the US continue to give this intellectual lightweight and parvenue airtime to spout her ridiculous talking points, made only to enhance her own publicity; but then, I remember when Mrs Huffington, minus the ex-husband’s divorce settlement and the Wall Street hedge fund, was merely Miss Stanisopoulous, the daughter of a corrupt Greek politician, trying desperately to be taken seriously as an arch-Right conservative by the truly Progressive, serious British media intelligensia.

They considered her a joke.

Bill’s guests this week, besides the Queen Mother of Media Whores, included Andrew Ross Sorkin, financial correspondent for The New York Times, Sean Penn and (from New York) Michael Moore.

Although his previous two monologues this season had hit the bullseye for which they were intended, Bill’s monologue this week fell curiously flat. He wittered on about Oscars’ week, with the inevitable Sarah Palin joke.

I know Palin was a particular target and bete noire for Bill during the campaign and he eviscerated her shallowness with brilliant panache; from time to time, she surfaced last season, but only when she’d done something to merit newsworthy comment – like resign.

This time, I’m getting the uneasy feeling that Bill’s baiting Palin, almost stalking her with continuous snarky comment and open ridicule, and for a curiously self-serving purpose. Of late, those whom Palin has targeted with her snide and ill-founded observations, have achieved almost victim status – Letterman, Rahm Emanuel, Seth McFarlane and Family Guy – all rose like phoenixes from the ashes of her ignorant remarks and misconceptions.

In short, Palin’s invective got publicity for both Letterman and McFarlane, and even Rahm was seen in a more sympathetic light as almost an arbiter for freedom of speech.

Bill’s not above promoting himself shamelessly, almost by any means. That he compromised himself greatly last season with a blatantly opportunistic editorial, slating President Obama for ‘not doing enough’ a mere six months into his Administration, was all too obvious, especially if one cared to remember that the week previous to that particular editorial (June 16th), he was roundly criticizing the GOP for saying the very same thing about the President. Still, it achieved the end Bill desired – he ran the gamut from Blitzer to Olbermann, starting the Obama-bashin’ fashion that the base of the Progressive Left adopted with a fervour unseen since they campaigned for the man during the election.

A lot of real Progressives today still blame Bill for sounding the hammer blow that created a very noticeable ructure in the Democratic Party.

I think Bill is baiting Palin for the same reason. He’s relishing a response from this woman. He wants her to target him, to point a finger, to Twitter a tweet or sully her Facebook page with a diatribe against big, bad Bill Maher, which would gain Bill a soupcon of sympathy and a gaggle of publicity. Thing is, I get the impression that Palin isn’t much of an HBO fan, and I seriously doubt she’s even heard of Bill. Were I he, I’d leave off Palin. He’s only feeding fuel to her fire, and besides, as a part of his monologue and stand-up, she’s becoming boringly predictable as a reference.

But after the monologue, the atmosphere began to become almost surreal.

Sean Penn was the first guest, booked to talk about his humanitarian effort in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti and to plug the relief organisation he had established for that purpose.

I found this odd, to say the least, especially since one of Bill’s ubiquitous tweets during his hiatus had criticised the continuous news emphasis on the disaster by the mainstream media, to the exclusion of any other news. I understood Bill’s complaint; he’d reiterated the media’s propensity to flog one news item like the proverbial dead horse, but the tweet did come across to many as the whiney complaint of a bored adolescent. The other thing I found odd about the interview was Penn, himself.

Penn, florid of face and neck, with a dull, dazed look in his eye, was clearly drunk. More than that, he was a woozy, rambling, incoherent drunk.

To Bill’s credit, his interview questions were flawless. Under normal circumstances, he would have been pushing the right buttons, with the questions he asked. but circumstances were anything but normal. The result was that Penn’s answers rambled on ad nauseam, and he never truly answered any question.

For example, when Penn finally got to the point of his first answer – that the United States needed to give more, more and yet more again to Haiti in an effort to rebuild a viable infrastructure there, Bill, rightly, countered by asking Penn why he sought to concentrate his efforts on Haiti, when there was ample evidence of infrastructural decay in the United States and a plethora of Americans suffering badly as a result of the dire economic crisis.

Valid question; in fact, one many people have been asking in light of this.

