TV | November 5, 2022 5:40 am

Bill Maher and Guests Anticipated the 2022 Midterm Elections

New Rules took a bleak turn this week

Bill Maher
Bill Maher had the midterm elections on his mind.
HBO

There’s an election happening between now and the next time a new Real Time With Bill Maher will air, and on Friday’s episode, Maher began with an extended riff on the candidates and proposals on the ballot, both close to home and on the other side of the country from him. Did this involve a few jokes at Herschel Walker’s expense? Well, yes. 

The second half of Maher’s monologue featured more in the way of righteous anger and disbelief. Initially, this came as he reacted to the attack on Paul Pelosi, and the way numerous conservatives — and Fox News — had downplayed it. He followed that up with frustration about recent antisemitic comments made by Kyrie Irving and Kanye West — both the comments themselves and the way that incidents like this seem to be on rise.

Of Boys and Men author Richard V. Reeves joined Maher on stage for an interview. Reeves noted that he’d encountered some skepticism when he began writing his book — and argued that looking into the problems of men and boys did not shortchange the problems that women and girls encounter. In discussing the role of education, Maher brought up one of his regular sources of ire — the idea that parents have been overly indulgent of their children.

Reeves, for his part, disagreed, citing a need for the education system to be reformed instead. His argument involved three main areas of interest: “Technical high schools, more male teachers, more recess.” Talk of education segued to talk of relationships, and the role education gaps can play both there and when it comes to jobs and earnings.

The two found more common ground when discussing online dating, which both men had issues with. “‘What’s up?’ and a picture of their dick is what they think is talking to a girl,” Maher said. “And that’s not going to cut it.” And from there, he diagrammed a path by which sexual and romantic frustration lead to reactionary politics — something that’s all too familiar in 2022.

Then came time for the evening’s panel discussion, in which Maggie Haberman and Fareed Zakaria took to the stage. Their discussion opened with a wide-ranging talk about next week’s elections and the polling data that’s currently on hand. Zakaria discussed the political prices of inflation, while Haberman compared Barack Obama’s messaging circa 2012 to what the Biden White House is doing. Zakaria also had the night’s most incisive line, as he recalled telling some of his Republican friends that “lowering your taxes is not worth lowering our democracy.”

In the second half of the segment, Zakaria compared the right-of-center parties in the U.S. and U.K. in terms of their record on diversity and immigration, with the Conservative Party having a far more diverse array of candidates than the Republican Party. Haberman interjected at this point to note that the issue was more complex than that — and that different nations’ parties had responded to immigration in different ways.

Finally, Maher turned the subject to social media — and asked whether there should be more attention paid to TikTok, given the ongoing debate over the security of data there. Maher voiced the opinion that the app could potentially allow the Chinese Communist Party access to all of its data. Zakaria took a more skeptical tone, asking, “What are they going to do with these dance videos?” 

Haberman and Maher pointed out that, no, there was more going on on TikTok than dance videos. “It’s the data,” Haberman said. “It’s not just about how time-consuming it is.” And Maher also raised concerns over the increasing number of deepfakes on the app.

Maher brought up Jerry Lee Lewis’s death, leftover Halloween candy and the painting that was hanging upside down for 75 years in the opening of New Rules. Maher returned to the election for the bulk of the segment, adopting a pessimistic tone about the coming vote and observing that “nobody in America can be persuaded of anything anymore anyway.” 

While there were a handful of punchlines, the tone here was more bleak than anything. “This is really the ‘crossing the Rubicon’ moment,” Maher said. “When the election deniers are elected. Which is often how countries slide into authoritarianism.” The effect was sobering, and Maher didn’t hold back. “Too many Americans don’t care — and won’t care after it happens,” he said. 

And then Reeves joined the panel for Overtime. Up for discussion? Whether or not the phrase “toxic masculinity” was itself problematic, for one thing. Haberman shared her impressions of what a second Trump term might be like. (“A lot of spite,” she said.) Conversation returned to the midterms, with the elections themselves — and Maher’s comments on them — looming large as the segment drew to a close.