There is a difference between rotten and wrong, and it is crucial in politics to note when an opponent is just the latter but not the former.
Sometimes, though, they are both.
Which brings us to Bill Maher. As regular as Punxsutawney Phil but with far less of an audience, the fading HBO carnival barker plays a regular cable circuit in a reprise of the Monty Python skit “I’m not dead yet.” This year Maher appears to be feeling particularly desperate as Keith Olbermann bids to overtake him as idol of the spinning head set. The sports announcer turned avenger-of-the-nutroots has slipped the loose cords that MSNBC puts over its “talent” and is rampaging across Maher’s turf of the disaffected from the disaffected. Maher’s outburst on Larry King on Tuesday night is best understood as a day old Valentine to the muttering class, a display of solidarity with that part of the left that feels Rahm is a secret conservative, and that Axelrod has never actually been seen in a room with Roger Ailes.
“Democrats never understand that Americans don’t really care what position you take,” Maher told King. “Just stick with one. Just be strong. They’re not bright enough to really understand the issues. But like an animal, they can sort of sense strength or weakness. They can smell it on you.”
It is usually best to leave the frenzied left to its own corner of the room, but here Maher lets the mask drop on the central vanity of the left: They are smart and everyone else is stupid. This is actually an organizing principle of the left, and has been since the birth of the modern. It is a core conceit at the heart of every big government solution and every disdainful dismissal of danger from abroad. “You just don’t understand the nuance” is the genteel expression of this conceit. Maher upped the volume and used primary colors as part of his campaign to remind the public that bores are often given television shows, and we should thank him for it. Maher was presenting the inner Obama, and providing a clue why 2010 will not be different from 2009. Massive vanity is not easily laid aside.
I asked historian and classicist Victor Davis Hanson for reactions to Maher’s pronouncement, and he replied that “[I]t’s this old Hitlerian argument that people are stupid, they have no ideology.” Hanson noted it is the same argument that bin Laden made “in almost the exact same terms,” –the “strong horse” argument advanced by the terrorist years ago.
“And they really do believe,” Hanson continued, “that they are Platonic guardians, they’re so much smarter than everybody else.”
The president, his inner circle, Speaker Pelosi, Barney Frank and Chuck Schumer –it is hard, really, to ascribe vanity to Harry Reid’s haplessness—these are ideologues convinced that they are vastly more intelligent than not only the American people but also their political opponents. Thus they cook up threadbare ruses like the health care summit and expect the public to believe they are bipartisan and the GOP obstructionists.
They find a billion spent here or there and ascribe hypocrisy to Republican House members in whose districts the dollars were spent, and people beyond the Manhattan-Beltway media elite to conclude that the conservative critique of the stimulus-that-wasn’t is simple a pose.
They send Joe Biden on the Sunday shows and expect him to deflect Dick Cheney’s criticism. They leak a story that the underpants bomber Abdulmuttallab is “cooperating” and believe that Americans will put aside their disgust with the terrorist being read his Miranda rights.
Again and again they live the creed that Maher gave voice to. They cannot do otherwise, even when greeted with everything from rolling eyes to peals of laughter. They are who they are.
And voters who forgot this through the years since 1994 turned the Congress over to the GOP, or who had allowed Bill Clinton’s incredibly long run as an impersonator of a populist to cloud their memory now see on display every day the ocean of contempt in which they are held by the left that holds the White House and Congress.
Bill Maher is their town crier, even though the left is generally much more discreet than Maher's professional desperation obliges him to be. For once, break your studied indifference to all things Maher and listen to him. He is channeling the president. Hold that thought, at least until November.