This elicited another incoherent and torturously twisted reply from Penn, the gist of which being that by giving – yes – more, more and more again to rebuild Haiti, the US would be a better nation and benefit and learn from the Haitian people. Learn what, exactly, he never specified, and it’s doubtful that he knew. By that point, Penn was just phoning in his replies.

The interview wasn’t without controversy, however. Finally, Bill brought up the subject of Hugo Chavez, a particular ‘friend’ of Penn’s and one whom the actor has defended vociferously. The ensuing reply on Penn’s part is a testimony to the fact that, just because one is an extremely talented actor and icon for a generation, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the person has any great intellect, or even basic common sense.

Bill referred to Chavez, the dictator.

Penn quickly took umbrage. Chavez, he replied, in a pique, was most definitely not a dictator, but a legitimately elected head-of-state. In Penn’s mind, that’s not a dictator.

I disagree. Hitler was legitimately elected. So was Mussolini. So was Bush, allegedly. And elections can easily be rigged to favour the strong man who wants to rule. Look at Italy’s Berlusconi. Again, look at Bush and the Republican techniques. I’m sorry, Sean, this dude’s a dictator and a dick.

Bill then pointed out the fact that Chavez had shut down television and radio stations and newspapers who were openly critical of him, but Penn would have none of that. In fact, he declared, anyone in the United States, and especially in the media, who insisted on calling Chavez a dictator, should be put in prison.

From where I’m sitting, it looks as though Sean’s close association with Hugo Chavez hasn’t been for nothing. That’s a blatant denial of First Amendment rights - so are we to infer that the humanitarian and Academy Award-winning actor approves of a suppression of Freedom of Speech? What a walking advertisement for the Left in the face of the Right. And a blatant one as well.

The other interview came midway through the panel discussion with Michael Moore. It was beset by satellite difficulties, as Moore was attempting to be broadcast from New York City, outside Goldman Sachs. Bill was clearly frustrated by the delay, and Moore was frustrated as well, although by what, it was unclear. It was a tetchy, almost irascible interview, from the beginning, done to publicize the fact that Moore’s latest cinematic offering, Capitalism: A Love Story, was now available on DVD.

As the impending Oscars ceremony served more as a veritable Banquo’s ghost than as a backdrop to this episode, Bill began the interview by reminding Moore that it was Oscars weekend and that Moore’s film hadn’t received a nomination – although he couldn’t imagine why, Bill added for good measure. Clearly a joke between friends, but Moore failed to see the humour and tetchily remarked that, for what it was worth, he thought Bill’s documentary Religulous should have won the Oscar the previous year. (It wasn’t nominated).

Moore then went into a diatribe about the evils of Wall Street and the sufferings of the ordinary citizen in the wake of that, which – for some reason – elicited an irritated response from Bill, in which he noticeably raised his voice. Thereafter, the four-minute clip tailed off with Moore remarking that he’d written a letter to President Obama – understanding that Rahm Emanuel was about to leave – offering him his services as Chief of Staff for the salary of $1 per year and a bed in the White House basement.

In the moments after the interview had ended, Bill made two rather snarky allusions to ‘St Michael’ and ‘the spirit of St Michael’, obviously on the tail end of what amounted to a locking-of-horns encounter, no matter how unintentional that was.

The surrealism of the episode was heightened by the fact that almost nothing of any newsworthy event referenced in the panel discussion. It was patently obvious that the panel was there only as a prop for Huffington to publicise her ‘Move Your Money’ movement in an effort to cripple the four big, bad lending banks.

I find Huffington faintly ludicrous at the best of times. She usually manages to muscle in on any discussion and dominate the proceedings, and this time was no different. Bill began the panel discussion by singling out her ‘Move Your Money’ meme, adding a bit of self-promotion for himself, considering that she asked him to do the promotional video which was released on YouTube.

Now we get to the funny part.

Bill asked Andrew Sorkin, author of the book Too Big to Fail about what he thought of the idea of a mass movement of people taking money from the big four bad boys and placing it in locally-owned banks and credit unions. Sorkin remarked that he thought, in principle, Huffington’s idea was a good one; however, there were drawbacks to her idea:-

First, if everyone ‘moved their money’ from the big guys to the small fry, the banks that formerly had been too big to fail, would ... fail, and that wouldn’t be good for the economy. Secondly, many of the so-called local banks weren’t actually independent entities, themselves. Many were part and parcel of the very organisation Huffington sought to scupper.

