The California Recall Looms Large on This Week’s “Real Time With Bill Maher”

George Will, Christina Bellantoni and Representative Barbara Lee joined him on the episode

Bill Maher
Bill Maher on the September 10, 2021 episode of "Real Time With Bill Maher."

First things first: on Friday, Real Time With Bill Maher was renewed through 2024. Perhaps that news was why Maher got especially robust cheers as he took to the stage for this week’s episode. His monologue found him taking on Texas’s abortion ban after six weeks. “I bought a car last year,” Maher said. “They gave me more time to see if I wanted to keep the satellite radio.” And he went on to dub the bounty-hunter aspects of the law “Riches for Snitches.”

Also up for discussion: the restoration of air travel at Kabul’s airport and the California recall election. “Larry [Elder] used to do our show,” Maher said. “We should have Larry on again, after he loses,” he continued, to tremendous applause. 

The theme of California politics continued with the episode’s first guest, Representative Barbara Lee — who is perhaps best-known nationally for her vote against war in Afghanistan 20 years ago. In keeping with one of his preferred themes this season, Maher asked her about standing up to ideas of groupthink. Lee didn’t tackle that head-on at first, opting instead to make a thorough case for not making important decisions when tempers are heated. 

Rep. Lee’s vote from 20 years ago was the subject of much of their conversation. Lee also brought up the subject of her father, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, who told her that she’d made the right decision with her vote. All told, she made a convincing case for clear-headed decisionmaking and consideration of the consequences of a particular vote — both lessons that resonate deeply today.

Maher was joined by panelists Christina Bellantoni (director of USC Annenberg’s Media Center) and George F. Will (author of American Happiness and Discontents: The Unruly Torrent, 2008-2020). The first subject of debate was President Biden’s new vaccine mandate, which Bellantoni enthusiastically backed. Will was less taken, arguing that it was an overreach of federal authority, and predicting a legal challenge. And soon, Maher had guided the discussion to one of his preferred subjects — the relative fitness level of Americans. Here, he pondered what the government’s role in that could be, to which his panelists had different opinions. 

The California recall election also came up for debate — along with, more broadly, the argument of whether the Biden presidency should be written off after nine months. “It’s like an instant gratification problem,” Bellantoni argued. And she went on to note that if more states had the same mechanisms California did, you’d probably see a number of similar initiatives around the country. And Will pointed out that you can’t “call a mulligan” on a particular election.

From there, Maher steered the discussion to another recurring subject: “wokeness” and the state of education. Will viewed this through the lens of an issue with parenting; this included an allusion to “participation trophies” and led to Will and Maher bantering about the National Archives enacting trigger warnings for the Declaration of Independence, something that was proposed months ago in a National Archives task force report and has now turned into a minor right-wing cause célèbre.

It was left to Bellantoni, who actually works in academia, to push back against this, which she did. Her argument was that depictions of universities as a battleground were fundamentally inaccurate — and she cited some examples from her own experience teaching to make her point. “It is a moment where people are recognizing that others have different lived experiences than theirs,” she said — and got in a dig at Baby Boomers.

New Rules brought the episode to a close, with Maher riffing on Republicans with guns, the return of ABBA and an overly complex pun about house music. The bulk of the segment focused on climate change’s effects on the country — notably, extreme storms on the east coast and drought on the west. Maher’s solution? Could we, perhaps, pipe the flooding from the Northeast to the Southwest?

And here, Maher returned to another of his running concerns: that the country needs to think bigger when it comes to infrastructure. And he made a solid point about a liquid — that the same basic principle was put into use by the Romans and the Incas centuries ago, and that Israel’s use of desalinization could offer a solution to California’s droughts. As Maher pointed out, we’re not far from an era of “water refugees” in the West — and climate change isn’t slowing down.

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