The two talk-show hosts go mano a mano on Obama's shortcomings, Republican rage, and a Scarborough-Maher presidential ticket.
Scarborough: So, liberal comedians were wringing their hands a year ago in The New York Times over the prospect of telling jokes at the expense of the chosen one, Barack Obama, at the beginning of his presidency. Have any comedic themes emerged over the past year surrounding Barack Obama that you find funny?
Maher: Well, let me correct your question first of all. Comedians weren't wringing their hands, the media was. The media gets a hold of a question, and then like sheep all repeat it ad nauseam until we are so sick that we want to jam a needle in our eye. But yes, six months ago I was getting booed by my own audience when I would make jokes about Obama. I remember one show I had to say to my audience, "He's the president, not your boyfriend." And at the time, what I was basically saying was that he wasn't putting it on the line against the insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and big agribusinesses, and the credit-card companies, and the banks. Basically, the American political scene didn't have a party that was representing the left at all, and that's what we thought we were voting for. Well, they're not booing anymore when I say that. I said that he needed more Bush and Cheney in his personality, and my audience went nuts.
Speaking of Dick Cheney, do you feel betrayed as a progressive by the president's decision on Afghanistan to defer to the generals' wishes, much in the way Dick Cheney and George W. Bush did over the past eight years?
I don't feel betrayed, I feel disappointed. I don't feel betrayed because he did run on the idea that, well, we've got to have some war. I mean, come on, we are Americans. So he was not untrue to what the campaign said. But things haven't changed in Afghanistan. Mostly we found out that the government was even more corrupt than we thought. [Laughs] Which is saying something. And I think that would have given him enough cover to get out from his campaign pledge. He didn't have to do this.
Was he afraid to stand up to the generals or an American public that you suggest likes a good war?
I don't think they like this one anymore. I mean, there are even a number of people on the conservative side who are against this war. I have no idea what his thinking is. Something happens when you become president. They give you the plane, they give you the helicopter, everywhere you go they play "Hail to the Chief." You get your ass kissed 24 hours a day. You think that America can do anything.
Let's go back to your discussion about health-care reform that you are now talking about in your stand-up act. If the president ends up supporting a health-care-reform bill that doesn't contain a public option, but does have the amendment that restricts abortion funding, will progressives have been betrayed or abandoned by the Democratic Party running Congress?
I think that we were abandoned by the Democratic Party years and years and years ago. I don't, as I said, think we have a progressive party. They were abandoned by the Democratic Party on gun control. They were abandoned by the Democratic Party on catering to the needs of the banks and the credit-card companies before the people. I mean, when the Democratic Party is OK with 30 percent interest credit cards, I think any discussion of betrayal is late. There's not a society in the world that hasn't condemned usury. There is not a religion, you'll be happy to know, or a religious philosopher that hasn't condemned the practice of usury. The reason we don't have loan sharks anymore is because that's what banks do legally. If there was any time to bring out a can of socialist whoop-ass, it would be now on that.
How could Barack Obama, after 11 months in office, manage the trifecta of offending progressives, who believe he hasn't gone far enough, conservatives, who believe he's gone too far, and independents, who are acting like they did when Ross Perot was running around the countryside?
That's a good question. I've heard you ask that on your show. There is no good answer because he is such a bright guy, so you wonder how he could do it. He was never going to get the conservatives. I mean, I don't know why he spent the amount of time he has so far in his administration currying the favor of people who don't like him. Someone has to give him a memo that says, "They're just not that into you." You are the wrong age, the wrong party, the wrong color. They're just never going to get behind you. So, you know, I hate to say it, but I agree with your boy Pat Buchanan. If Obama was in Congress still, he would have been against this troop buildup in Afghanistan. He would have been with Kucinich.
But let me correct you. Pat Buchanan is not my boy, Pat Buchanan is America's boy, OK, Bill?
[Laughs] Certainly not America's boy.
You know, speaking of Pat Buchanan, who certainly under-stood where populists were in '92 and again in '96: Buchanan seems to believe that Americans are exhausted by war, after eight years in Afghanistan and Iraq. Don't you think the president could unite progressives and conservatives like George Will, Pat Buchanan, and myself by actually having the courage to stand up to the generals and say, "You get 18 months and no more. [Then] bring the troops home."
Well, yes. His own top military guys said there's probably less than 100 Al Qaeda [in Afghanistan]. So why can't we call up George Bush and get the old MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner and put it up and march right out of there? You're right, it might unite progressives and conservatives.
You've heard this theme as well. For eight years Republicans worked around the clock to delegitimize Bill Clinton. For the next eight years, Democrats tried to delegitimize Bush. Now Barack Obama is enduring the rage of his conservative opposition. How do we step back from a political system that seems to promote mutually assured destruction, regardless of whom we elect?