(Huffington’s always out to scupper someone or something which effected a perceived slight on her fragile ego. Her vendetta against Clinton in the late 90s came as a result of her husband having lost a Senate race to Barbara Boxer; her vendetta against Tim Russert came from Russert’s wife having outed Michael Huffington in an article years before his sexuality became common knowledge; her vendetta against newspapers arises from the newsprint media failing to consider her a viable and reliable journalist, in her own right. So I can only surmise that her vendetta against the big banks comes from some kind of cashflow problem, which they can’t help her remedy – or at least more from that than out of any concern for ordinary people).

Thirdly, Sorkin concluded, these small local banks and credit unions weren’t entirely clean, themselves – that they employed a stringently vociferous group of lobbyists, whose job it was to nobble Congress, and were, in fact, more opposed to the President’s idea of regulating the banking industry than the big guys were, themselves.

At that moment, Huffington chose to suffer from a bout of selective deafness, because later, in her internet newsrag, she trumpeted the fact that Sorkin had given a pontifical blessing to her ‘movement’ and agreed with her entirely, although he actually didn’t ... such is her arrogance.

That moved the discussion onto the plight of the middle classes, where Huffington held forth on the fact that anger directed at Wall Street was a unifying factor between the middle class and the Teabaggers (and, in doing this, somehow managed to make Michael Moore sound like teabagging material). There followed a five-minute discussion between Huffington and Bill about the sufferings of the middle class and how the government and financial crisis was failing them.

I’m sorry, but I was mightily offended by what amounted to a dinner party discussion between two faux liberals talking about a demographic of people of whom one had actually forgotten he was ever a part and of whom the other had no real contact in her daily dealings. It was a moment straight out of a grotesque Goya painting of two narcissistic egoists paying pithy lip service to the plight of the little people and giving themselves congratulatory pats on the back for having noticed that a problem exists.

Frankly, it was insulting.

This led further into an unusual discussion about an American reality television program, Undercover Boss, which Bill, in a rare moment of realising that he was born a son of the working middle class, found insulting to ordinary people, and which Huffington, surprisingly in her Zsa Zsa-plays-Lady-Bracknell mode, found enlightening.

The whole discussion was pointless, with respect to current events. It was an exercise in publicizing Huffington’s latest venture, an opportunity for Bill to reiterate and reinforce the fact that he really, really did like President Obama, but he wished he could have acted tougher last year – the same old same old complaint he’d whined about since June 2009, only not as forcefully. (Earlier last month, in an interview clip with Joy Behar, I noticed the best-seller Game Change on the shelf in Bill’s office. He’d do well to read and digest the content of this, because ‘No-Drama Obama’ is the President’s schtick).

The New Rules weren’t Bill’s best, and the editorial was a bit of fluff, which, in other circumstances, might have been funny; but in these current times, came across as Bill’s Marie Antoinette moment.

It was an extollation of Hollywood’s virtues as an industry that was entirely American and didn’t come cap-in-hand to the government asking for help. (Of course, it never dawned on Bill that the film which won the Oscar last year was not an American film, or that most films aren’t actually made in Hollywood these days, mainly due to excessive costs). He excoriated the Republicans’ current triviality of promoting their two rising stars (yet another reference to Sarah Palin) as having been a local beauty queen and a nude male centrefold. Hollywood deserved the big party that accompanied the Oscars, as ribald, rambunctuous and excessive as it could be, and the public be damned in its criticism. (‘Let them eat cake, anyone?’)

One of the core messages of the editorial was the fact that any celebrity in the town who openly admitted to being a Republican, was usually of the naff, z-list variety: the late Sonny Bono, Fred Thompson or Fred Grandy, whose chief claim to fame was having played Gofer in The Love Boat.

Amongst the ueber-cool A-listers, only Democrats could be found.

Forty-eight hours later, that left me wondering on what list Bill, whom I love dearly as a fundit, when he’s thinking for himself and not aiming to please others for his own plaudits, could be found ... not the ueber-cool A-list, if this tweet, made in the early hours of Monday morning, whilst moving amongst the exalted at an Oscars’ after-party:-

"Actors are just the bestest people in thw world! We are so lucky to be sharing the earth with them!! Fuck!!!" (Typos are Bill’s).

