TV | May 8, 2021 11:43 am

Bill Maher Grapples With a Certain CIA Recruitment Video on a New “Real Time”

Also on the menu? Hypocritical politicians.

Bill Maher
Bill Maher on the May 7 episode of "Real Time."

Recent episodes of Real Time With Bill Maher have had a wide range of guests from across the ideological spectrum. That’s one of the most memorable things about the show, when it’s at its best — Maher and his staff’s ability to bring together unexpected combinations of political thinkers. But in the absence of Donald Trump, who was a memorable offscreen foil for Maher during his time in office, Maher has found a new target for his ire, and it appears to be the youth of America. This, in turn, has had the effect of pushing the show to some dissonant places, and the May 7 episode was no exception.

Bill Maher spoke of good news in his opening monologue — namely, that Los Angeles had gone several days without any coronavirus deaths. Bill Maher spoke of bad news in his opening monologue — namely, that a massive booster rocket was falling to earth, its destination unknown. And then Bill Maher spoke of an upcoming holiday in his opening monologue, noting, “There’s always a heartwarming story about spawning on Mother’s Day that I never find heartwarming.” (In this case, it was the case of a woman in Mali who recently gave birth to nonuplets.)

Holiday thoughts gave way soon enough to Maher musing on the current state of the Republican Party and the recent pushback that Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney have faced from within the GOP. “In the Repubklcan Party, the truth will set you free from your job,” Maher observed.

The episode’s first guest was author John McWhorter, whose latest book Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter: Then, Now, and Forever was published earlier this week. (Maher also referred to him as “one of my heroes.”) The first book that came up in conversation wasn’t one of McWhorter’s, though; instead, it was Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility

“That book is talking down to me,” McWhorter said. “As far as I’m concerned, it should be used to keep tables from wobbling. That is the only use for that book.” He also spoke critically about Twitter and its effects on discourse, especially as it related to Diangelo’s book and Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist.

McWhorter is an engaging speaker, and he and Maher had a fine conversational rapport. Where things got somewhat tricky, though, was the point in that conversation where Maher listed off tenets nominally held by a younger generation of liberals, against which he and McWhorter argued. It was the kind of discussion, unfortunately, that left one wishing that there was someone to make these arguments in person, rather than talking points on an index card. The audience was certainly on McWhorter’s side — several of his comments drew sustained applause. McWhorter did point out that his objection wasn’t with “woke people,” it’s with “woke people who are mean.” But arguing against, essentially, a Twitter hivemind felt at times like arguing against a straw man. 

Joining Maher for the night’s panel were a pair of figures with political experience to spare. Rep. Elissa Slotkin represents Michigan’s 8th district and worked as a CIA analyst before that, while Rick Wilson made his name as a Republican strategist. Wilson’s latest book, Running Against the Devil: A Plot to Save America from Trump–And Democrats from Themselves, was released in paperback last year. Two people, then, with a lot to discuss. 

As he began the conversation, Maher offered a stark comparison between the country’s two major political parties. “One party … is a policy party,” Maher said. “They’re wonks. The other party are trolls.”

Wilson, Slotkin and Maher went on to discuss the current state of the Republican Party, and the lingering effects of Trumpism on the country. Maher raised the question of whether Ron DeSantis might be the GOP’s next nominee for President, with Wilson countering that the Republican Party still wanted to see Donald Trump on the next ballot. 

“You can do so much if you don’t have any shame,” Slotkin said, raising an alarm over localized versions of Trumpism she had seen in Michigan. Later in the discussion, she pushed back against Maher somewhat when he critiqued the CIA’s recent recruiting ad targeting millennials and Gen Z. His critique largely consisted of him reading quotes from the ad and making disapproving comments at them. It was, arguably, the apex of Maher’s on-air scorn for a younger generation to date, but it was also deeply boring to watch. 

Maher’s comments on the recent census findings made for a more spirited debate, especially as it was the only part of the panel where the participants had significant differences between their positions. Maher seemed positive about the idea that the population wasn’t growing rapidly, and cited the number of natural resources as a factor. Wilson was more wary, and Slotkin pointed to the economic reasons why people were having fewer children now than in past decades. 

The bulk of the episode’s New Rules found Maher addressing political hypocrisy – in this case, the Republican Party’s moralizing and how it contrasts with the party’s relative silence regarding Matt Gaetz. “Wild hotel suite parties? That’s our thing,” Maher said. He also pointed to John Boehner’s embrace of marijuana, along with a number of other cases (Jerry Falwell, Jr., the ubiquitous Donald Trump) to further his argument. 

“I don’t want to live in a world where liberals are the upright ones and conservatives do drugs and get laid,” Maher said. This was a solid argument in and of itself, but in making the case that a younger generation of liberals have become overly critical scolds, Maher himself sounded like what he was arguing against.