Saturday, November 17, 2012

Better Late Than Never: David Axelrod Does Real Time

Bill Maher's second post-election show, the "season finale" before going on a two month hiatus, was loaded with big-time guests. He had Michael Moore and David Frum on the panel, and a late visit from Eric Idle. But the feather in the cap for Maher was Obama's Senior Strategist David Axelrod.

This was significant since Axelrod had been booked to do the show back in March but canceled. The no-show wasn't because of Maher, but rather because of Rush Limbaugh. Follow this logic:

In early March, Rush Limbaugh made the infamous nasty and vicious remarks about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke. It became a big media blow-up, which ultimately became political. Conservatives didn't defend Limbaugh's comments, though many (like Mitt Romney) wouldn't denounce them.

And then, since the pendulum had to swing back, the Conservative Entertainment Complex found a false equivalent in Bill Maher. Fox News and others began pulling the most incendiary and offensive clips throughout the history of Maher's program. But here are the main differences between the two:

1) Bill Maher's audience knows he's joking. While many who agree with his politics are offended by his "potty mouth" and vile innuendo, nobody takes his laugh lines too seriously.

But Limbaugh's audience thinks he is the gospel. If he uses off-color characterizations, the ditto-heads are all-in, whether Limbaugh is serious or not. And I tend to think he's not serious.

In fact, I believe that Rush Limbaugh voted for Obama (twice). There's no money in playing the opposition if your audience is the party in power.

2) Bill Maher offers different points of view. While Real Time with Bill Maher is certainly liberally biased, he welcomes opposing views onto the show, and gives them some room.

In 2012, a presidential election year, Maher has a vast array of prominent conservative voices on his panel:

Grover Norquist
Darrell Issa
Ann Coulter
Jack Kingston
Reihan Salam
S.E. Cupp
David Frum

Can you imagine Rush Limbaugh hosting Bernie Sanders, Rachel Maddow, or Paul Krugman?

3) In Bill Maher's own words, "At least I know I'm an asshole." And that is the Mason-Dixon line.

Axelrod, being the strategist that he is, decided that being a lightning rod for the right wing would not be the prudent course in the heat of a reelection campaign. So after the election was over and the goal had been attained, Axelrod and his mustache showed up on location in Hollywood.

You rarely see him as anything other than a talking head, so I was thrown off at how tall and gangly he was. But as always he was professorial, and measured. For the first time, I recognized he was a separated-at-birth twin.

Axelrod's long-awaited appearance on Real Time wasn't particularly psychological. He was polite when Maher tried to corner him on Obama's loath for both Romney and McCain. And when Maher brought up his connection to the campaigns he won for black candidates, calling him "the Robert DeNiro of politics," Axelrod laughed it off saying he just had "good taste" and that Obama is a "great guy." Strategist, indeed.

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