Sarcasm? Heavily laced. Bitterness? A smidgeon. Jealousy? More than just a bit.

Billy, I love the bones of you, and for that, I’ll rate this episode 7 out of 10, but – damn! – it must be a heavy chore being Arianna’s Gofer. You’re much better than that.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Noseless Face

So it’s come to this on the eve of a possible passage of healthcare reform, arguably the most important and far-reaching legislation to be passed by Congress since Civil Rights and Medicare came into being in the mid-1960s.

The passage of the Senate Bill in the House hangs by the thread of Denis Kucinich’s vote, whilst celebrity blogger, Jane Hamsher, weighs in with a clarion call for the resignation of Lynne Woolsey, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus in the House and one of the most liberal members in that body.

Kucinich, who voted against the House bill, itself, siding with the Republicans, in early November, is holding out and tilting at windmills for nothing less than a single-payer program to be implemented. Hamsher’s demand for Woolsey’s resignation is a result of Woolsey, another Representative who voted with the Opposition in November, having held her nose and indicated that she would pass the Senate bill on the understanding that a possible public option might be considered on reconciliation.

She compromised, which is what a great deal of our politics – indeed, most politics in the civilised world – is all about: debate, discuss and compromise. She recognised the importance of not wimping out on the one-yard line. She accepted the fact that most pieces of important legislation begin life as a base on which better legislation can be built.

But that’s not enough for Hamsher, who’s not averse to crawling into political bed with the likes of Grover Norquist, spiritual father-confessor of the Teabagging Movement, in an attempt to kill the healthcare bill. In doing this, Hamsher naively thinks that the whole of the Congress, with the President dancing attendance, will sit down again and consider that single-payer is the only route to healthcare the country can afford to take.

Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not. I’ve lived with a single-payer system in the UK for almost 29 years. I’ve seen it at its best, and I’ve seen it at its worst. Is the quality of care comparable to anything we have in the US? Quite honestly, I have to say no – considering the private health insurance that I carried when I taught school in the States, no. Sometimes, you luck out here and get good nurses, doctors who’ll spend time with you and answer your questions and efficient bureaucracy. Sometimes shit happens.

At the moment, corporate influence is worming its way into the system in the shape and form of the genial figure of Richard Branson. Gordon Brown has allowed him to buy into however many medical practices that he can afford – and being Richard Branson, that will be a lot – becoming, effectively, a sleeping partner and investing in the running costs and salaries of officials associated with those medical practices. These will be renamed, collectively, Virgin Health (along with Virgin Travel, Virgin Money, Virgin Communications, Virgin Television and Virgin Broadband). I suspect this means that other tycoons will take over other medical practices and before you can sneeze, we’ll be paying handsomely (and privately) to see our GP, to have various and sundry tests run, which - under the old National Health – would have all been free at source.

It’s a sneaky way to cut services offered, whilst increasing the extra tax charged here to fund healthcare, the National Insurance. Everyone pays proportionate to their income. At least, Maggie Thatcher was honest enough to say outright that she was cutting dentistry and optical care out of the package.

I’m also still American enough to know that a single-payer system - indeed, any universal healthcare system – will, inevitably, mean an increase in taxes, overall – something that sticks in the craw of most Americans of any political persuasion.

Suffice it to say that single-payer is a non-starter; but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t happen, for better or for worse.

Hamsher made waves a few months ago, when the Senate was preparing to pass its healthcare bill when she infamously joined forces Norquist in an effort to kill the Healthcare bill. This was grandstanding at its worst and, also, incredibly naive; for Hamsher thought that, almost immediately, this would force Congress to sit down at a table and start again from scratch with healthcare reform, effectively hammering through a single-player plan.

As if.

The last time healthcare got bitch-slapped into submission (and by a Democratic Congress) was when Bill Clinton despatched Hillary to the Hill with a fully formulated healthcare plan to place before their hallowed portals.

She got pretty short shrift, and that was almost 17 years ago.

Within the political system, itself, we now hear that Nancy Pelosi is redoubling all efforts, with the help of the President, in trying to convince a recalcitrant Denis Kucinich to support passage of this bill.

