Say what you want about Bill Maher; he is not a stupid man. But in an interview today with ABC's Jake Tapper, he sure sounds like one:
Bill Maher: The bit I did about Palin using the word c—, one of the biggest laughs in my act, I did it all over the country, not one person ever registered disapproval, and believe me, audiences are not afraid to let you know. Because it was a routine where that word came in at just the right moment. Context is very important, and it’s also important to remember that stand-up comedy is the final frontier of free speech. Still, I stopped doing that routine, but I would like someone to replace that word if it’s so awful with another one that has the same meaning for a person – not just women, it’s a word you can and lots do (all the British, for example) use for both sexes. It has a very specific meaning.
Jake Tapper: And that’s not comparable to what Limbaugh said about Sandra Fluke?
Bill Maher: To compare that to Rush is ridiculous – he went after a civilian about very specific behavior, that was a lie, speaking for a party that has systematically gone after women’s rights all year, on the public airwaves. I used a rude word about a public figure who gives as good as she gets, who’s called people “terrorist” and “unAmerican.” Sarah Barracuda. The First Amendment was specifically designed for citizens to insult politicians. Libel laws were written to protect law students speaking out on political issues from getting called whores by Oxycontin addicts.
Bill Maher is a comedian and commentator. Rush Limbaugh is a commentator. But for some reason, Maher is apparently under the absurd impression that there's some kind of caveat in the First Amendment that gives him super, secret, double free speech rights over the rest of us.
Well, I've read the First Amendment and no such caveat exists.
If there's a difference between what's happening to Maher and what's happening to Limbaugh, it is that Maher is under fire from private citizens and Limbaugh is under fire from a stealth campaign led by the government -- specifically, the President of the United States.
Private citizens exercising their free speech rights to protest Bill Maher is the purest form of democracy there is.
The government, however, joining a crusade to silence one of their critics is the very definition of censorship.
Like I said, Maher is smarter than this, but he's obviously under an awful lot of pressure now that the White House/MSNBC/Media Matters neo-fascist rampage to silence political opposition has blown back on him in a big way. His million-dollar donation to a pro-Obama super PAC has become a liability for the President and just yesterday David Axelrod cancelled an appearance on Maher's HBO show "Real Time."
When I wrote this over the weekend, I felt that Maher was something closer to collateral damage in this stupid tit-for-tat war the Left started, but after reading this interview, I'm less sympathetic.
Maher's stand on free speech is not as pure as I thought it was. Rather than continuing to stand up for Limbaugh (as Limbaugh has done for him), instead, he's chosen to complain about what's happening to him while at the same time rationalizing what's happening to Limbaugh.
Because I oppose boycotts, I don’t agree with what's happening to Maher, but at the same time I respect the fact that private citizens have a right to protest Maher.
Nothing, though, justifies the government being part of a silencing campaign against anyone, most especially a political opponent.
That's the real difference between what's happening to Maher and Limbaugh.
Moreover, Maher's smart enough to understand and recognize that distinction but apparently too much of a partisan and not enough of a believer in free speech to say so.
Obviously, damage control trumps truth and the only distinction Maher does make is a phony one. He claims Limbaugh attacked a "civilian" while his c-word attack on Palin was aimed at a politician. Again, this is not a caveat I've seen in the Constitution. Furthermore, Maher has savaged many non-politicians, including Limbaugh, so there's that, and finally, Sandra Fluke chose to step into the arena and to become a public figure.
Bottom Line: Bill Maher is a smart man letting his desperation and partisanship make him sound dumb.