Tag Archives: Michele Bachmann

Give me Maher!

With the recent political swing to the right in Toronto, first with Rob Ford, then with the Conservative GTA wins in the federal election, you’d think there wouldn’t be much of an appetite for Bill Maher’s brand of comedy in Hogtown.  But a packed Massey Hall couldn’t get enough of him last Saturday night.  For 90 minutes the master of taking the piss out of the American right-wing was slicing and dicing the likes of Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum, to a crowd that thankfully doesn’t have to face the prospect of a ballot with any of those names on it, but was still informed enough to understand just how deserving of mockery those targets are.  (Curious how Rick Mercer might have done with a set on Stephen Harper and Rob Ford in Texas – I’m guessing crickets, and that’s nothing against Mercer.)  To any regular viewer of HBO’s Real Time, some of the wisecracks were familiar.  But Maher delivers them with such verve you can laugh at them again and feel like it’s the first time.  It’s all still hilarious, and ever so true.

Those of a certain political inclination inclined to dismiss Bill Maher as a “loony leftie” miss the point.  His politics, and by extension his comedy, isn’t about left and right, it’s about intelligent and stupid.  Maher is, like Aaron Sorkin in many ways, if not an idealist, then at least someone who prefers to be led by smart and curious people and has no patience for the kind of false populism that celebrates the mediocre and the small-minded.  Religion is a particular bugbear for him – among the best jokes of the night was a bit about how the West has learned to ignore its religious leaders (in contrast to fundamentalist regimes abroad) and a prediction that the Pope will one day be nothing more than a  float robotically blessing the onlookers in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.  For Maher, looking to the imaginary guy in the sky for answers is the refuge of the foolish, and he saves his most bitter disdain for scheming politicians like Rick Perry who prey on that naivete to win votes.  I don’t suspect Bill Maher would have as much of a problem with the likes of Perry and Bachmann if they didn’t parade their faith around like a political prop.  It’s when faith is used in lieu of reasoned arguments that gets Maher’s hackles up.  These aren’t the William F. Buckleys of decades past laying out their case in thought-out paragraphs spiced with Latin.  Today it’s Southern-accented fire and brimstone and the all-consuming, earth-ending threat of gay marriage.

The conservative comedian Dennis Miller, for all his verbal calisthenics and classical references, these days comes off only as sad and angry – not in the rebellious sense, but more in the mold of that kid at the party who was only invited because his mom pulled some strings.  Miller’s repertoire has become a tired litany of ramblings about Joe Biden’s hair and Nancy Pelosi’s makeup – he’s mainly upset because his team didn’t win.  Bill Maher, on the other hand, remains fresh and inspired because he doesn’t really care which team wins – he just wants both teams to be better.  His targets are anyone he sees to be dragging the whole cause down:  a refrain repeated often during the show, with a hand covering his face was “I’m embarrassed for my country.”  He isn’t afraid to take shots at President Obama either, bemoaning what he sees as a pattern of capitulation to the Tea Party extremists in Congress who are determined to see him fail.  But what bothers Maher most is what he sees as America’s hypocrisy-fueled descent into idiocracy; an electorate swayed by celebrity into voting against their own interests time and again, and a political movement that claims to be for the common man but is in fact backed by billionaires and underpinned with a very real, very ugly swath of racism.  The fact that he’s out there making jokes about it, even to a foreign audience, suggests that he thinks there is still hope – if the good people can find their feet and their guts and start taking the power back.

You might miss that message amidst all the laughs, and the occasional side ventures into the never-ending mine of the perplexity that is male-female relations.  But Bill Maher knows that the best way to serve up wisdom is with a smile.  You come out of his show with your sides hurting and your mind thinking.  Maybe the way we beat these guys is to make them ridiculous.  It’s certainly a lot more fun than hate.