I’m not the biggest fan of Kucinich, but I admire him as a man of principle. He seems to be one of the few serving politicos who’s remained true to his core beliefs. However, this is a seminal moment in United States political history.

We are about to be presented with an actual healthcare program, which would ensure coverage of an additional 30,000,000 people, making this almost universal in concept. Is it a great piece of legislation? No. It’s not perfect, but – as everyone’s said endlessly – neither was Social Security in its original form. But it gives us a platform, a foundation upon which to build – and legislation, in the form of an amendment tacked onto an existing law, is something that only requires 51 Senate votes in order to bring it into being.

That Kucinich has now become the Lieberman of the House, holding out on a hiding to nothing in a quixotic attempt to force single-payer into the equation – single-payer not the ubiquitous public option – ceases to be harmless windmill tilting and becomes, in its stead, the proverbial straw that’s going to break the camel’s back of healthcare reform in the United States.

This begs the question, cynic that I am, of when, exactly, one’s ego overrides one’s principles, at the expense of one’s constituents? Because politicos of all persuasion, to have even arrived at the door of the national legislative body, need an ego of considerable dimensions. A situation like this would put the most milquetoast of men in a position to wield enormous power with equally enormous demands, should he choose. We all remember Joe Lieberman’s and Ben Nelson’s antics.

It’s moments like these when I think that the US Congress – and, in particular, this fractured Democratic Party – would benefit from a stronger ‘whip’ system, which is used in the British House of Commons. The political whips actually do figuratively whip their party members into a situation where they are compelled to vote the party line. To refuse to do so, for whatever principle, results in what is known as a withdrawal of the whip. Put bluntly, the recalcitrant member is unceremoniously kicked out of his respective party. He can still serve as an elected member, but the next time there’s a general election, he has to find a new group of playmates or beg forgiveness of his party leaders. It happened to George Galloway. It happened to Clare Short. No one is too big for the party.

I’ve no doubt that Kucinich is devoted to the principle of seeing single-payer firmly ensconced as a Third Rail in the American healthcare system. Bernie Sanders is also, but Sanders, a real Independent, knows that sometimes it’s mete to swallow hard and be pragmatic – one of the rules of political life you’d think a seasoned campaigner like Kucinich would know. Yet I also can’t help wonder how much this incident is Kucinich’s big moment in the spotlight, his chance to be Napoleon for the day, and which might turn into his jump-the-shark moment.

On a Napoleonic scale, he’d do well to remember that Jim DeMint, NOPer extraordinaire, has sworn to make healthcare reform Obama’s Waterloo. The House bill which passed in November did so on the strength of 5 votes, and one of those didn’t belong to Kucinich. Since that time, the lone Republican who voted for the bill has been bullied into seeing sense by his political ‘betters.’ Jack Murtha has died. Another Congressman switched parties and a fourth resigned. If the one vote that’s the difference between healthcare and health hell is Denis Kucinich, imagine the irony of this Democratic Napoleon effecting his own party’s Waterloo.

From that moment onward, Obama would become a lame duck President, and the Democratic Party would be seen to be shallow, divided and incapable (as well as unworthy) of governing.

Jane Hamsher is a private citizen. As such, she – like any other private citizen – is entitled to call for the resignation of any public official. That’s her right, just as it’s the official’s right to ignore the demand. But the demand got her the attention (and her blogsite, the clicks) she sought. With that in mind, I’d like to call for the resignation of the 5 conservative members of the Supreme Court, who have played god to create corporate personhood, my Congressman, Frank Wolf, for spending most of his spare time on his knees in the C Street cathouse, and Eric Cantor, because I don’t like the smirk on his face, as well as his politics.

But it ain’t gonna happen, is it?

It’s unfortunate that the single-payer option was never in the running to be adopted as the universal healthcare system in the US, but if the entire healthcare reform process is derailed because of the stubborn pride masqueraded and paraded as an unbending principle of a United States Congressman, then that’s more than unfortunate. It’s a totally unmitigated tragedy.

The pride of a high-profiled Leftie like Hamsher and a Democratic Congressman of Kucinich’s ilk goeth mightily before a fall of a political party, which might find itself in the wilderness of opposition for the far and foreseeable future.

