For the last 11 years, Bill Maher has hosted the controversial and unflinching political comedy series, HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”
Having been nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety Series every year from 2005 through 2014, the show attracts an amalgam of guests including poets, authors, members of Congress, generals and movie directors.
Just this past February, Michelle Alexander, an associate professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State, appeared on “Real Time” and spoke about her book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”
Amid Maher’s preparation for this week’s episode and his stand-up appearance at the Palace Theatre on Sunday in Columbus, The Lantern spoke to him about a variety of issues, including Tuesday’s midterm elections, legalizing marijuana nationwide and the evolution — or lack thereof — of democracy in our modern society.
The Lantern: Why is the midterm election this week so important to participate in, and why should Ohio State students be planning to go to the polls?
Bill Maher: If they are progressive in any way, they probably are aware of the fact that (President Barack) Obama can only do so much without the help of Congress. Now the Republicans have been up his a– lately about using executive actions. The latest one he threatened to do was to close Guantanamo Bay unilaterally. But up until now, he’s not been able to close Guantanamo Bay.
That’s a great example of something he wanted to do — it’s the right thing to do — but Congress blocked it. I could name 10 other important issues.
Infrastructure — there’s a no-brainer — money has never been cheaper to borrow. Our infrastructure is crumbling, and we need to put people to work. It would be so easy to do that, but, of course, the Republicans have to block everything Obama does.
Environment — another area where Obama is fighting a “one-man war on coal,” something we should all be behind, but he can’t do much. He can’t do everything without Congress. That’s the way our government is set up. So unless we elect people who are willing to work with Obama, it doesn’t really do any good for him to be president.
TL: As you’ve stated on your show, “Real Time with Bill Maher,” it seems that a lot of people don’t even know that there is an election Tuesday.
BM: Yeah. I would just remind the people that Obama’s phrase in 2008 was “Yes We Can,” not “Yes I can.” “Yes We Can,” and that “we” means them.
TL: In your lifetime, do you believe that marijuana will be legalized in America? What steps are necessary to facilitate that future?
BM: Marijuana is the new gay marriage. It’s going to follow the same trajectory — it’s inevitable. America is slowly turning into a more, shall we say, progressive Western European democracy. And I know this makes conservatives’ heads explode because they think, “That is what is horrible about America,” but America is finally changing.
We have gay marriage in 30 states now, we have medical marijuana in over a third of the country — obviously, regular, “roll-up-a-fatty” marijuana in two states — we have openly gay Congress people in six states.
We have a Hindu and two Muslims in Congress. We’re just becoming a much more diverse, open society, and I hate to say it, but what has to happen to push this finally over the edge is that a certain number of people in America just have to die, and they will.
Look at the average age of the Fox News viewer — I think it’s 69 — and not the fun way kind of 69 — in a kind of “blocked progress” way. That’s the old guard, that’s who votes in the midterms. Midterms are just cranky, old, white people. We need the young people to get out there and vote, to counteract what I call the “cruise ship electorate.”
TL: In your opinion, is America a true democracy?
BM: There are so many reasons why I could tell you this is no longer a functioning democracy. Just the fact that the filibuster is now the rule of the land, I would call that a coup — a quiet coup — but that’s kind of a coup d’etat with what our government was intended to be and what the Constitution says … there’s gerrymandering, and the electoral college, and Citizen’s United that has allowed pretty much every election to be “up for sale.”
You put that all together, and it’s no wonder that this country is completely ossified and no legislation of any value ever gets passed, and the stuff that does get passed is always to benefit corporations and not human beings.
We’re doing this “Flip a District” campaign in Minnesota, and the whole reason we were inspired to do it was because we saw that Congress has an approval rating of 8 percent, and yet over 90 percent of incumbents are returned to office. That’s insane.
Of course, a lot of that has to do with people themselves, they have to take some responsibility. People don’t even know there’s an election going on, they don’t even know who their representative is. They’re uniformed and apathetic, and that’s on them. But, in a way, you can’t blame them because the game is rigged.
Bill Maher is set to perform Sunday at 7 p.m. in the Palace Theatre.
This is part one of two of Bill Maher’s interview with The Lantern.