In his last HBO Real Time before a short hiatus, Bill Maher had the unenviable task of trying to find laughs in the situation in Ukraine. Amazingly, he was able to pull it off within the boundaries of good taste, all while allowing his guests to run with the notion that more must be done in defense of the embattled country.
Noting that this episode of his show is likely the last his live audience will be forced to wear masks, Maher added that with Vladimir Putin, “eventually the mask comes off.” He claimed that the Russian leader’s pretext for invading Ukraine was that they were trying to acquire weaspons of mass destruction. “What kind of superpower makes up shit like that?” said Maher, with a nod toward the US invasion of Iraq.
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Taking it down to terms we can all understand, Maher made a vivid analogy. “Russia is Kanye. Ukraine is Kim Kardashian. NATO is Pete Davidson.” The relationship between Ukraine (Kardashian) and NATO (Davidson) just drives Russia crazy.” Just last week, Russia “demanded Billie Eilish apologize to Travis Scott,” Maher said.
Moving on to the interview segment, Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego, author of They Called Us ‘Lucky’: The Life and Afterlife of the Iraq War’s Hardest Hit Unit, called for “some kind of pressure” on Russia, advocating for sending supplies, weapons and intelligence to Ukraine. He noted that a resistance “doesn’t need to defeat them. They only need to make them hurt.”
Gallego acknowledged that while the US has not been a perfect country, it “does not excuse us from doing the right thing here.”
In the panel discussion, Maher continued the Ukraine conversation after some preliminary chatter about the CPAC conference and new Supreme Court nomination.
This week’s panel discussion included New York Times columnist Brett Stephens and Chloé Valdary, founder of “Theory of Enchantment” and host of the podcast, The Heart Speaks with Chloé Valdary.
Maher pointed out that sanctions tend to hurt the general population rather than a nation’s leaders. So, he asked, “What’s the answer?”
Stephens said aid to Ukraine “shouldn’t end at sanctions,” and likened the current situation to “Czechoslovakia in 1938.” Valdary was equally hawkish, at one point appearing to advocate sending American troops to the battle. “I don’t know if troops would be off the table,” she said. “I would be careful about signaling we would do nothing militarily.”
When Maher said that if we don’t send troops, we’re just talking, Stephens countered that the Soviet Union fell without troops being sent. He advocated ramping up the sanctions in hopes that an accumulation of pain will create issues that, “at some point, Russians will see they were swindled by their leadership.”
Maher wrapped up his night with yet another call for Democrats to be gracious, pointing out that former president Donald Trump’s support appears to be withering among his key demographics. He likened people’s apparent awakening to Trump’s foibles to Leah Remini’s eventual awareness and public shaming of Scientology.
“Something must be shifting,” Maher said, and recalled a conversation with former president Barack Obama and comedian Jerry Seinfeld, wherein Seinfeld asked which sport is most like politics.
Obama chose football, because “Once in a while, a hole opens up in the line, and you have an opportunity to run through it and gain ground.”
That moment is now, Maher contended, pointing out a recent assessment of Democrats as “preachy and judgmental,” an approach that he said won’t work and will only drive voters back to Trumpism.
“We’ve all had a friend who dated a psycho,” Maher said, adding that the right approach is to say, “You got taken by a salesman. Happens to all of us.” And don’t talk politics at all, Maher advised. “How about that Yellowstone show?’ Little things that will make them think, ‘Hey, maybe Democrats don’t all eat babies.”
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