At the end of the day, I hope both Kucinich and Hamsher won’t miss the noses they’ve cut off their faces much. At least, they’ll be spared the stench that comes with a Republican administration – or the smell of mooseburgers roasting on the White House barbecue.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Message from a Snob to the Rest of You

I am a Virginian. My mother was a Virginian, and so was her father. His family came to the colonies out of necessity and choice. During the English Civil War in the 1640s, my ever-so-many-great grandfather backed the losing horse (thus, establishing a long tradition in my family): King Charles I.

Years before this little altercation started, the King had given my ancestor a rather large tract of land in the new colony – not that my ancestor ever bothered to go check it out, you understand. He was pretty cosy with the life he had in Halifax, in the North of England. But then the Civil War started, and the King lost his head – literally – and my ancestor was faced with a choice: stick around and lose his head (and land and everything else) or get ye the hell out to the colonies.

(Even though my family aren’t the greatest gamblers in the world, we do have a reasonable modicum of common sense and a desire for survival).

So, that’s how Virginian I am. I couldn’t be more Virginian if I were Poca-bloody-hontas (and one of her granddaughters married into my ancestor’s family), so I’m entitled to a reasonable amount of snobbism … or rather, that pejorative synonym for it: elitism.

It is as a bona fide elitist from that most elite of the original 13 colonies, I would like to address the matter of why the Democratic candidate for governor from the Commonwealth of Virginia lost in November 2009, because a lot of netroots know-it-all HuffPo dittoes, in their infinite misinformed and discombabulated thinking, have ascertained the reason of Creagh Deeds’ s defeat incorrectly.

Put simply: Y’all are WRONG!

First of all, Bob McDonnell was not ”widely popular” as some people regularly claim in HuffPo land. If anything, most logical voters viewed him suspiciously, as someone who ran as a moderate appeaser, but who had the shifty eyes of an arch-conservative in waiting to dismantle every Progressive piece of legislation enacted by the outgoing Governor, Tim Kaine.

When he appeared on the campaign trail at various times under the Confederate flag, hackles were raised along Democratic spines in alarm. The publication of ueber-regressive philosophies written in his doctoral thesis from a glorified Bible-school sent everyone’s mindset into overdrive at the regressive and repressive attitude he exhibited toward women and women’s rights. That McDonnell slickly - he exudes an image of slime trailing in his wake – excused these sentiments as a folly of youth wasn’t lost amongst the more discerning voter.

When, exactly, does “youth” end? McDonnell was expressing these beliefs as a man of 35, when the thesis was written!!!

Nope. McDonnell appealed to Sarah Palin’s ”real Virginians,” the rural residents along the south-central corridor, extending into the mountainous westside of the state – people like the Wise County constituents, dependent on travelling medical charities for their healthcare. Sarah offered him her expert campaigning skills, and he turned her down. That, it seems, was a political stroke of sheer genius.

These were the people who couldn’t reconcile themselves to the specter of a black man in the White House.

He then turned his attention to the Socialist Communist People’s Democratic Republic of Northern Virginia (so dubbed by Joe McCain, foul-mouthed brother of Senator John), subtly reminding all and sundry that he, Bob McDonnell, came from the Northern Virginia area.

As if that mattered.

It didn’t because – and here’s the rub – the election was won by McDonnell as much as because of who didn’t vote as who did. And it was also lost, I’m sorry to say, because the Democratic Party endorsed the wrong man as candidate.

Creagh Deeds is a lovely man, but he was little known throughout the state as a whole. He was chosen by the Democratic voters from a field that included Terry McAuliffe (the high-profile Clinton operative) and Brian Moran, the brother of the popular and Progressive 8th District Congressman. McAuliffe came with the tag “Carpetbagger” (a term that still carries images of Yankees marching through the Shenandoah), and Moran, like his brother, was viewed as too far to the Left. That left Deeds a nice compromise candidate – nice, being the operative word.

Mr Nice proceeded to run one of the most negative campaigns in recent history.

That was a big mistake.

The other big mistake was simply that Virginia voters traditionally don’t turn out in droves to elect a governor. The winner of the prize can only serve one four-year term, and then he goes. The voters are savvy enough to realise that the fella in the Big Chair will only work for the first two years and then phone in for the final two, because he’ll be busy raising campaign funds for his US Senate candidacy that will take place immediately he leaves office (Chuck Robb, Macaca Allen, Mark Warner et al). Most people don’t bother voting, considering that they’ll probably be voting for whomever in four years’ time in a senatorial campaign, so McDonnell appealed to the people he knew had a vested interest in voting.

