Bill Maher's Nasty Circus of the Stars

Bill Steigerwald
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Posted: Sep 24, 2008 1:51 PM

As Bill Maher watched Roseanne Barr deliver her inane rant on the Sept. 12 "Real Time With Bill Maher," it looked -- for half a millisecond -- that he, too, realized what a fool she was making of herself.

But Maher, the caustic comedian and fake libertarian who Larry King thinks is a political pundit and Jonah Goldberg has called a ”libertine socialist,” let his beloved Roseanne babble on about how Gov. Sarah Palin was getting away with racist comments and how rich people who work for big corporations don't pay enough taxes.

Roseanne was a special guest on Episode 132 of Maher's HBO show -- which was re-run all last week until a fresh show appeared Sept. 19 -- because some people Maher knew were saying her life story was a lot like Gov. Palin's.

Roseanne, like Palin, was a working-class mother with lots of kids who came out of obscurity to become famous. And, Maher cracked, whereas Palin has an infant with special needs, Roseanne was once married to Tom Arnold.

That was one of the funnier lines in an often obnoxious, mean-spirited, politically lopsided talk-and-quip show whose anti-Palin/anti-Republican theme was broken only by the occasional Bush bashing or token Bill Clinton joke.

Maher's three guest panelists were comedian Janeane Garofalo, author Salman Rushdie and Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund. Paul Begala, the loyal Clintonista, appeared via satellite.

Maher was the alpha attack dog. Saying he was "officially frightened" by Palin's interview with Charlie Gibson, he called Palin "a Category 5 moron" and said it's unfair to compare pigs to Palin because pigs are smart and "don't believe in creationism."

Garofalo, ill-mannered and looking and acting strange, accused Fund of being dishonest and a sexist. She said George W. Bush didn't win the election of either 2000 or 2004, when "democracy was hacked." And she semi-joked that Republicans should be jailed for being in favor of things like torture and against "reproductive justice."

Rushdie's two-rupees' worth of commentary was mostly liberal boilerplate about Republican misrule, but at least he was adult and civilized.

Poor John Fund. He was beaten up for being smug (by Rushdie), for being a cynic (by Maher) and for being a liar (by Garofalo).

Fund defended Republicans and conservatives, even when they didn't deserve it. But he was interrupted long before he could explain to everyone that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were not stereotypical corporations but government-sponsored enterprises that were poorly regulated and wrecked by politicians of both parties.

Fund's nuances were not appreciated. The partisan gang-bang became so obviously unfair that as time was running out Maher, not known for having a conscience, gave Fund a tip of the hat for putting up a good fight against 4-1 odds. "So what?!" Garofalo shrieked.

Meanwhile, the studio audience, as usual, cheered wildly every time someone knocked Palin or McCain, praised Sen. Obama or said, as Garofalo so cogently did, that Democrats are fundamentally more "decent" than Republicans.

The unbalanced politics of Episode 132 -- not to mention its kindergarten level of discourse – was not atypical. It demonstrated why "Real Time" has become unwatchable for all non-liberals and libertarians or anyone who wants to hear more than a sentence or two of enlightening discussion or honest debate.

Maher has said his show’s first priority is not to achieve political fairness and balance but to provide adult, knowledgeable conversation. Episode 132 had little of either.

Republicans and President Bush deserve to be trashed from across the political spectrum for the many dumb and bad things they've done at home or abroad. It's also reasonable to question Palin's credentials or the decision to pick her.

But the Maher-Garofalo-Rushdie-Barr tag-team made fools of themselves. Nasty fools. And Episode 132 only accomplished what Maher's shows usually do -- validate every stereotype ever made about the simplistic politics, narrow minds and creepy values of Hollywood.