Goodbye to Bill Maher

Dear Bill,

Last night I decided to never watch your show again. It's true that I've never been a huge fan. Unlike, say, Jon Stewart, your comic skills tend to be erratic --a weak stand-up routine rescued by a real gift for spontaneous repartee and, more recently, the exceedingly funny New Rules segment that plays to your strengths. These strengths being an eye for the absurd and a fiercely uncompromising point of view. That kind of self-conviction and irreverence do best in black-and-white debates, where right and wrong can be neatly identified and attacked, as with the policies of our present administration. This is what makes your show eminently watch-able.

You've never been much of a thinker, almost always substituting rambunctious opinion for analysis. Subtlety and nuance can indeed be overrated, but so is dogmatism disguised as irreverence. It's a flaw that rears its ugly head any time you venture into what are also unfortunately among your favorite subjects: women and foreign policy.

For years, I watched with amusement as you greeted female guests on the "Politically Incorrect" show with a string of absurd monikers: baby-doll, darling, sweetheart, and so on. My friends and I would place bets on which clunker you'd pick next: five bucks the former ambassador earns herself a "honey." Yes, many of your comments about women were sexist, but also painfully transparent, like the faux machismo of a recovering dork. All those angry cracks about money-grubbing, shallow women made me wonder just how bad high school was for you.

As for foreign policy, I've never been terribly impressed by your opposition to the war in Iraq. So you hate the war, as does the Cato Institute. That's nice but I don't plan to give them money any time soon. Yet unlike Cato, you emerged not just as a potential ally but a bona fide hero of the progressive left the moment P. I. was knocked off the air after 9/11. As did anybody who was anybody that got in trouble for speaking their mind in that climate of fear. Bill Maher, Susan Sontag, same difference. Your well-refined hatred of Bush and position on Iraq just sealed the deal.

But there is a difference between you and Sontag, a woman dedicated to the very things you disdain in your thinking: commitment to a set of clearly articulated but, more importantly, carefully applied values of justice, freedom and democracy. And she opposed the Bush administration's post-9/11 policies, including the war, from that position. Your antiwar sentiment, however, is rooted in less morally fertile ground, which includes a contempt for Arabs that sounds near-racist. 'Sounds' is the word I use because I hesitate to characterize a man's character based on a public persona adopted strictly for the purposes of entertainment. Unlike Bush and Harriet Miers, I do not know your heart.

Truth is, as a television viewer, I'm not particularly interested in your heart. In choosing to stop watching your show, I've simply decided to avoid tuning into this kind of drivel for the sake of my own viewing pleasure and sanity:


MAHER: Yes, and what bothers me, as they're having this vote, is, for the amount of money we've spent -- $200 billion more and 2,000 lives gone – I think we should have more of a say in who runs this country. And this is my choice—put it up on the screen who I–[slide showing Allawi and Chalabi]—these two schmucks, these two schmos, these two thugs, Allawi and Chalabi – Joe Pesci and Tony Soprano—[laughter]—that's who should be running this country. These people are not ready for a real democracy. They're ready for a starter democracy. They're ready for a Mubarak, Musharraf, Vladimir Putin kind of democracy, where you have a strongman thug who's not really a rape-room guy, but, let's face it, they're not going to go all the way – we don't have a real democracy! [applause] [cheers]
BROWN: Well, I've always thought – I've always thought we'd end up with Chalabi, because, I mean, you know, he is so devious, he's so slimy. But the only thing that you have to have in politics in Iraq , is to be able to survive. And he can survive. I mean, you wouldn't want to buy a second-hand rug from Chalabi. [laughter] But the fact is, he's there and he's probably going to wind up, you know, running the place.
MAHER: And he – and like the other guy in that pic – he's wearing a suit. This, to me, is tremendously comforting. When I see these Middle Eastern guys and they at least put on the suit and the tie, I don't know, maybe that's prejudiced, but I just go, ooh, okay, thank you. [laughter] Thank you. As opposed to the black ninja uniforms—[laughter]—or the, you know… [LINK]
These are just the latest of far too many iterations of your unappetizing and grossly incorrect assumptions about the Middle East: one, it is filled with uncivilized folks who can't handle democracy; two, western culture and values are equivalent to civilization.

What's really ironic is that this is exactly the kind of thinking that created the post-invasion mess in Iraq. I'm surprised that no one in the Bush administration has offered you a job as yet. No doubt you'll decline if only because the sexual perks are likely to suck -- or is that blow? So a progressive hero you'll remain, even as you toot the horn of your political independence and continue to buck the progressive values of compassion and fairness in the name of political incorrectness.

Well, Bill, I'm glad to report that I won't be around to see it. And the good news is that you won't care. I do, however, wish you all the luck in your career, but in the hope that it will steer you far away from politics, especially the international kind.

best

Lakshmi
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