To the goobers in the rural Southern part of the state, he was the white man who’d stand up to the one who had no right to sit in the Oval Office; and to the independents, he could put hand on heart and claim to be a fiscal conservative. He rightly calculated that most of the people who didn’t vote, would be Democrats anyway, lazily complacent, and he wasn’t wrong.

First, that particular demographic which carried Obama in the state did a no-show: the college kids. Why should they? They’d participated in the ‘big one’, the Party party. They’d canvassed and registered voters and campaigned door-o-door. They’d participated in history. Now they were having a voter hangover, or they were studying for mid-terms, or both.

Either way, they didn’t show; or they couldn’t be bothered to do so. They simply couldn’t be bothered to vote for a greying, middle-aged man with a stutter, where they’d turned out in droves for a greying, middle-aged celebrity with a teleprompter.

The other demographic that won the state for Obama failed to show as well – the African American community. In fact, they were divided, with some high profiled African American Virginians, actually, endorseing McDonnell (e.g., the divine Doug Wilder, first African American governor of any state.)

So most of the African American community stayed home too.

Statistics show that in any given election, the lower the voter turnout, the more chance a Republican or an incumbent will prevail. This is exactly what happened.

And as for this being an indictment of Obama’s shortcomings as a President, after less than one year, that’s a fallacy too. In almost every voting precinct in the state, exit polls amongst independents, who voted for McDonnell, showed that the reason they voted Republican had nothing to do with President Obama’s freshman year performance and everything to do with what they perceived to be a shoddily-run campaign on the part of the Democratic candidate. In fact, almost to a person, these voters said that they wouldn’t hesitate to vote for Obama again, as President.

As Walter Cronkite and – even better – that real Virginian Bruce Hornsby would say, “That’s just the way it is” – unfortunate, coincidental, but true.

I am just pissed off and sick and tired of self-appointed pundits in the blogosphere attempting to use this election as a rod with which to beat the President; and if that conjures up images of Simon Legree or Ole Massa beatin’ the field hands, good. I want it to show that.

Because the people making the loudest wailings about the Virginia result (and, to a degree, the New Jersey one and the Massachusetts one) are the same adolescently-inclined people who are threatening to sulk out the vote in 2010 or 2012 or who are whining for some whiter than white (literally) Progressive saviour to descend from secular heaven in the form of Howard Dean or Denis Kucinich and mount a primary challenge against the President. They’re the same people demanding that the President fire his team of advisors, including his Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Treasury and hire a whole new entourage of their own choosing – said entourage to include, again, Howard Dean and Denis Kucinich, as well as Eliot Spitzer and Elizabeth Warren.

They’re are the political innocents, mischief makers and miscreants who proclaim themselves Progressives, far superior in intellect, tolerance, open-mindedness and understanding than the Bible-bashing, gun-totin’ Republican Right, yet they want various Rightwing commentators/politicians ’silenced’; they ban any adverse comment on certain Progressive aggregates, whilst preaching the First Amendment. When they’re told the truth by anyone in a position to know better, they either effect selective deafness or they’re arrogant enough to deem the truth a lie.

So the salutory lesson in all of this is simply this: look at what happens when you decide, for whatever reason, not to vote in an election. The fox gets in the henhouse and all hell breaks loose. McDonnell and his merry men have unleased a war against their LGBT constituents, after Tim Kaine signed executive order legislation banning any discrimination against anyone based on sexual orientation … and that’s just the start of things to come.

A helluva lot of fuck-ups can happen in four short years. Just look at the damage Bush wreaked!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The People's Voice?