Well, I would take some issue with that question, and this is something conservatives like to do, which is to spread it around equally when that's not really the case.
Here's the problem, though, Bill. Hold on, Bill …
Do you really think if there was a terrorist attack on the order of 9/11, Republicans would rally around Obama like Democrats did around Bush?
I think they would for about as long as Democrats rallied around Bush before going after him. And here's the problem, Bill—when I make this argument to Republicans, they of course say, "Well, Joe, I take issue with what you're saying." It's just it's always the other side's fault.
Right. I hear you. I'm not saying that Democrats are at all blameless. They are responsible, for example, for the process of politicizing Supreme Court nominees.
Right. So how do we step back from that? Is it possible?
That is the $64,000 question, and every president who gets elected runs on the platform "I'm going to change the tone in Washington." But then the tone in Washington gets even worse. I don't know if a president or a leader can do that, because the provenance of that problem is the people. I don't know how a leader can fundamentally change what's in people's hearts.
Is it time for an independent?
An independent? Well, that's possible. Isn't the independent registration now bigger than either political party?
It's up in the 40s. It's the highest it's ever been, according to Gallup.
That's twice as many as Republicans, and I think it's more than Democrats too. You know, I guess what we need is an independent leader. Maybe you and I should run together on a unity ticket, Joe?
I think we could do that. [ Laughs ]
The unity ticket of Scarborough and Bill Maher. I'll be happy to be the vice president because you have experience in Congress and I don't really want to get up before noon.
That will bring America together. Now, if I can't do that, what about Lou Dobbs? Would you serve with Lou Dobbs on an independent Lou Dobbs ticket?
Ah, no, I don't think so. I don't think I want to have lunch with Lou Dobbs once a week.
What do you think about TV hosts like Lou Dobbs talking about running for president?
Well, I think it's the age we live in. You know, he certainly has no less credibility than Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was in Bedtime for Bonzo, and you guys think he was the greatest president since George Washington. So, I'm just glad we have a constitutional-law professor who was able to somehow sneak into the presidency. I'm just going to hold my breath for the next seven years.
You have any holiday plans?
I'm going to try not to do interviews.
Not that I don't love talking to you. You're an exception. No, I don't have big holiday plans. You know I don't celebrate the whole baby-Jesus thing, so we can put the religious part of it off the table. I don't really have much family left. I really like the holidays as a time where people are away and the phone doesn't ring and nobody can call you up and say, "Oh, can you do this, can you do that?" I wish it would last longer.
Well, speaking of our favorite topic this holiday season, what are your thoughts about God? Do you believe in any supreme being in any form?
Joe, I put this all in my movie Religulous. It's on DVD.
I know. But you wouldn't do our show.
It's the perfect stocking stuffer for the secular-minded person at Christmastime. Christmas is a national holiday, and I don't object to the holiday. Of course, I have wonderful memories of Christmas when I was a child, and it's a great time of year for family to get together. That's a nice thing. Families should bond. But also to reassess. It's a good time to say "Oh" and take stock and say, "Gee, how was I ethically this year?" That's the problem with faith, Joe. What it does is it kind of screws up your priorities. Your priorities shouldn't be saving your own ass, which is the focus of Christianity. The focus should be, I'm a good person, and I do that just for the sake of being good. Like the Christmas song says, "Be good for goodness' sake."
OK, final question from me. You talk about the fact that you had good Christmas memories. Do you have a favorite?
Going back to your childhood? I'm trying to help you here with all of the people you've pissed off already. So give me your favorite Christmas memory.
I don't know about a specific one, but what I remember was a Christmas tradition, which was playing Robert Goulet's Christmas album. My mother was a big fan of Robert Goulet, and so many housewives were in the 1960s, Joe. I don't know if you remember that at all, but Robert Goulet was quite the matinee idol. In fact, I once flew my mother out to Las Vegas to have dinner—we all had dinner together—Robert Goulet, his wife, my mother, and I. It was the thrill of her life. It was the best Christmas album, we just wore that thing out. I remember after Christmas we had a party, which was odd, because it was a Christmas party, and my father was very Catholic but my mother was Jewish. It was all the Jewish relatives who lived in the area, so they came to the Christmas party, and then they would leave and we would all be exhausted. And we would all just sit there, and [enjoy] the glow of the fire, the fire on the TV—we didn't have a fireplace—and listen to the Robert Goulet Christmas album.
It doesn't get better than that, Bill Maher.
And then I would go upstairs and masturbate.
All right. Thanks, Bill.