Bill Maher on Obama, Clinton’s Multitasking, and Religious Fundamentalism (Playboy Interview)

Bill Maher’s show is on off for a few months, so to help with the withdrawal I’ve posted portions from his interview in Playboy last month. Maher likes Obama, considering him a rock star, and belives Bill Clinton should be able to run again. After all, Clinton’s a “multitasker” who could “do Monica and run the country.”

Playboy: After the Democratic upset in the midterm election and with a year and a half left for the Bush administration, are you feeling more optimistic about the country’s direction?

Maher: Are you kidding? It’s a disaster. Unmitigated. Every day we’re killing more American soldiers for an immoral and unwinnable war based on lies. We’re killing innocent Iraqis. The environment is disintegrating. It’s one debacle after the next. Much of the rest of the world loathes us. We’re infinitely less safe than we were before 9/11. Other than that, everything’s great.

Playboy: President Bush may disagree. He maintains the world is safer now.

Maher: The world is not safer. We took Saddam Hussein out, but the idea that he was in league with Osama bin Laden was a direct lie, a bigger lie than the weapons of mass destruction. Being a power-hungry dictator, Hussein would never have given somebody a nuclear weapon, especially someone like Bin Laden, who hated him because he was a secularist. Even three years ago the world wasn’t safer because we’d gone into Iraq. Now even Iraq isn’t safer. We want to keep Muslim extremists who hate Americans from coming here and hurting us, so what do we do? We go into the heart of the Muslim world and start this cockfight. Muslims around the world do not look at our invasion of Iraq as an attempt to install democracy and freedom. They’re far more cynical, and they have reason to be. America has meddled in foreign affairs many times, usually for its own self-interest. We meddled in Iraq in 1963 under Kennedy and put a young assassin named Saddam Hussein on the case of killing its leader. We abandoned the Kurds in 1991. When Bush’s father encouraged the Shiites to rise against Hussein, we pulled a Bay of Pigs and didn’t show up; they were massacred. In their view we went in for oil and perhaps just to fuck with Muslims. There will be angry Muslims for generations. To those on the right who say Muslims hated us anyway, yes, a certain number of them did. But I don’t see how taking that hate and raising it from a simmer to a boil has helped matters. We were having a picnic and a couple of hornets were stinging us, so we went over and hit the nest with a stick. Exactly how is the world safer?

Playboy: What would you have the U.S. do at this point?

Maher: Get out of Iraq. Having troops and bases in the heart of the Muslim world is a thorn in the side of the people who live there. Throughout the region, we are building giant bases with Pizza Huts and car dealerships, stuff that goes over really well in that part of the world. Next there will be a Spearmint Rhino gentlemen’s club.

Playboy: If we pull out, there will likely be increased chaos and slaughter.

Maher: The sooner we get out, the sooner it will end. Turkey will come in? Iran will come in? Maybe, maybe not. It’s Allah’s will. Who knows? Maybe it will shake out in a not so horrible way. The country of Iraq has existed only since 1932. It’s seven years younger than Paul Newman. So what if it breaks apart into three countries? It’s not worth one more dead American to uphold a line on a map that Winston Churchill drew, probably when he was drunk. We disbanded the Iraqi army, which was not a great idea because now there’s a group of Sunnis who know how to use weapons, have no future and have reason to hate us because we put the Shiites in power. We created a massive insurgent guerrilla army. We painted ourselves into a corner, and Bush still doesn’t get it. The Iraq that was is gone and will never rise again. It has already partitioned itself into three countries: Kurdistan is completely autonomous in the north, the Shiite southern part is a theocracy mostly allied with Iran, and the middle is a mess. The Sunnis are still trying to hold on. They’re never going to put it back together again. When we went in, we were told Iraqis would throw flowers at us. Anyone who was of a mind to throw flowers is either dead or gone. Moderate Iraq doesn’t exist anymore.

Playboy: Did the 2006 election vindicate your views on Iraq?

Maher: It was a breath of fresh air. Democrats may differ from Republicans only in that they are bought off by a slightly less scary group of special interests, but at this point a slightly less scary group looks pretty good.

Playboy: What will a Democratic Congress do better?

Maher: Put pressure on the administration to end the war. Barbara Boxer said she’s going to hold hearings on global warming. With scientists! In America! Wow. Bush’s theory is we should teach intelligent design along with creationism–treat stupidity as if it’s a competing school of thought. In addition, in medical school, along with what ob-gyns normally learn, we’re going to teach that storks bring babies.

Playboy: You once said that if we get any stupider about science, soon we won’t even be able to make our own crystal meth.

Maher: Look at our leader. He doesn’t believe in evolution. I’m embarrassed by the cretins who have taken over. Luckily they’re on the way out. In the next election, even if the Republicans win the presidency, at least it won’t be Bush.

Playboy: What Democratic candidate would you support?

Maher: Barack Obama is exciting. Everyone says he’s a rock star, which is one of the most overused phrases these days; everybody’s a rock star. You know what? If you’re not getting blown after the event, you’re not a rock star. But okay, Obama is a rock star. Fine, if that’s what it takes. He seems articulate and serious and thoughtful and electable.

Playboy: Some people say he’s inexperienced and unprepared to be president.