By their fruits shall you know them

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann suggested to a crowd of her supporters that both the hurricane and last week’s earthquake were signs that God is angry at America.  She pivoted immediately to suggest that God’s anger stems from too much government spending.  I recall when this sort of politics & preaching was the exclusive domain of Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell and the execrable Westboro Baptist Church.  But here we have someone who, as nuts as she can sound to a liberal, has a decent shot at winning the nomination – to say nothing of front-runner Rick Perry, who held a massive prayer rally before jumping into the race and has suggested that global warming is a lie, evolution isn’t real and Social Security is a giant Ponzi scheme – this from the man who had insurance companies take out secret policies on retired Texas teachers and then cash in huge when said teachers ‘passed their finals.’

Excluding weddings and funerals I have not attended a regular church service in 20 years – but I would not go so far as to say I am completely non-spiritual.  I have my questions and my doubts, and in my quiet moments I am given to ponder the meaning of existence.  If there is a grand design to the universe, I have to believe it is bigger than anything that can be codified in language or filtered through the voices of intermediaries.  I don’t know what that is.  I don’t presume to be smart enough to understand it.  But every day, I’m trying.  My faith, as it were, is that the journey to uncover the answer is likely more meaningful than the destination, the answer itself.  And that works for me.  It probably won’t work for you or anyone else.  I’m not going to try and push it on you – it’s not my place.  Much as I would ask you the courtesy of not forcing your beliefs on me.

However, not being religious doesn’t mean sticking your head in the sand and pretending that it isn’t worth learning about other faiths.  Growing up in an overwhelmingly Christian community at a time when you still had to recite the Lord’s Prayer following the national anthem at school every morning, you still retain a lot of this stuff.  And as an adult I’ve read the Bible and other texts about Jesus and his message.  I’m not quite sure if it’s Matthew, Mark, Luke or John where he says that senior citizens should die in poverty while Wall Street loses their retirement funds.  Or if it was on that extra tablet of Commandments that broke in History of the World, Part I, where it said “Thou shalt cut taxes for the rich.”  One should never make the mistake of assuming that all Christians are rabid right-wing, small-government conservatives.  I’d go so far as to say that despite their protestations to the contrary, most of these rabid right-wing, small-government conservatives aren’t really Christian – at least not in the way I understand the Biblical Jesus Christ would want them to be.

I respect people.  I don’t murder, steal or cheat on my wife.  It’s not my business to dictate how two consenting adults should love one another.  I think women should control what happens to their bodies.  I think evolution is a fact.  I think no one should have to fear going bankrupt if they get sick and that higher taxes are a pittance for a clean and beautiful planet.  I’ve made mistakes and hurt people in the past, but overall I’ve tried to lead a good life.  Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann would probably think I’m going to hell.  But they wouldn’t say that because they truly believed it.  They’d say so to win votes – which is the most cynical exploitation of faith.  And they know it too.  In the States you can lock in a solid bloc of the electorate simply by repeating “Jesus” and “tax cuts” ad infinitum – and the votes you’ll win are from the people who are most in need of charitable help and most likely to be wounded by the loss of government programs those tax cuts will entail.  Michele Bachmann says that God is angry at the United States – I suppose it never occurred to her that He might be angry at the politicians dropping His name to win elections.

I do like the following quote from the Gospel of John:  “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”  And this one, Ephesians 4:2:  “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”  I don’t see a lot of that in the Republican front-runners for the presidential nomination, or in the people who support them – they seem to be a little mired in Leviticus.  I suppose that they are perfectly entitled to hold those opinions and run on them, as objectionable as I and other liberals might find it.  But for Perry and Bachmann to be claiming God is speaking through them and that they alone have the wisdom to interpret natural disasters as endorsements of their platforms makes them seem less like legitimate presidential contenders and more like the guy on the street corner with the warnings of doom on his cardboard sign.  That they have a better than ridiculous chance of being elected should give everyone – including Christians – reason to pause, and give some serious thought to that timeless question – what would Jesus do?