Is It Possible We’ve Been Wrong About Bill Maher The Whole Time?
I’m Certainly Beginning to Think I Was
As I’ve mentioned in several of my previous columns, I have a few conservative friends. I don’t agree with everything they have to say — some of their thinking is sometimes offensive to me — but they’re not idiots and they have always been willing to hear me out. I am not one of those people who is willing to destroy a lifelong friendship because my political thinking occasionally differs from theirs; in fact, we agree on more than we disagree on.
Anyway, last week I was discussing how upset I generally was about so much of what was going on with the strike in Hollywood. They read my column and they generally think my opinions are logical and sound even when they disagree with them. At one point I began to discuss the fact that certain people were getting in trouble by beginning their series after months of no progress. When I mentioned that Bill Maher was one of them, one of them said: “That’s no surprise. He’s a liberal.” I have little doubt they would be stunned to know that so many so-called liberals believe that Bill Maher is an out and out conservative.
The thing is, they’re not entirely wrong. I have spent a ridiculous amount of time and energy attacking Bill Maher for being many things — a hypocrite, a misogynist, a misanthrope, a stale comedian and at one point I referred to him as a Bob Taft Republican. It is only until fairly recently I remembered something that I seem to have conveniently forgotten — which consider how much time I’ve spent watching Maher over this years is kind of amazing.
I will admit that Bill Maher has spent his entire career attacking hypocrisy on both sides of the political spectrum, and that many of his personal views are closer to conservative than liberal. I had forgotten that in nearly thirty years of watching him, while Maher has attacked both parties he has never once endorsed or taken the side of the Republicans in any election year. Not once. This was true as early as Bill Clinton and has remained the case through every cycle since then. He might not give Democratic Presidents a pass, but he loathes all Republicans. We know he hated W; he spent a lot of time trying to warn his viewers about Donald Trump, he never warmed to McCain or Romney when they were running against Obama and he was always pretty hostile to George Bush senior.
And he has been very clear what side he is on. On an episode of Real Time he pleaded with Ralph Nader not to run again prior to 2004 because he was afraid of W being reelected. Problems with Obama aside, he was willing to donate a million dollars to his campaign. He was a prominent support of Bernie in 2016; he was one of the first people to argue that Bernie should run again in 2020. And he’s never had a problem with ageism when it comes to Democrats; even before he endorsed Biden in 2020, he was publicly in favor of then California Governor Jerry Brown running for the Democratic nomination in 2016. (For the record, I agreed with every part of that endorsement.) Much of his routine has always been about scorching Republicans over Democrats, and he has been inclined to believed the system is rigged in such a way that it hurts the latter more than the former.
All of these are not only Democratic but Progressive talking points. So why for the last seven years has the left spent so much time publicly considering Bill Maher as much as a villain as anyone on the right? Why is it that when Colin Jost made a joke on Saturday Night Live that he was a Bill Maher Liberal, the punch line was “basically a Republican?” Bill Maher has done more in the last thirty years to talk the talk and walk the walk for Democrats than most progressives will. Why do they hate him so much?
Over the last several months due to my own exposure and frustration with the left, I have come to have a glimmer of an understand why. Bill Maher has not left the Democratic party and the Democratic Party has not left it. But the loudest voices on the left really want him too. Not because he disagrees with their basic principle — he agrees with them about the threat the Republicans are — but because he is more aware than most about the left’s intolerance towards any form of disagreement with their agenda and how quickly they will turn on anyone they consider a villain.
Perhaps Maher, being from Hollywood, can see the common thread between his industry and progressives. For both of them, past accomplishments no matter how significant are irrelevant; it’s always: “What have you done for us lately?” I imagine he can see some of that in Hollywood; it is a business after all. But having spent so much time among the left the last year (more than I should of) I know how determined they are to have their own narrative and they refuse to tolerate anyone who even suggest that either they are wrong or that they make deviations to meet their goals.
I acknowledge that once I ridiculed Maher for relying so much on the white working class voter to win elections. It’s only recently that I’ve come to realize the left is as indifferent to them as he has said they are. Maher, to his credit, knows that elections must be won around the margin and that one can’t win with the progressive coalition as it currently exists. The left has made it very clear in numerous articles that, as far as they’re concerned, not only don’t they need them the Democrats are better without them. They are interested as much in purity tests as they claim the Republicans are and that moderation is a dirty word. They have taken the attitude that the world is going to change and that those who disagree with it will be left behind. These are not words of unity or the kind that might win independents who might have problems with the right but certain parts of the left disturb them. The left has made it clear that when it comes to what they want, they can be as Draconian as the right.
I also on multiple occasions argued that times had changed in the past thirty years and Maher had not. What I didn’t realize is that this wasn’t necessarily a sin when it comes to a side that is literally changing its opinion on certain issues so quickly and often on trivialities and is quick to cast aside anyone who takes a position contrary to there’s no matter how much of an ally they have been in the past. Dave Chapelle and J.K. Rowling were heroes to the previous generation but because they won’t embrace one part of an all-new agenda, not only are they pariahs now but they can never be trusted again. The contradictions of the left are never to be called into question. According to some progressives, the media needs to spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week telling everybody what liars and monsters the right is. But even when they do expose a certain truth, they get no credit from the left because in their minds, they’re only doing the bare minimum or are wasting time telling everybody stuff that they have already known for years.
