Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Mark Twain of Our Generation

image credit: screenshot by Cujo359. Real Time With Bill Maher copyright HBO

If anyone ever considers the question, "Who was the Mark Twain of the early twenty-first century?", the answer will probably be "Bill Maher". There are other comics, like George Carlin for instance, who make observations as pithy and sometimes as pointed, but for sheer crusty, barbed, and relentlessly cynical observations about where America is nowadays, you can't get much more Twainian (Twainish?) than Maher.

Of course, for someone brave enough to make the jokes, there's plenty of comic material right now. Irony is the one national resource we don't seem to be running out of. And we certainly need to laugh. When I watch what's happening to this country lately, I sometimes feel as though I'm watching the slow, agonizing death of a friend or family member while thoughtless idiots are yelling and playing games out in the hall. The last couple of weeks, it looks like Maher gets that. Here's what he said last week about the Bush Administration's way of fighting terrorism:

And finally, new rule: liberals must stop saying President Bush hasn't asked Americans to sacrifice for the War on Terror. On the contrary, he's asked us to sacrifice something enormous: Our civil rights.

Now, when I heard George Bush was reading my e-mails, I probably had the same reaction you did–George Bush can read?! Yes he can, and this administration has read your phone records, credit card statements, mail, internet logs… I can't tell if their fighting the War on Terror or producing the next season of Cheater. I mail myself a copy of the Constitution every morning, just on the hope they'll open it and see what it says!

So when it comes to sacrifice, don't kid yourself–you *have* given up a lot! You've given up faith in your government's honesty, the good will of people overseas, and 6/10 of the Bill of Rights. Here's what you've sacrificed: search and seizure, warrants, self incrimination, trial by jury, cruel and unusual punishment. Here's what you have left: handguns, religion, and they can't make you quarter a British soldier. If Prince Harry invades the inland empire, he has to bring a tent.


Conservatives always say the great thing Reagan did was make us feel good about America again. Well, do you feel good about America now?

I'll give you my answer. And to get it out of me, you don't even need to hold my head under water and have a snarling guard dog rip my nuts off. (Laughter). No, I don't feel very good about that. They say evil happens when good men do nothing. Well, the Democrats proved it also happens when mediocre people do nothing.

Bill Maher on Sacrifice

How many times have I and like-minded people observed how little the Democrats have been doing to stop Bush's rampage through our Constitution? How many times have we ridiculed their half-assed attempts to register a complaint about how the war in Iraq is going? Now that the House has finally passed a meaningful, if insufficient, bill to cut off funding, it will probably die a slow death in the Senate even before Bush gets a chance to veto it.

When the Washington Post and the New York Times editorialists only want to divert attention from their own complicity in the Valerie Plame Wilson affair, Maher gets that one, too:

And how despicable that Bush's lackies attempted to diminish this crime by belittling her service, like she was just some chick who hung around the CIA - an intern really, or groupie if you want to be mean about it. No! Big lie! Valerie Plame was the CIA's operational officer in charge of counter-proliferation, which means she tracks loose nukes.

So when Bush says, as he once did, that his absolute, number one priority was preventing terrorists from getting loose nukes, that's what she worked on. That's what she devoted her life to, staying undercover for twenty years - maintaining two identities every goddamned day. This is extraordinary service to your country. Valerie Plame was the kind of real life secret agent George Bush dreams of being when he's not too busy pretending to be a cowboy or a fighter pilot.

The CIA are troops. This was a military assassination, done through the press and ordered by Karl Rove. He said of Valerie Plame "she's fair game", [pause] and then Cheney shot her.

Bill Maher: “Traitors don’t get to question my patriotism!”

Note the title - that's the "new rule" Maher opened that rant with. Has anyone openly called Bush and Cheney traitors on TV? I sure hadn't heard of it before. I've written before that I don't watch much TV these days, but I think if someone had said this before I'd be hearing about it. This is something of a watershed in Bush's presidency. Serious people are starting to think of him as a criminal and someone whose behavior betrays the country he's supposed to be running. Yes, Maher qualifies as "serious". He's better informed about what's going on in this country than some news anchors seem to be.

It's possible that this humor won't stand the test of time, as much of Twain's does. There are enough contemporary references that the meaning of some jokes will be lost in a generation or two. I think, though, that much of it will endure. Even if it doesn't, it's certainly helping us get through this time, and for that alone he deserves notoriety. And unlike Lenny Bruce, he never forgets to insert a punchline when things start sounding grim.

UPDATE: If you wonder whom I was referring to when I wrote "thoughtless idiots are yelling and playing games out in the hall", Glenn Greenwald wrote about some of them today.


Anonymous said...

Cujo - this is really an excellent post. I don't have cable so I don't get to see Maher unless there's a vid of it on C&L. His remarks here are absolutely brilliant and funny in a very painful way.

Anonymous said...

shoephone --
you can catch clips of "Real Time" on HBO's site:


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Peg!

G-Natural said...

Glad to see recognition for Bill Maher. Even when I didn't agree with him, I've stuck with him ever since he was first on Comedy Central in the early 90's, and then later during the "Disney years". Despite when his guests have been (how shall we kindly say) less than astute, he's always been around to push buttons and call bullshit.

ABC dumped him for saying something politically incorrect on a show called Politically Incorrect ...imagine that! But he--and we--are having the last laugh. And he's still calling bullshit, which we need more than ever. (The online transcripts of New Rules are gems.)

Cujo359 said...

Unfortunately, to get Bill Maher's program off the air I'd have to have both cable and HBO. It's hard to justify. Thanks for mentioning the clips, Peg.

Maher has been entertaining over the years. I think for a while there on ABC he was required to have some of the, shall we say, less rhetorically gifted guests on his show. Being fired for saying something that was basically true was just the final insult of many, I think.