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Late night television was once an American pastime. In recent years, however, the genre has been corrupted by increasingly biased political rhetoric. From Trevor Noah and Jimmy Kimmel to John Oliver and Stephen Colbert, hosts push their personal political agendas and frequently belittle opposing viewpoints.
While most right-leaning viewers feel rightfully left behind by late night, one host consistently differentiates himself from the pack: Bill Maher, host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. Unlike his counterparts, Maher has uniquely managed to garner support from the liberals and conservatives alike. His secret? True liberalism.
Giving a voice to the opposition
Maher has been rather coy about his political affiliation, but throughout the years has labeled himself a Democrat. He endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 and Bernie Sanders in 2016. Beyond just his crude humor, he holds many opinions that would likely be considered unsavory by most conservatives.
For one, Maher is highly critical of the Republican Party, claiming “Republicans win for two reasons: teamwork and cheating.” He also frequently rips into conservative media outlets, recently suggesting Fox News title a show “The Hot Blonde Fascist Report.” To top it off, he vehemently opposes organized religion, saying “they’re all stupid and dangerous.”
Despite all this, Bill Maher is beloved by many on the right for one simple reason: he gives them a voice. Most late night hosts hurl stones at those across the political aisle, and none would dare provide their adversaries with a microphone to respond to the criticism — that is, except for Maher. “You can hate Trump. You can’t hate the people who like him,” Maher said, “We can disagree and still be friends.”
In an industry where most commentators prefer to dehumanize and mischaracterize the opposition, Real Time guests come from all over the political spectrum. Maher has interviewed many thinkers that challenge political orthodoxy such as Megyn Kelly, Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, Kellyanne Conway, Coleman Hughes, Anne Coulter, Tomi Lahren, and Bret Weinstein, to name a just few.
Bill Maher has a unique ability to treat each guest with dignity, giving them the benefit of the doubt, often disagreeing vehemently but doing so with respect. He even invited The Daily Wire’s own Ben Shapiro on for a civil debate, telling him, “We seem to be living in a time of utter tribalism, and I think you and I have a few things in common.”
While interviewing the enormously controversial Milo Yiannopoulos, he admitted, “I think you’re colossally wrong on a lot of things, but if I banned everyone who I thought was colossally wrong, I would be talking to myself.” Indeed, in the world of late night, Maher uniquely realizes the need to break out of the echo chamber and engage in good faith debate.
A true liberal, not a leftist
While some of Maher’s views raise the eyebrows of many on the right, he also champions some of the same positions supporter by conservatives. In a world of rampant and extreme leftism, Maher reminds us all of what it means to be a true liberal, reliably fighting illiberalism and championing free speech above all.
Political correctness — in his own words “the elevation of sensitivity over truth” — is Bill Maher’s longtime sworn enemy. His ABC show in the 1990s was even called Politically Incorrect. An outspoken critic of “safetyism” and snowflake culture, he dubs the illiberal language police “emotional hemophiliacs” for taking offense to virtually anything.
Maher has also railed against the intolerance of cancel culture, often begrudgingly discussing it on his show: “I don’t want to talk about cancel culture every week, but I don’t think people understand how much this is a tsunami and how fast the goalposts change, almost on a weekly basis.” Of the Twitter vigilantes destroying lives and careers over honest missteps, he asks, “Who are these perfect people who have never made any mistake?”
Revisionist history is also of great concern to him. He has spoken out against critical race theory and vehemently opposes its presence in our school system. Amidst a summer of tearing down statues and critiquing the past through a lens of modern morality, Maher also urged the outrage mobs to step back and reevaluate their methods of affecting change: “Here’s a crazy idea. Let’s live in the present and make the future better.”
Maher often encourages Real Time audiences to resist the temptation of buying into political narratives. During widespread Black Lives Matter protests, he facilitated a debate between Bakari Sellers and Coleman Hughes that probed police brutality statistics. More recently, he called into question the rush to attribute the nail salon shootings in Atlanta to anti-Asian violence.
On the international front, Maher has been a vocal critic of radical Islam, even inviting Sam Harris to discuss its oppression of women and the dangers of Sharia law. More recently, he called out Americans for engaging in petty political spats while China’s influence on the world stage continues to grow. “You’re not going to win the battle for the 21st century if you are a silly people,” he warned.
Though his political ideology may initially seem scattered from the bipartisan perspective, the common thread of Maher’s outlook is his classical liberalism. He embraces dialogue and debate, championing the notion that the solution to bad speech is more speech. He resists the temptation to shut down opposition and embraces the pursuit of common ground.
If his pursuit of liberalism means he no longer toes the line of ideological orthodoxy, then so be it. Maher is willing to risk offending anyone if it means maintaining the ideal of free speech. In his own words, “the difference is that liberals protect people, and P.C. people protect feelings.” Bill Maher, it seems, may be television’s last true liberal.
Love and hate from all sides
Because he is willing to praise and criticize anyone as he sees fit, Maher has made enemies on both sides of the political spectrum. In 2019, for example, he celebrated the death of David Koch on Real Time, prompting outrage from Fox News personalities like Greg Gutfeld and Mark Levin, who dubbed him a “lowlife”.
And, despite his firmly left leaning bent, Maher has also made plenty of enemies on his own side of the aisle. He claims that his former show Politically Incorrect, for instance, was “sh*tcanned” by ABC for causing controversy and living up to its name. His time slot was replaced by the far tamer Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2003.
Maher made headlines in 2014 when his invitation to speak at the University of California, Berkeley’s commencement address was widely protested by students. He was labeled a “blatant bigot” for failing to adhere to the demands of political correctness, and a petition decrying him as “an individual who himself perpetuates a dangerous learning environment” amassed thousands of signatures.
Though he ultimately spoke despite the outrage, he directly condemned Berkeley’s culture of coddling and safe spaces in 2017 when the administration gave in to pressure to revoke Anne Coulter’s invitation to speak on campus. “Berkeley, you know, used to be the cradle of free speech,” he said on Real Time, “And now it’s just the cradle of f*cking babies.”
HBO is frequently called on to fire Maher for his controversial statements, and his decisions to invite provocative guests onto the show often spark protests. His leftist enemies are outraged when he dares to reach across the political aisle and treat his adversaries with humanity. There is nothing more dangerous to political orthodoxy than exposure to alternative viewpoints.
He put it best himself: “If you’re not upsetting some people, you’re not being brave. If everyone likes you, you have never said anything true. Any time you speak the truth, some people are going to hate you. In America, at one time or another everyone has hated me.”
Bill Maher is critical to national dialogue
Love him or hate him, Bill Maher should be celebrated for his fearlessness. He is unafraid to speak his mind and to defy party lines. He calls out hypocrisy wherever he sees it and is consistently willing to go where nobody else will, no matter who he crosses in the process.
During his decades-long career, the political left has grown increasingly illiberal and extreme, and yet Maher has proven resistant to the shifting tides. He is a benchmark for what a true liberal is. A champion of free speech and a genuinely independent thinker, he is precisely what our media is lacking.
There is no coincidence that his most viewed videos on YouTube are almost always clips of conversations with his political adversaries. This is for good reason: they’re just plain interesting. While most voices in the media scream into their own echo chambers, Maher leans into ambiguity and explores nuance. In doing so, he does his audience the favor of exposing them to alternative modes of thinking.
A crude late night comedian, Bill Maher is an unexpected role model for us all. In a culture where most voices bleed together and parrot political orthodoxy, he defies all expectations. He reminds a divided nation that the only way forward is to embrace debate, discomfort, compromise, individualism, and, most of all, authenticity.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.