The show began with a parody of one of these fragrance commercials, only the name of the fragrance was called “Harriet” (cue the crooning of the alto sax with the whispery voice-over: “mysterious, dispassionate…unqualified”).
Bill Maher then began a mediocre monologue with “Bush had a big decision to make, and he made up his mind…he’s going to dress up as Spiderman for Halloween,” and then came up with, “He was so desperate to win back the anti-gay crowd that, for the next Supreme Court vacancy that may come up, he said he’d nominate the tiger that ate part of Siegfried and Roy” (ugh…). He saved it with this one, though, I thought: “According to a BBC documentary, Bush told some Palestinian ministers that God told him to invade Iraq and Afghanistan. Apparently, that’s what happens when you mix the New Testament with ‘Old Milwaukee’.”
The first guest he interview via satellite was Ann Coulter, and I’m going to communicate very little of the exchange between the two of them because I refuse to serve as an unwitting propaganda vehicle for her. The one thing I should point out about her, which is true of many in the right-wing echo chamber and some lefties too I’m sure, is that these people are lawyers. They are trained to propagandize and try to influence an opinion any way they can, even if the facts aren’t entirely consistent with their argument.
The fact that this woman even gets the time of day from ANYONE in the media anywhere is testimony to her success at influencing small minds everywhere. When Maher said to her (quite rightly) that, “if a Democrat pulled what Tom DeLay did, you and the right would be screaming,” and she casually laughed that off with, “oh, that prosecutor (Ronnie Earle) has been known for doing this for years. He has nothing,” (so in touch with reality she is). Maher also confronted her over what Bill Bennett said about aborting black babies to lower the crime rate (yes, I read the actual quote, and Bennett denied that it was a good idea, but his denial was of a nature that led me to believe that Bennett would like for it to happen anyway – “somebody said it should be done, it’s bad, but somebody said it should be done.”). Coulter, in an attempt to blame the Democrats for thinking the same way Bennett did, then came up with some story that, during the 2000 presidential election recount, Democrats were spreading stories that blacks were raping their babies (in an effort to show how the Democrats take the black vote for granted at times); typical garbage for her. At least the audience had good enough sense to stir and even hiss a little bit at times. Coulter even sounds annoying. I had never heard he talk before, and I don’t plan to ever again.
The three panelists were Andrew Sullivan, Ben Affleck, and Salman Rushdie. Speaking first of Miers, Maher asked, “How does she recuse herself since she’s been so close to Bush?” (she actually said she thought Bush was brilliant…isn’t that hilarious? Of course, the joke will be on us if she is somehow confirmed). Sullivan (who was thoroughly hard on Bush) said, “That’s the problem. Bush wants someone who’s loyal. Nominating Miers was his ‘Mel Brooks moment’…’it’s good to be king’ and all that. Bush had 25 ‘brilliant’ judges (Sullivan’s choice of words which, if I knew the names, I’m sure I wouldn’t agree with) sitting on the sidelines, and he stiffed all of them.” Salman Rushdie pointed out that “Bush and (Tony) Blair both play the ‘trust me’ card, and it doesn’t work in either case.”
Andrew Sullivan (who genuinely impressed me, I must say, though there are quite a few points upon which we disagree), said, “I trusted Bush on Iraq and I trusted him on spending, and I’ll never trust him again.” Sullivan then said, “Any true conservative would have voted for Kerry,” and I screamed “YES” loudly so loudly that I almost woke up the young one, which would have been simply unpardonable.
Maher then pointed out that Bush has actually done a good job with racial diversity in his cabinet (I grudgingly have to give him that), but when it comes to religion, it’s not enough to just say you’re religious: “you have to be ‘double-dog Christy” (re: The Big Guy) to use Maher’s words. Ben Affleck then pointed out that “just being religious doesn’t make you stupid,” and then this led into an exchange between Sullivan and Maher where Sullivan told Maher not to put down people of faith just because they are that way, and you shouldn’t judge people like that based on the fundamentalist nut jobs that are out there now (not a direct quote from Sullivan, but that’s what he thought of them).
Salman Rushdie pointed out that he attended some Washington social event a few years ago and met both Republican and Democratic politicians, and Rushdie pointed out that practically every Republican politician he spoke with used religious terminology and references, and the Democratic politicians didn’t. I don’t think Rushdie was trying to imply anything, but he was merely stating a fact. Sullivan reminded Maher that, “genuine people of faith don’t make asinine statements like the kind made by Franklin Graham,” and Ben Affleck pointed out that “religion helps us aspire to other things.”
