Unlike many people who try to joke about politics, Bill Maher has the distinction of being extremely funny. Even if you disagree with his opinions (as I do when he talks about religion--I happen to believe that religious not only is compatible with leftist thinking, but that the New Testament promotes it), he is very, very funny. Anyone who has seen POLITICALLY INCORRECT or his current show REAL TIME have repeatedly seen those who stand as far to the right as possible laughing their heads off as Maher makes one quip after another. There is no denying that he is a funny, funny man, and he is very funny in this comedy routine, a routine that originally appeared on HBO as a comedy special.
Maher is also, unfortunately, one of the most astute political commentators in America. I say unfortunately because, as Jon Stewart has repeatedly pointed out, there is something extremely sad about two of the finest political analysts in America being comedians. In fact, the only two political columnists I consistently rate above Maher and Stewart for depth of insight are Paul Krugman and E. J. Dionne. Typically, Maher is perceived as being very far to the left, but that is actually somewhat a freak of the times. At many points in the history of the U.S. he would probably be perceived as being much further to the right. He is in many regards, as he often points out himself, a classic libertarian, though without the utopian mania about the blessings that a completely unfettered free market would generate. But he is in many regards pretty much a classic Jeffersonian. Jefferson famously wrote in his NOTES ON VIRGINIA: "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. In neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." In context Jefferson wrote trying to limit the extent of government in people's lives, but today we see a vast number of people who want to extend the intrusion of religion into government because they do feel that policy decisions with which they disagree do in fact do them harm. Gay marriage is the classic example of this. Maher finds this lamentable, and he articulates this over and over. Essentially, he is calling for the same kind of tolerance that Jefferson advocated so strongly. This is not an especially left wing position: Barry Goldwater disliked the rise of the Reaganites because he saw them as meddling too much in the moral lives of individuals.
If intolerance of individual opinion is one of Maher's targets, another is stupidity. He is brilliant at identifying nonsense and characterizing it as such. He is also unswerving in calling a dime a dime. For instance, he points out the cowardly lack of courage shown by the media for referring to Strom Thurmond's fathering a child by a black servant in the 1925 Jim Crow South Carolina as "having an affair," as if and 18-year-old black servant had any choice in the matter. Maher calls it what it almost certainly was: rape.
But as he calls our attention to one political issue after another, Maher laces it with humor. So, in the end there are two very good reasons to see this, first to be entertained, and second to be informed. Either reason would be sufficient on its own, but together they make this a must-see.
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