Saturday, November 05, 2011

a Maher report

Besides commenting on Jack Kelly, I often enjoy making observations about what I see on Bill Maher's "Real Time". Maher has for a long time invited a mix of liberals and conservatives on his various talk shows, which I have to respect. Sometimes the discussions are sophisticated, just as or more often they are fairly superficial, but at least the Republican talking points are aired in a forum where they will be challenged. Maher himself started out as a libertarian to at least some degree, I think in part because libertarians come closest to providing a philosophical justification to his idea that marijuana should be legal (an idea I think most economists would support). Maher seems to have moved almost entirely to the left, perhaps because of the way thing have gone in the country in the last eleven years. If Al Gore had been elected, I can see where Maher might well be on the right.

So last night Bill Maher had a typical guest list, including Beau Biden (Joe's son, now the Delaware attorney general who is suing some Delaware based corporations for the Wall Street misdeeds), Darrel Issa (Republican Representative from California) and David Patterson (former New York Governor, Democrat). Those who were seated around the same table all got along and mostly laughed at Maher and each other. Maher also had Bill Engvall, the comedian, on. I like Engvall, think his work is funny. He turned out to be a fair bit more conservative than I might have thought he would be. He even confessed to liking the way Herman Cain talks, and thus having some affection for him as a candidate.

Of course Democrats are accustomed to mocking Herman Cain (as Bill Maher was doing last night). Those strongly interested in politics (like myself) are also horrified by Cain, who seems to take pride in not knowing what he is talking about (uz beki beki stan stan?). I notice that while Rush Limbaughm, Ann Coulter and much of Fox News are fans of Herman, Karl Rove and some of the Fox people who have interviewed him are not. Perhaps that is because Herman Cain is folksy to the level of being incoherent, not the best situation for making decisions and speaking on behalf of the country.

But I understand, most Americans do not pay attention to politics, and also don't vote. If they follows the national news at all, it is all about sports, music, movies ... or the Kardashians. Of people who do vote, most couldn't tell you the name of more than one or two of the people on the ballot, much less what their positions are on most if not all the issues. Most American have formed their political beliefs (to the extent they have any) through watching "Mr Smith Goes to Washington" (older Americans) and/or "Dave" (younger Americans) or perhaps "The Distinguished Gentleman". Admittedly there was a time when West Wing was among the most popular shows on TV, but that was short lived. Most of like and to some extent buy into the notion that if an ordinary, decent person got into politics, they could solve our problems using common sense.

That was what Bill Engvall hinted at on Maher's show. He outright said that he thought a business man would make a good President. Of course, this shows a lack of understanding of a) the role money is playing now in politics and the resulting power the rich have and b) the level of complexity involved in both the theoretical and practical aspects of being President. If you can't understand Keynesian economics you can't argue for it, but also if you don't understand that complicated arguments are hard to sell, you won't be able to tailor pitching the idea to us.

So I can see the appeal of Herman Cain, even or especially to the almost entirely white Tea Party (which often proves pretty racist in their views of issues concerning Obama). Cain plays into the myth of an everyman fighting for decency in Washington, and being attacked by the bad guys with a trumped up charge. Normally a charge of sexual harassment would kill the chances of the supposedly decent man, but the Republican base has moved past the charges straight to the the discovery that the evil opposition is behind them (either the Democrats or Rick Perry or both), and made it all up. That is, of course, pure Hollywood in playing on our shared narrative of how what seems like fiction turns out to be true if you have enough information (everybody loves a good conspiracy).

I think Herman Cain still has a good chance to be the nominee. Look how far Bill Clinton went. As for becoming President, I will paraphrase Miracle Max from the Princess Bride "It'd take a miracle".

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