Ahead of Hershey show: Bill Maher talks Pa.’s U.S. Senate race, insurrection, and teaching civics

The HBO satirist wants the big money out of politics: ‘They’re not getting another dime out of me’

By: - October 19, 2021 10:43 am

Comedian Bill Maher (photo provided)

(Editor’s Note: Comedian Bill Maher, host of the long-running HBO show “Real Time with Bill Maher,” spoke with The Capital-Star’s Frank Pizzoli Maher performs Nov. 14 at the Hershey Theatre in Dauphin County.) 

Pennsylvania Capital-Star: In our last interview (Oct. 19, 2019) you said “Pennsylvania may be the most important state in 2020.” The Keystone State put President Biden over the top with his eventually carrying our 20 Electoral College votes.

Bill Maher: Well that certainly turned out to be quite true, although I’m sure he had no trouble carrying Scranton. And Pennsylvania has always been an iffy state on the Red versus Blue continuum.

Q: Now the 2022 U.S. Senate race puts Pennsylvania front and center again. With Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey not running for re-election, there are 14 Democrats, 12 Republicans, and one Liberal Party candidate running for the open seat. Any thoughts on Democrat candidates John Fetterman? Openly gay state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta? U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb? Anyone GOP candidates catch your eye?

A. I have not yet followed that race but U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb [D-17th District] – a moderate Democrat – has the right idea. Nothing extreme in any direction regarding legislation and regulations, or policy. I think that’s the way to go.

Q: Why do you think that ‘moderate’ is the way to go for Democrats?

A: Here’s why. I was in Pittsburgh last Saturday performing for what felt like an audience drawn from both sides of the political aisle. And I was performing in Nashville before that. Again, I had a strong sense that both sides of the political aisle were in the audience. I used to be the (classically) Liberal guy and now I’m drawing from a broader political audience. People want nothing too extreme on either side. They want what’s do-able.

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Q: What do make of your shifting audience? A signal of anything?

A: I think essentially people are yearning for a little ray of hope that we can all come together. There are so many outstanding issues pressuring the country right now. People are clamoring for us to just begin solving problems already.

Q: You closed one of your recent HBO shows saying: “I hope I scared the sh*t out of you,” having described what you’ve been calling all along a slow-moving coup by Trump and his associates.

A: For next time around in 2024, even for the 2022 midterm election, Trump and his allies are actively building a structure to count the votes the way they want the votes counted – Trump or who he supports as the winner. Believe me, the next time he calls a Secretary of State or any election official to find votes for him they will find them.

Q: And meanwhile the political narrative is often somewhere between Make America Great Again and Woke sentiments…

A: That’s right. One side chanting Make American Great Again, Again! The other side chanting Defund the Police. By the way, I couldn’t write that as comedy – the Make America Great Again, Again thing. Regular people are exhausted with the extremes of our political dialogue. That’s why I think my audience is changing. We’re all trying to find some middle ground and get stuff done.

People want nothing too extreme on either side. They want what’s do-able.

Q. Our last interview you said you love newspapers, legacy media in all its forms. That you’re old-fashioned in that way. Still true?

A: I no longer feel that way. I feel now I have to sample everything because all sides now present a jaundiced view. It’s not just Fox News. It’s MSNBC as well. Neither are honest brokers. Each news operation omits what is inconvenient. Fox News lies by commission or distorts events by their omissions. There are few honest news sources left. I feel like even The New York Times is adrift and I can’t rely on it as I once did.

Q: Are you an honest broker?

A: (Laughing) Yes, I am because I, as we all should, look at every side of an issue before deciding where I stand. Lots of voters wonder who and what to trust anymore. Voters tell me they don’t have any real choices. So, what’s the difference?

Q: Lots of cranky voters out there. Are they upset because they don’t know how our institutions work? Or because they don’t like the institutions?

I’m not certain that many voters know about our institutions in depth or how they are intended to work. Because they’re not grounded in their understanding, they conclude they don’t like them.

Q: Do we need to teach history and civics again in schools?

A: Absolutely! I’ve seen saying that forever. Teach civics, as in three equal branches of government meant to balance each other. No one person, branch of government, regulatory agency or court at any level rules the roost. Our teaching of history is currently full of thorns causing hemorrhages in our understanding of our past. We should teach our history honestly, with facts, but not with an angle.

Q: Example?

A: Sure. The current notion of ‘white fragility’ says If you’re white, you’re racist. If you think you’re not, you’re mistaken. You just don’t know you are. That’s no way to build bridges. What’s hopeful about that message? Who wants to go to that meeting? Never should we deny any aspect of our racial history. But let’s begin speaking to one another in a way we can learn and grow and change together.

Q: Hoping to create change you donated $1 million to Barack Obama when he ran for a second term. Have any big donations in mind for 2022 or 2024?

A: They’re not getting another dime out of me. I felt very strongly that Barack Obama should have a second term. I didn’t want his success to be seen as a fluke. Remember too that my donation came around the same time the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision was made. When the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting political independent expenditures by corporations, associations, or labor unions. Money everywhere. Then later Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., hit me up for a second $1 million for his super PAC that focuses on electing Democrats to the Senate. I’m done. Donations of that size are hard for me to do.

Correspondent Frank Pizzoli covers LGBTQ issues for the Capital-Star. 

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