Maher: Bush was woefully unprepared. It obviously doesn’t prevent Americans from voting for you. If Obama wants it, he’s one of the Democrats’ most viable candidates. John Edwards too. In America you can’t get elected president unless you can pronounce all four e’s in the word shit. Clinton, Carter and Bush could. Edwards can.

Playboy: Can you?

Maher: She-e-e-e-it.

Playboy: You’d be a great candidate.

Maher: Yeah, right. I think religion is bad and drugs are good. You want to be my campaign manager?

Playboy: Sure. We like a challenge, especially when dealing with your checkered past.

Maher: Who has more of a checkered past than Bush? He was a drunk until he was 40. He wouldn’t answer the cocaine question, which was a way of saying, “Yeah, I did it, and go fuck yourself.” That’s one of the few things I admire him for. He basically said, “I was a sinner, and now I’m not.” Americans love that. What they don’t like is when you get blown in office.

Playboy: Speaking of Bill Clinton, you have said he should be allowed to run again.

Maher: In a democracy, the people should be able to elect whomever they want. It’s not a very clever tribe of Indians that prevents its greatest warriors from taking the field of battle.

Playboy: The Constitution would have to be changed for him to do so.

Maher: We’ll change it so both he and Arnold Schwarzenegger can run. Can you imagine the interest if Clinton ran against Schwarzenegger? The debate could be on pay-per-view.

Playboy: Would you support Clinton?

Maher: Sure. He has a reputation as a party animal because of the Monica Lewinsky situation, but basically he’s a wonk. He can do Monica and run the country. He’s a multitasker. If he had been president when Katrina hit, he would have been in New Orleans three days before the storm. He wouldn’t have slept. Yes, he would have been getting blown–come on, Slick Willie in the Big Easy? He would have had some excellent étouffée. But he would have been working the whole time. I think the country has learned a lesson: If he can do the job, let the guy be who he is. People don’t care about sex.

Later in the interview:

Playboy: Have we heard the last from Karl Rove?

Maher: I don’t know if people in the party blame him for that election. I think they blame Bush. Rove has proved he could win with a weak hand, but this was pretty much the weakest hand anyone had ever been asked to play in modern politics. Add up the war, Hurricane Katrina, Mark Foley, the debt–there was very little he could run on. Mostly, Bush lost the war. Mr. Kick Ass and Take Names lost. I’m sure Bush prayed a lot about Iraq, but he never learned about Iraq. Everybody in this country thinks praying is great, which to me is childish. But even if it isn’t, it doesn’t replace knowledge. [impersonating Bush] “Saddam bad. Freedom good.” Well, the Iraqis saw something else. Sunnis out, Shiites in. In most of the Muslim world, Shiites are close to apostates. In the minds of most Muslims, it was impossible to imagine Shiites in power. That’s what threatens them now. They see America enabling this impossible event. We went into their country without knowing anything about them. Half the people they originally got to go over there thought, We’ve sprinkled the freedom dust on them, and now everything’s going to be cool. We don’t need troops; we don’t need a plan. Another problem is something we seem never to learn: You can’t just instill democracy. You can’t just graft it onto a society that has no institutions of public law. As I said, Saddam was a secularist. Now we have these crazy fundamentalists warring–a model democracy.

Playboy: How many of the problems in the Middle East are due to religious fundamentalism?

Maher: Religious fundamentalism is the root of problems everywhere. I could just as easily go on about the crazy Christian God-hates-fags types who have killed abortion doctors. I don’t know if any religion has the monopoly on crazy factions. I’ve been brushing up on my Eastern religions, and they’re crazy too. Their big superiority is supposed to be that they’re peaceful, but Japan was Buddhist before World War II, and that didn’t stop it from raping Nanking and bombing Pearl Harbor. People use religion to justify what they want to do. Some Mormons use biblical passages to justify the genocide of the Indians, as well as their longtime prejudice against blacks.

Playboy: Your views about religion have gotten you into trouble.

Maher: Like the old saying goes, the two things you shouldn’t talk about in a polite dinner conversation are politics and religion–the two things I love to talk about. [laughs] At my dinner parties we talk about them.

Playboy: Have you been affected by religious organizations’ angry reactions to you?

Maher: When ABC canned me for my 9/11 comments, a lot of it was because of what I had said about religion.

Playboy: But your show was canceled not because of anything you had said about religion but your comment that the U.S., not the terrorists, was cowardly.

Maher: A Houston disc jockey started all the mob action against me, but he had been trying to get me fired for 10 years because of my position on religion.

Playboy: Do you regret your remarks?

Maher: I was sorry it upset people at a time when they were traumatized anyway, but what I said wasn’t wrong. Listen, after 9/11 Bush said the terrorists win unless we continue to do exactly what we’ve been doing. So go shop. Go back to work. Well, I went back to work. I was host of a show called Politically Incorrect, which prided itself on pulling no punches and saying the truth. The terrorists did not win with me.

Playboy: Did the reaction surprise you?

Maher: Oh my God. I don’t think most people, even people in show business, will ever know what it feels like when that super-white-hot light gets turned right onto you in a negative way. I thought I was headed to Abu Ghraib. I was afraid to go out. I thought people were going to punch me or something. It was as though all of America was enraged about what had happened to us, but because the enemy was amorphous, people had nothing to turn their rage on until I stepped up. I provided a service for America. I gave people a target for their rage for a while. You’re welcome, America.

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