TV | February 13, 2021 11:36 am

Bill Maher Talks Impeachment and Valentine’s Day on a New “Real Time”

Guests this episode included Adam Kinzinger, Markos Moulitsas and Steve Schmidt

Bill Maher
Bill Maher discussed the gig economy on the latest "Real Time" episode.
HBO

There was a strange sense of deja vu on Friday’s episode of Real Time With Bill Maher. Maher himself may have put it best it in his opening monologue, saying, “I still can’t wait for last year to be over.” Nominally, we’re now in the second month of 2021 — but it speaks volumes that many of the week’s most heated topics involve looking back on the last year in American politics.

That Valentine’s Day weekend and the impeachment trial are coinciding gave Maher a space to riff on how surreal that juxtaposition was. From there, Maher spent a few minutes riffing on the impeachment trial and revisiting the Capitol breach. Unsurprisingly, Maher also had plenty to say about the recent story about Marjorie Taylor Greene having had an affair with, as the Daily Mail phrased it, “a polyamorous tantric-sex guru.” 

Maher’s first guest for the night was, like Greene, a Republican member of the House of Representatives — albeit one with a very different opinion on the impeachment. Rep. Adam Kinzinger represents Illinois’s 16th District; he joined Maher remotely. “I’ll bet that right now you have a lot of new friends and a lot of new enemies,” Maher noted — which brought up the subject of partisanship and unlikely political allegiances, a running theme for the night.

Kinzinger spoke about “a steady diet of fear” coming from things like overly alarmed fundraising emails, setting a tone that has led to the current national mood. That his PAC is called Country First offers an accurate description of the position he took throughout the interview. This has led to, as Maher pointed out, at least one person accusing Kinzinger of being possessed by the devil. Kinzinger described the experience as oddly positive, as it had given him direct experience of “the level of brainwashing in some people.”

Maher pushed Kinzinger on a few points — briefly on matters of religion, and longer on questions of whether Kinzinger could actually spark a significant ideological shift within the Republican Party. Not surprisingly, Maher was skeptical. But those questions on the future of the GOP continued on into the episode’s next segment.

The evening’s panelists occupied distinctive ideological spaces: Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas and Lincoln Project founder Steve Schmidt. As with last week’s episode, Maher also took time to spotlight his frustration at waiting several years to get solar power turned on at his home. Maher began with a provocative question: have most of the country’s wounds in recent years — including the financial crisis and the flawed response to the pandemic — been self-inflicted? 

For Moulitsas, the issue came down to elections — essentially, of Republicans being elected and disrupting Democratic attempts to return to normalcy. Schmidt mentioned that he is now a registered Democrat, and spoke about his concerns about an “autocratic, fascistic” element within the government. Schmidt spoke of his admiration for the peaceful transfer of power in this country — and his horror at the aftermath of the 2020 election.

Political parties dominated the conversation, with Moulitsas and Schmidt discussing the need for a functional opposition party and Maher bringing up the cost of the recent Georgia Senate runoff elections — which was comparable to the national race in the 2004 election. The ensuing discussion of money in politics found Maher questioning Schmidt about the effectiveness of the Lincoln Project’s work in 2020.

That segued into a discussion of whether political ads can work against a candidate if too many air — Maher wondered whether voters tired of a specific ad might wind up voting against the candidate in it. Schmidt’s defense of the Lincoln Project’s work led Maher to compare one of their ads to a running bit on Real Time which predated it — both focused on Donald Trump’s, shall we say, occasional issues with syntax. Maher hoped to run both back-to-back, but the clips could not be found. Ah, the magic of live television. 

Maher brought up the question of whether 24/7 cable news is catering to its audience at the expense of substantive debate. “I haven’t been engaged in a policy discussion on American television since 2015,” Schmidt said. He also contended that there was an autocratic element on the American left that echoed the autocratic elements of the right — but then cited Twitter as his source for it. Moulitsas noted that this group, unlike the American right’s autocratic elements, has no political power. 

New Rules brought the episode to the end, and found Maher having a field day with the idea of Mike Pence starting a podcast and wondering why no one has had a near-death experience involving hell. Maher honed in on the disparity between frontline workers and people staying at home, noting that “We’re all in this together” has become the circa-now version of “Thank you for your service.” Maher escalated this argument to a broader examination of the gig economy, which led to an imagined merger between OnlyFans and Cameo.

And from there, Maher discussed single people living alone — and whether or not we might see some politicians one day discuss their needs as a constituency. It was a bittersweet end to an episode that ran close to Valentine’s Day — but it made for a lively end to the episode.

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