Bill Maher
Bill Maher, winner of the First Amendment Award, speaks to the crowd at the 26th Annual Literary Awards Festival at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Wednesday, September 28, 2016, in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Casey Curry/Invision/AP)

Earlier this month, on his HBO show, Bill Maher lectured Democrats: “You’re alienating a whole lot of people, particularly whites without a college degree,” he said, because “you come across as the ‘Cares-About-Everybody-But-Me Party.’” He asked, rhetorically, “Why is the party that supports so many issues that benefit the middle class still considered out of touch by 62 percent of Americans?” Then he answered himself: “In plain English, nobody likes a snob … Your micro-aggression culture doesn’t play in the Rust Belt.”

At 65, Maher is in his fourth decade hosting a political comedy show, and he’s probably never been taken more seriously. Chris Cuomo gave Maher the whole hour of his prime-time CNN show, Larry King style, to tee off on wokeism. TheDaily Beast columnist Matt Lewis (and my co-host on the show The DMZ) dubbed the host of Real Time with Bill Maher “the most powerful voice critiquing the excesses of the progressive left and defending liberal democracy.”

But Maher is not the jester speaking truth to power. He is a hypocrite pushing misinformation. If he wants Democrats to win as badly as he claims, he should either get his facts straight or cancel himself.

First, let’s recognize how ridiculous it is for Maher to condemn snobbery. He has been the epitome of the condescending coastal liberal sneering at Middle America through much of his career. In a famously awkward Real Time interview a few days after George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004, Republican Senator Alan Simpson scolded Maher for “making fun of Americans who have some religious bent or faith. Keep doing that, and your people will never win an election.”

Simpson’s advice was not heeded. Maher escalated his fight against the devout with the 2008 documentary Religulous, in which he interviews representatives of several faiths and tries to make them look like idiots. He closes the film with an apocalyptic, histrionic monologue in which he declares, “The plain fact is, religion must die for mankind to live.” (Like Maher, I am a nonbeliever, but the fact is that mankind has lived with religion for a rather long time.)

Two years ago, Maher’s snobbery went beyond those who worship God to those who worship fried food. In the course of tweaking the Democratic presidential candidates for supporting expanded health care coverage, Maher said on Real Time, “The problem with our health care system is that Americans eat shit” and “citizens don’t lift a finger to help.” He wasn’t worried about alienating a whole lot of people, particularly whites without a college degree, when he said: “Here in America, we look at fried chicken and think, that’s a good start. Now put it on a bun, and add bacon, and cheese, and something no one even thought to put on it … Europe doesn’t look like this because Europe isn’t always eating for two.”

If you’re going to look down on average Americans for what they eat and what they worship, you might not be the best judge of what they want. But Maher could be a hypocrite and still be on the mark. Just because he’s looked down on average Americans in the past doesn’t mean that the Democratic Party today doesn’t do the same.

But let’s look more closely at Maher’s case.

In his diatribe on November 19, to prove his point that Democrats don’t seem to care about noncollege whites, Maher said, “You can find ways to stand up for these folks without being David Duke. This month, when the Democrats finally passed their big trillion-dollar bill to rebuild our roads and bridges, six Democrats voted no because it didn’t go far enough to address climate change … This was free money from the federal government that would actually improve their constituents’ lives.”

But Maher’s example makes the opposite point. Only six Democrats voted no, while 215 House Democrats and 50 Senate Democrats voted yes. Let’s ask the question again: Why is the party that supports so many issues that benefit the middle class still considered out of touch by 62 percent of Americans? Maybe because people with big media platforms act like the votes of six congressional Democrats define the party more than the other 265.

After noting that “Democrats were told” racism was “the reason” for their defeat in Virginia’s gubernatorial election, Maher cracked, “I haven’t worked up an official Democratic campaign slogan for 2024 yet, but I tell you what I have ruled out is ‘Vote Democrat Because White People Suck.’” What was the basis of this critique? A tweet by the former Democratic National Committee chair from two decades ago Howard Dean, a tweet from The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill, and a headline from a blog post by writer Ja’han Jones. None of these people have anything to do with messaging for the Democratic Party, let alone the messaging for Terry McAuliffe’s losing effort in Virginia. Yet Maher is blaming the Democratic Party for what “Democrats are told” by some online progressive commentators.

