A St. Patrick’s Day “Real Time” Posed Big Questions About Banks

Bill Maher also debunked the idea of “national divorce”

Bill Maher
Bill Maher on the March 17 episode of "Real Time."

Should you be worried about the closure of Silicon Valley Bank and the other issues with financial institutions that have followed in its wake? That question suffused this week’s episode of Real Time With Bill Maher. Maher alluded to it in his opening monologue, in which he spoke about feeling reminded of the last time banks in the U.S. began failing.

It was also the first conversational thread that Maher raised with this episode’s panelists, Representative Elissa Slotkin and Andrew Yang. For her part, Slotkin argued that the government should engage in more overtly punitive actions than it did after the 2008 financial crisis.

“It is perfectly reasonable, I think, to have a conversation about bringing him out and showing that you can’t just fail and take risks with people’s money,” Slotkin said. 

Yang argued that the backstop taken to protect depositors was the correct decision. He addressed another aspect of the current moment — namely, people closing their accounts at regional banks and moving them to the “too big to fail” institutions. Yang drew the logical conclusion there — that if this leads to further industry consolidation, that’s also an undesirable outcome.

Yang also invoked one of the more surreal images you’re likely to envision, saying, “We’re in the early innings of a disaster movie when it comes to the financial sector.” But he immediately followed it up with a more sobering observation: that the Treasury securities Silicon Valley Bank had purchased that led to its collapse were not exactly a high-risk investment.

Over the course of the conversation, the trio offered various answers to the question of how worried viewers should be. Maher still seemed fairly shaken by the time the conversation changed directions; Slotkin, meanwhile, argued that mechanisms put into place after 2008 were likely to work. And Yang took the long view. We’ll know soon enough which of them got it right.

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Some other thoughts on the episode:

  • Maher’s opening monologue had a little more of a sting to it this week: “The good news is, the mudslides have not caused any extensive damage. The bad news is, they haven’t killed any bankers.”
  • Later in the monologue, Maher made light of the evidence that raccoon dogs played a significant role in the spread of COVID-19. “Which raises a couple of questions, like: what the fuck is a raccoon dog?”
  • Maher’s first guest was Noa Tishby, author of Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth. Largely, Tishby was there to give an update on the current state of politics in Israel and the ongoing protests there.
  • Maher seemed skeptical of Yang’s attempts to start a third party. “I went to your website, and it’s a bunch of mush,” Maher said. “I’m not trying to be mean.”
  • Both Maher and Slotkin pressed Yang to explain the need for his third party. Yang cited some very real issues with the nation’s political system; what seemed less certain was how a third party might resolve them.
  • Maher brought up the case of judge S. Kyle Duncan (not to be confused with the soccer player Kyle Duncan) who was heckled at Stanford Law School this week. Slotkin argued that universities should be places for free speech and debate, but also expressed skepticism about Duncan’s actions.“As someone who is heckled all the time at public speeches … the speaker is being a little bit of a fragile flower here,” she said. “Push through, man.”
  • Maher also dinged Yang after Yang declared himself to be a fan of “civilization”: “So you’re for good things…and against bad?”
  • Topics discussed in New Rules included Tucker Carlson’s text messages about Donald Trump, Lunchables being added to school lunches and Diplo’s comments on his own sexuality.
  • The bulk of the segment, though, found Maher using the occasion of St. Patrick’s Day to discuss political divisions in Ireland — and how that might foreshadow this country’s future. “We’ve grown less religious, but that’s because politics has become our religion,” he said.
  • Maher reserved plenty of criticism for Marjorie Taylor Greene: “She’s playing with the same kind of fire that made Northern Ireland a living hell for so long when she says, ‘We need a national divorce.’”
  • As for the “national divorce” concept, Maher isn’t a fan. He spent a sizable portion of the segment explaining the reasons why it made little sense for a variety of reasons.

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