The two talk-show hosts go mano a mano on Obama's shortcomings, Republican rage, and a Scarborough-Maher presidential ticket.
Scarborough: So, liberal comedians were wringing their hands a year ago in The New York Times over the prospect of telling jokes at the expense of the chosen one, Barack Obama, at the beginning of his presidency. Have any comedic themes emerged over the past year surrounding Barack Obama that you find funny?
Maher: Well, let me correct your question first of all. Comedians weren't wringing their hands, the media was. The media gets a hold of a question, and then like sheep all repeat it ad nauseam until we are so sick that we want to jam a needle in our eye. But yes, six months ago I was getting booed by my own audience when I would make jokes about Obama. I remember one show I had to say to my audience, "He's the president, not your boyfriend." And at the time, what I was basically saying was that he wasn't putting it on the line against the insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and big agribusinesses, and the credit-card companies, and the banks. Basically, the American political scene didn't have a party that was representing the left at all, and that's what we thought we were voting for. Well, they're not booing anymore when I say that. I said that he needed more Bush and Cheney in his personality, and my audience went nuts.
Speaking of Dick Cheney, do you feel betrayed as a progressive by the president's decision on Afghanistan to defer to the generals' wishes, much in the way Dick Cheney and George W. Bush did over the past eight years?
I don't feel betrayed, I feel disappointed. I don't feel betrayed because he did run on the idea that, well, we've got to have some war. I mean, come on, we are Americans. So he was not untrue to what the campaign said. But things haven't changed in Afghanistan. Mostly we found out that the government was even more corrupt than we thought. [Laughs] Which is saying something. And I think that would have given him enough cover to get out from his campaign pledge. He didn't have to do this.
Was he afraid to stand up to the generals or an American public that you suggest likes a good war?
I don't think they like this one anymore. I mean, there are even a number of people on the conservative side who are against this war. I have no idea what his thinking is. Something happens when you become president. They give you the plane, they give you the helicopter, everywhere you go they play "Hail to the Chief." You get your ass kissed 24 hours a day. You think that America can do anything.
Let's go back to your discussion about health-care reform that you are now talking about in your stand-up act. If the president ends up supporting a health-care-reform bill that doesn't contain a public option, but does have the amendment that restricts abortion funding, will progressives have been betrayed or abandoned by the Democratic Party running Congress?
I think that we were abandoned by the Democratic Party years and years and years ago. I don't, as I said, think we have a progressive party. They were abandoned by the Democratic Party on gun control. They were abandoned by the Democratic Party on catering to the needs of the banks and the credit-card companies before the people. I mean, when the Democratic Party is OK with 30 percent interest credit cards, I think any discussion of betrayal is late. There's not a society in the world that hasn't condemned usury. There is not a religion, you'll be happy to know, or a religious philosopher that hasn't condemned the practice of usury. The reason we don't have loan sharks anymore is because that's what banks do legally. If there was any time to bring out a can of socialist whoop-ass, it would be now on that.
How could Barack Obama, after 11 months in office, manage the trifecta of offending progressives, who believe he hasn't gone far enough, conservatives, who believe he's gone too far, and independents, who are acting like they did when Ross Perot was running around the countryside? …