More than anyone, Maher should understand that the Democratic Party should not be defined by what a few progressive commentators say. Back in 2012, Maher made a big show of donating $1 million to the main super PAC dedicated to Barack Obama’s reelection. Immediately, conservatives tried to yoke Obama to Maher’s habit of using objectifying, misogynistic, and ableist language to describe Sarah Palin and her family. Then Maher continued to cause controversy by referring to Mitt Romney’s religion as a “cult” and deriding his wife, Ann Romney, as someone who had “never gotten her ass out of the house to work.” But most voters did not see a vote for Obama as a vote for Maher, and Obama won.

Maher is not just unfairly, and hypocritically, defining the Democratic Party with backbencher votes and stray tweets from woke progressives. He is actively pushing false information about what these progressives are actually doing.

During his turn on Cuomo Prime Time, Maher said, “When you’re doing something that sounds like a headline in The Onion, that’s when you’ve gone too far, you know? Land of Lincoln cancels Lincoln. That really happened. They tore down Lincoln’s—Lincoln isn’t good enough for them. Seattle, the city council voted to decriminalize crime. This is an Onion headline. I saw one, very recently, maybe babies should vote. It’s what I mean about the ‘Party of No Common Sense.’”

Every one of these examples is misinformation.

Nothing of Lincoln has been torn down in Illinois, though a statue of Lincoln’s bête noir Stephen Douglas has been removed from the statehouse grounds. Maher is probably referring to last year’s creation by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot of an advisory committee to review 41 monuments and murals, including five Lincoln statues. But the committee has not yet made any recommendations, and inclusion on the list, according to the committee, is “not a condemnation of these monuments, but … an opportunity to learn from them.” Lightfoot has said, in response to criticism of Lincoln’s presence on the review list, “Let’s be clear, we’re in the Land of Lincoln, and that’s not going to change.”

The Seattle City Council has not voted to decriminalize crime. Last year, one city councilor proposed an ordinance allowing dismissal of most misdemeanors if the defendant could prove that the crime was driven by poverty, mental illness, or addiction. But the proposal was met with widespread opposition, including from the mayor. A formal bill was never drafted. The issue never came to a vote.

Who said, “Babies should vote”? Lyman Stone, in a September New York Times op-ed titled “The Minimum Voting Age Should Be Zero.” And who is Lyman Stone? A demographer who is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies. And what are the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies? Conservative think tanks.

New Rule: Just because something is published in The New York Times does not mean that it is automatically part of the Democratic Party platform.

Presumably, Maher isn’t intentionally pushing misinformation to smear Democrats. After all, he has been a Democratic donor. But as a consistent opponent of “political correctness,” apparently any example of it is too good to fact-check.

Maher is also selective about who he attacks for stupid wokeness. I’ve yet to see Maher skewer People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who in January urged people to “stand up for justice by rejecting supremacist language” … such as using the words chicken and rat as pejoratives.

Sounds like great fodder for the anti-woke warrior who recently lamented that “nobody knows what words mean anymore.” Yet three months after PETA’s call, Maher didn’t mock PETA; he starred in a PSA for PETA. Why? Because Maher is a longtime PETA board member.

Being a PETA board member is not a crime. And maybe poultry shouldn’t be synonymous with cowardice. The point is that Maher does not hold himself to the standards he applies to others. When progressives push views that Maher doesn’t like, he not only attacks the views, he also blames them for the ills of the Democratic Party, no matter how far removed they are from the party. But if you criticize Maher for his views, he screams “political correctness,” while donating to Democrats and lecturing them on how to win in the Rust Belt.

So, here’s one more New Rule for Bill Maher: Judge the Democratic Party on what the vast majority of Democratic Party officials actually do and actually believe, not on what commentators say on Twitter, let alone on HBO.

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Bill Scher

Bill Scher is political writer at the Washington Monthly. He is the host of the history podcast When America Worked and the cohost of the bipartisan online show and podcast The DMZ. Follow Bill on Twitter @BillScher.