Of the panelists, I think Sullivan was often the most persuasive, and Rushdie tossed out some nice lines that were clever and obviously the product of an accomplished literary mind. As I watched and heard Ben Affleck (who I guess was supposed to be more liberal than he came across, which I think surprised Maher a bit), I found myself wishing that he would run for office, because the audience was responding to him (not surprising since he’s a good actor) and also because he seemed to have a “middle of the road” point of view that played well.
Salman Rushie, returning to religion, said “I think God has been in a bad mood lately, feeling like he has to destroy something,” referring to Katrina and Rita of course (and he might as well have been referring to the Asian earthquake, which hadn’t hit yet of course). Maher came up with this line: “I love Jesus. I just don’t like the Christians who don’t believe what he says.” Maher also then brought up the case of Ashley Smith, the woman who read “The Purpose-Driven Life” to that courthouse thug in Atlanta who held people hostage, when it fact it turns out she was also supplying crystal meth to the guy also. The group was kind of ambivalent about that to say the least.
Maher then interviewed Kayla Williams via satellite, who is an Arabic translator who served in Iraq and also has written a book about her experience, and Maher questioned her when she said in the book that “some things you need to forget.” She responded by saying that she thought an interrogation office crossed the line when a man bled to death, and she told him, “Anyone who is innocent when they come in here will be a terrorist when they leave.” She said that it’s a tragedy that lower-level officers are paying the price for what has happened and the higher-ups aren’t being held accountable.” Maher asked her if it’s true that, in this war exclusively, our troops have crossed the line when it comes to torture, and Williams said that wasn’t true. “The Stanford University prison experiment of 1971 shows that more of us can cross the line at any time,” she said. Maher asked her if it’s easier to be a woman or gay in the military, and Williams cleverly replied, “Why not both?” When asked about sexism in the Army, Williams said, “There’s sexism everywhere.” She otherwise found the Army to be “a very empowering experience.” Overall, I thought Williams presented herself admirably, and I give her a lot of credit along with my respect.
The group then went back to the vote to on the bill to “clarify existing guidelines” for our military in the use of torture, and Andrew Sullivan pointed out that the vote was 90-9 in favor of the legislation sponsored by John McCain. Sullivan then went back to what Maher asked Williams earlier about torture in other wars, and Sullivan said that, “this (Abu Ghraib) didn’t happen in World War II, because back then, we had a president with morality (wow!),” and the McCain bill “is about our values.” Sullivan also reminded everyone that, even though the bill passed in the Senate, Dick Cheney is “ferociously” trying to kill it in the U.S. House (figures). Ben Affleck pointed out that, based on the language from the Bush Administration on the war, “only extreme measures will suffice.” Salman Rushdie said we should make sure that we “do not become the enemy,” and added that “The rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the rotten tree.” Maher, with faux outrage, said to Rushdie, “I will not have the president denigrated this way!” Maher also pointed out that, in response to the recent subway threat in New York City, “the security warnings seem to go up when the approval ratings go down” (and apparently NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg chose not to go along with this scheme as far as I know…good for him – have to check with Itsez since that’s his turf), prompting Rushdie to ask, “what is the difference between yellow fear and orange fear?” Andrew Sullivan said that Bush has made us more vulnerable by the manipulation of fear (I constantly had to keep reminding myself that he’s a conservative), with Rushdie adding that, because of the different clues and messages coming out of Bushco, “this government must have been reading ‘The DaVinci Code’.”
Returning to the Katrina fallout, Andrew Sullivan reminded everyone that Joe Allbaugh, former FEMA director who installed Mike “Heckuva Job” Brown into the role when Allbaugh left to make a ton of dough from the Iraq reconstruction, was already setting up reconstruction bids for the Gulf Coast before Katrina even hit (unbelievable). There was also a discussion of a gun law recently passed in Florida which Ben Affleck vociferously defended, though I have to admit that I need to look into it a bit more myself (though I must say that calling it the “Shoot First” law doesn’t make me feel "warm and fuzzy").
In the “New Rules” segment, Maher said that Bush “should stop reporting that we’ve killed al Qaeda’s number two leader, or something like that. We must have killed this guy nine times by now. It turns out that he’s not a terrorist. He’s a zombie.” Also, taking final shots at Bush and Miers, Maher asked, “does Bush just go with the first person he sees? Crony bullshit jobs are for buddies (sorry..that’s the quote). Bush puts stooges where they can do real damage.” He ended up with calling Bush “a dimwit who enjoys feeling superior,” and called sycophants Mike Brown and Miers “Goober and Aunt Bea.”
Scheduled to appear on the show next week are fmr. Sen. Max Cleland, editor Tina Brown, and comedian Larry Miller. Plus, via satellite, author Tom Wolfe.
Update 10/12: Here is a link to the transcript of "New Rules" from Maher's site.