In his latest editorial at the end of Friday’s Real Time, Bill Maher put out a poignant plea for the public’s understanding and sympathy toward Hollywood’s big, self-promoting pat on the back that’s known as the Oscars. That one, special night, says our lad, is deserved, because – well, because Hollywood is just about the one major industry which is productive and successful in America these days. (Never mind the fact that it was a foreign film which won ‘Best Picture’ last year, or the fact that foreign actors regularly go off with a gong, or even the fact that quite a lot of films are made outside Hollywood these days.
But Bill wouldn’t know that, would he? I mean, considering the fact that he rarely ventures outside the Hollywood bubble, except to slide into various cities for one night only, check into a hotel room, deliver 90 minutes of stand-up and then depart for the West Coast, yet again, by private jet, no doubt … but we’ll forgive him, because he’s our lad and speaks for those of us on the Left, so we won’t worry too much about the extra carbon footprint. Hey, we’ll be magnanimous and global and extend the same sort of licence to be hypocritical to Mr and Mrs Sting and Bono too. This trio has the art of preaching virtues to the little men of the world, whilst enjoying the greatest and most gluttonous of excesses themselves … because they can.
Bill calls the Oscars’ night ‘Hollywood’s Prom.’ And we should allow our hard-working and overpaid celebrities one night of libertine fun, because they work so hard for us, entertaining us, whilst pocketing our hard-earned dough that we can ill-afford to pay – either to catch the latest Clooney flick or even to pay close to a hundred bucks to see Bill say the same thing he’s said countless times before on Real Time for ninety minutes.
I don’t begrudge Bill his success. I suppose he’s paid his dues, in addition to being in the right place at the right time; it’s not my problem, but his, that he – like countless others – has appeared to have forgotten his antecedents once he’s tasted success. Ne’mind … I had the same problem digesting Margaret Thatcher’s use of the royal ‘we’, choosing, instead, to remember that she, like Cardinal Wolsey, came from pretty common stock.
What I do have a problem with, in relation to Bill, is the fact that he continues to present himself as a voice of the Progressives in this nation. In fact, in this latest editorial, he refers to himself as a Progressive.
I am sorry. I dispute that.
On the episode which aired on October 2, 2009, Bill remarked to his guest, David Cross, that he favoured the death penalty. Bill’s said this countless times before, and on this occasion, remarked, “I always say, if you get’em once with the old death penalty, they sure as hell won’t kill again.”
Do we know any Progressives who are in favour of the death penalty?
On a tweet rendered in late December, after the successful capture of the Underpants bomber, Bill tweeted that he was in favour of racial profiling at airports, because “little, old, white ladies were not terrorists.” (Hey, Bill … don’t give the terrorists any ideas).
On a program which aired March 13, 2009, Bill enthusiastically remarked how much in favour he was of Obama’s slapping down the teachers’ unions, and he went on to rant about how much he disliked unions in general. Later in the year, he reiterated this again. So, he’s anti-union. How many Progressives are against the concept of collective bargaining and union representation?
And, finally, on the penultimate program of Real Time last season, he admitted to no less than Bill Frist that he didn’t want the government to have anything to do with his healthcare. This was after making a brilliant analogy for single-payer by comparing government-controlled healthcare to be as efficient as the government-controlled Post Office.
I know, I know … the Post Office isn’t really that efficient, but Bill’s a bit of a Luddite when he’s caught unawares. He’s probably not even aware of the cost of a first class stamp. He just knows that when he writes a letter to his sister in New Jersey on Monday, she has it on Wednesday, two days later. That, in this day of e-mail and conference calling, is just a gratuitous Saturday Evening Post moment, but it served its purpose and Bill pushed the single-payer envelope for the rest of the season … until Bill Frist appeared and unsettled him.
So, Bill Maher, Progressive:
1. believes in the death penalty
2. believes in racial profiling
3. is anti-union
4. and doesn’t want the government to have any say in his healthcare.
Because I’m a tolerant person and because I genuinely like Bill and like my heroes to have feet of clay, I’ll be nice and say that sure as hell sounds like a Blue Dog to me; but to others, it might just have a whiff of a closet Republican about it.
Either way, Bill Maher is no more the voice of any Progressive any more than he is the voice of the middle classes, whose fashionable plight he was pushing on Friday’s show.
If Bill were to spend one month in either the South or flyover country, living the life of a middle-aged middle-class man, on an average wage, with credit cards and bills to pay, a mortgage and a clapped-out second-hand car to maintain, without the security guards or an available Whole Foods … if he were to rise to that challenge and do that and THEN presume to speak for the middle classes, I might give him the kudos and plaudits I’m witholding.
But I’d still say he was a Blue Dog, politically.
And maybe a Republican … but until then, most definitely, more than a little bit of a hypocrite.