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Talking truth to stupid: Bill Maher


I read this piece by Bill Maher today and I just couldn’t keep quiet about it. I do not intend this blog to be about politics, but I just can’t let this one go.

I’m not a huge fan of Bill Maher’s methods, but I admit we’re cut from the same intellectual cloth. The last 10 minutes of his “mockumentary” Religulous should be mandatory viewing for every nonbeliever, every atheist, everyone who thinks they are agnostic, and everybody who doesn’t want government to mandate how people worship.

But he makes a huge mistake in his LA Times editorial. By lumping the “birthers” — the people convinced that Obama’s certificate of live birth is a forgery — in with the same crowd that tried to crucify Clinton over Flowers, Jones & Lewinsky, he’s lumping people engaged in pure fantasy in the same crowd as people who were right about the facts.

Look, I’m sorry to everybody who is a Bill Clinton fan, but the man was a philanderer who couldn’t keep his pants zipped up, not even when he knew it was going to get him in trouble. He abused his power, he lied about it, he turned the office of the President into a laughingstock. No amount of 21st century historic whitewashing will change these facts.

He crippled his own presidency and caused countless democratic candidates, including Al Gore, to lose their own elections because of the intense distaste that his actions left behind. He caused decent, upstanding people to seriously question whether oral sex was inappropriate behavior between a 40+ year old man and his 20 year old subordinate. This was the man who was nominally in charge of department of labor, the agency tasked with defining and enforcing rules regarding sexual harrassment.

Can anyone say, with a straight face, that the facts indicate that Bill Clinton was not at fault? I wonder sometimes if Bill Clinton ever wakes up and thinks about the world he created when he asked that girl to do it in the White House. If not for that failure, Al Gore would have been president in 2001, we would have had a completely different reaction to 9/11, and we wouldn’t have suffered 8 years under a Bush Jr. presidency. Was Monica Lewinsky worth it? Really?

I don’t mean to diminish the successes of his presidency. Clinton was a cunning and fluid speaker, an intense thinker, and he mastered a range of difficult problems during his tenure. If not for his improprieties, he would be remembered as one of history’s most successful presidents. I daresay that if Mr. Clinton’s presidency is diminished, we should not look to his detractors, but to him. As Benjamin Franklin would say, reputation is like fine china: easily broken but not easily mended.

Enough of that. The problem with the birthers is that they are engaged in rampant fantasy, denying the validity of a document that any sane person would simply call “a birth certificate”. It’s not a fringe viewpoint supported by some facts, but a viewpoint entirely unsupported by facts, and in a state of active denial about trivially verifiable facts. Bill Clinton’s detractors, on the other hand, were entirely supported by facts, the President lied about his activities, and disgraced himself and his office in the process. The two groups just don’t belong in the same bucket.

I suppose Bill Maher feels guilty about the exploitation of Bill Clinton’s failures — exploitation that he admits to in his editorial. But he shouldn’t let his guilt confuse the facts and knock out the supports from his own argument.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Hi! permalink
    2009-08-04 8:29 pm

    All your thoughts are valid. However….

    None of Bill Clinton’s personal sins were committed with political intent.

    When the Republicans launched the Whitewater investigation, they found no evidence to support the original allegations. They stumbled upon Lewinsky, which was unrelated to the original allegations. They exploited this for political ends. Hypocritically, at the very moment Newt Gingrich was publicly admonishing Clinton for his Lewinsky affair, Gingrich himself was having an extramarital affair.

    In my mind, Gingrich’s behavior was far more malicious because he was using moral attacks for political advantage (hypocritcally so) while Clinton’s affair had no political ends.

    All the prominent Republican’s who give credence to the Birther movement are exploiting American gullibility for political ends. They are willingly allowing (gullible) Americans to continue to question Obama’s legitimacy, and they are calling more attention to this controversy rather than quelling or ignoring it. Isn’t this an act of treason?

    • Rick Russell permalink*
      2009-08-05 7:07 am

      Oh, I agree completely. Clinton’s improprieties were scarcely worse than his accusers or contemporaries, and not nearly as horrible as some. Yet, the Clinton presidency and its legacy will not be defined by the actions of his accusers, but by his own actions. No financial investigation made Bill Clinton do the wrong thing.

      If you’re simply pointing out that the whole place is a hive of scum and villainy, and what Bill Clinton did was probably no worse than anyone else, then I would cynically also agree. Even so, I think there is nothing wrong with holding political officers to standards of behavior, even if we are frequently disappointed.

      “All the prominent Republicans who give credence to the Birther movement are exploiting American gullibility for political ends.”

      Well, duh 🙂 But you’re only exploiting gullibility if you are making false claims, as in the birth certificate case. Making true claims, as was the case with Clinton & Lewinsky, isn’t exploiting gullibility. Exploitation of uncomfortable facts, or exploitation of moral indignation, I’ll give you those.

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