Indeed Maher himself knows better how utterly transactional the left’s support can be and that’s only if they consider you an ally in the first place. As we all know when Maher made a controversial comment on his old show Politically Incorrect not long after 9/11, the right crucified him, the public turned on him and his show was cancelled. The left, however, not at the time and certainly not now, never went out of their way to give him credit for this. Indeed, considering their tendencies to rewrite history, certain entertainment columnists are trying to argue either that Maher’s comments and public excoriation had nothing to do with why he was cancelled in the first place and that despite his politics and position he was never a strong ally in the first place. I imagine that the left never liked Bill and probably reacted to his cancellation by saying: “Why did the networks bothered? It’s not like he wasn’t saying anything that wasn’t obvious to us.”
And its not like Hollywood has ever truly appreciated him when he managed to come back on Real Time within a year. Usually when someone gets punished by the media, the left and Hollywood celebrates their return. I remember that the critical reception for Maher from both the left and critics was lukewarm at best. Maybe Maher got a very clear lesson from just how little ‘the progressives’ thought of him: they barely liked him as a martyr and they would never consider him one of them. Of course Maher has treated the left with contempt. He would have every reason the feeling was always mutual and was never going to change.
The only reason that the left can argue that Maher is a conservative is that he will, every so often, appear on Fox News or a right-wing media outlet or he will be quoted in one of them because they agree with his positions. At this point, I think this says far more about the left than it does about Maher. In truth, this makes it clear that all of their talk about the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 is complete hogwash. They’ve always thought that the right has no place on television period, and the fact that an entertainer — who has been a Democrat in all the ways that counts — either invites Republicans onto his show or appears on one of theirs is somehow worse than being a Republican. Apparently in their minds even talking with the opposition to tell them that you disagree with them is the worst kind of betrayal. I don’t know why this comes as a shock given how much I’ve read online over the past several months but the last few weeks have made it crystal clear that when it comes to inclusivity, Republicans might as well live in their own country with an electrified fence on it.
So it shouldn’t have come as a shock that when Maher announced he was starting up Real Time this week, the left immediately excoriated him. It’s not like they ever need an excuse; they’ve hated his guts for years because he won’t bow and see their agenda is always correct. Maher, to refresh your memory, has made it very clear that there is more to the strike then what the WGA and SAG-AFTRA says and that there are other people involved then just them. He was very clear that this strike was not a decision between either being ‘Cesar Chavez on one side and Trump on the other.”
But because Hollywood has no problem being as two-faced as any politician they chose to frame both Maher and Drew Barrymore as villains by using the worst possible word: Republicans. To be clear, the right has said almost nothing about the work stoppage in Hollywood since it began. Neither, aside from some perfunctory cheering at the beginning of it, has the left. Perhaps the left realized that, much as they want to frame it as a battle for the soul of organized labor this is a battle of millionaires wanting more money from corporations and that to do so would involve a certain level of hypocrisy.
But that’s the thing about the left: you attack one thing they claim to stand for, you’re a villain. So naturally they excoriated not only Maher but Barrymore, saying they ‘were disappointed because they’d considered her an ally in the past.” Note the phrase ‘in the past’. Says a lot. Barrymore made it very clear why she was doing this and Hollywood and the unions crucified her. They protested at her show, they vituperated her on social media, they basically turned her choice to think of her employees — who she’s close too — as inferior to her union — many of whom she doesn’t know. They said in no uncertain terms that you can either be a good boss or loyal to your union: not both.
And the thing is, it worked. Barrymore backed down under the pressure. Hollywood, which is so publicly anti-bullying, basically bullied one of their own in to doing what they collectively considered was best for their union. That she was doing this to help people who are suffering under this strike far more than so many on the picket line is irrelevant both to Hollywood and the left. “What have you done for us lately?”
Naturally the left will celebrate Barrymore’s capitulation as a victory for ‘the good guys’ even though ‘the good guys’ are people they normally have no use for. They will continue to villainize Bill Maher for taking a stand because it’s not one they agree with and they hate him anyway. And showing their clueless they will celebrate Taylor Swift for donating money from her concert film to the strikers. Swift, of course, is a singer and has no dog in this fight. But because she says the right things — and better still, is a leftist in Tennessee, a state they loathe out of question — she has done the right thing, even though it cost her nothing while Barrymore’s actions were more costly to her and she deserved it.
This reaction has fundamentally convinced me that while I don’t agree with a lot of what Bill Maher says in his act, the left’s reactions to him have proven that they are by far the villains in these piece. Maher has realized that no matter how much he tries to prove that he is a Democrat, the left is always going to paint him as a conservative because he can’t pass a purity test where the curve keeps getting higher and the graders can decide whether you’ve failed depending on what day it is. I have never liked much of what Maher says but I always thought his cancellation twenty years was arbitrary and capricious. I argued whether he was wrong to hold onto his grudges. It’s clear now that no matter how much you try to be the bigger person with some people, they’re just going to hate you no matter what you try to do.
To be clear I’m not going to out of my way to watch Real Time when it comes back on Friday. I’ve never been Maher’s biggest fan and I’m not now. But I hope he uses his New Rules to take as big a swing as he possibly can at the utter hypocrisy that has surrounded not only the strike but the way the Guilds and the left have acted not only towards him, but to those who have tried to think other people besides their union. It will be particularly funny and have the more than added benefit of being true.