Bill Maher sat down with CNN's Fareed Zakaria to discuss President Obama's first term in office and how he's reacting to the mid-term elections, the hypocrisy of the teabaggers and Glenn Beck's move from pundit to preacher among other things.
ZAKARIA: "Politically Incorrect" was the name of the show Bill Maher hosted in the 1990s. It's also an apt description of the man himself. Now host of eighth HBO's hit show "Real Time", I find Maher to be one of the sharpest observers of American politics and life in general out there. It doesn't mean I always agree with him. I always find him funny, though.
Several times over the past few years, he has asked me questions. This time it's my turn. Welcome to the show, Bill Maher.
MAHER: Nice to be here.
ZAKARIA: So Obama. How do you think he's responded to the shellacking so far?
MAHER: He looks beaten down. That's what disturbs me. You know, I thought when we elected the first black president, as a comedian, I thought two years in I'd be making jokes about what a gangster he was, you know. And not that he's President Wayne Brady. I thought we're getting Suge Knight.
And, you know, for him to be talking about compromising with the Republicans on the Bush tax cuts, where -- where are they going to draw a line in the sand? When are they going to remember who they are? I'm so disappointed and I still like him and still think there's hope. He could get it yet, but I'm so disappointed that he just seems to be another in a long line of Democrats that come across as wimpy and woozy and whatever word you want to as describe to it of not standing up for what they believe in enough.
The Republicans seem to continually stake out a position further, further to the right and then demand that the Democrats meet them in the middle except that that's not the middle anymore.
MAHER: That's the near right.
ZAKARIA: But, you know, you say Democrats keep doing this. Is there a possibility that the reason they do this is the electorate is further right than you would like it to be.
MAHER: No, I -- I reject that entirely. It's because the Republicans are much better at sticking by what they believe in and they all get on the same page. I mean, a good example, and I think where this administration really went off kilter, was the public option with the health care debate. That was his big issue that's what he staked his administration on. That debate should have started from we're the Democrats, we're the party of the people. We want a single payer plan. Of course that would never pass, but that should have been their position.
The Republicans would be, no, our -- our health care plan is called drop dead or they maybe would have improved it, go screw yourself plus perhaps, meet in the middle at the public option. It is after all an option. To see these people dressed up as the founding fathers who want more freedom, but you don't want an option? It's actually more freedom for you, you see there. That should have been where they stuck it.
And the public option was polling at around 70 percent popularity when the debate started. But see that's what the Republicans do. They take something that's polling at 40 percent and they say, OK, we'll all get on the same page, we'll hammer it home, we'll get it up to 55. The Democrats, they abandon what they -- they didn't run on health care in this last election. This was a big thing that presidents going back to Teddy Roosevelt have tried to get the American people. They got it done and they ran away from it.
Now, the American people don't follow issues that closely. What they follow is who's dominating, who's -- who's standing by what they believe in. What they see is Democrats not standing behind what they passed in health care and so to them, they say to themselves there must be something wrong with it if these people aren't standing up for it.
ZAKARIA: But the big shift if you look 1996 when the Democrats sweep into power, 57 percent of independents voted Democrat. In this election, 57 percent of independents voted Republican. What does that tell you?
MAHER: That tells me independents don't pay that much attention. Independents are people who just throw out the party that's in power because Obama got elected and it didn't immediately start rating 20s. So throw the bums out. By the way, the same bums that they just, you know, threw out two years ago they wanted to put back in. No wonder we can't get anything done in this country.
So, you know, this idea that the independents are these -- these careful thinkers who assess what's going -- I don't think that's who the independent voter is. I just they're -- they're cranky people who want change. They voted for change in '06. They voted for change in '08. They voted -- I don't blame them for being impatient with Obama. He did promise us change and he's delivered some of it. I mean there has been change.
In other ways, he looks too much like what we had before. I could name a whole list of issues where the Democrats and the Republicans really are the same party. When people say, you know, there's not enough bipartisanship, I very often think, no, there's actually too much. On Afghanistan, too much. We have two parties, we have one policy. Gun control, two parties, one policy. Marijuana, two parties, one policy. Lot -- there's a lot of that in this country.
ZAKARIA: But it'd be fair to say that, I mean, your -- your views represent -- wouldn't you say when you want to legalize marijuana, you want -- you're -- you are to the left of the American public.
MAHER: I don't -- again, I don't know about that. I mean, the last poll I saw, 44 percent of the American public wanted to legalize marijuana. Now, that's without anybody in one of the major parties backing that. We had Prop 19 out in California which was on the ballot and it was polling above 50 percent, but no Democrat in the state would get behind that.
I mean, it's really not that controversial an issue to -- to legalize marijuana if you look at the facts. And yet, if it was polling at 44 percent with no Democrat, nobody in either major party getting behind it, don't you think it could be over 50 percent if somebody said, yes, this is the right thing to do? So I think the American public is a lot more left leaning than people think.
ZAKARIA: You know that one of the charges against Obama is he's trying to make America look more like Europe.
MAHER: I hope so.
ZAKARIA: But I think you would say -- you would say good.
MAHER: Of course. Yes. Europe does a lot of -- I mean, we don't want to look like the Greek economy or the Irish economy at this point, but let's be honest. One reason that those two economies are in such bad shape is the banks in America. Not that they didn't, you know, get into it themselves.
But in many ways, I think we would be a much better country if we acted a little more like Europe. We would have, you know, gay marriage, we would be able to, yes, have marijuana. We arrest something like 750,000 people for marijuana. They don't do that in Europe. Healthcare for people, you know, this idea -
ZAKARIA: But the argument is that they're sclerotic, they -- they don't grow as much, we have a dynamic economy.
MAHER: Do we? We have a dynamic economy.
ZAKARIA: Not -- not maybe right this moment.
ZAKARIA: But the argument -- Silicon Valley, you know, there's entrepreneurship.
ZAKARIA: There's so much more dynamic place.
MAHER: Oh, there are great things about this country. You know, why can't we take the good from here and not the bad? Let's not take the sclerotic part. Let's take the, you know, the part of -
ZAKARIA: Let's take the (INAUDIBLE).
MAHER: But, you know, there is one major -- oh, yes -- there is one major party in this country, the Republicans, who will never listen to an idea that comes from another party. You know, their idea of American exceptionalism, that's all they care about.
If you -- if you look at Sarah Palin, what she says, all of them, Mitt Romney's book is called "No Apologies." Not that anybody asked for one. The case for American greatness I think is what it's called. And, you know, they live in this fantasy world where it's always 1945. America's always number one.
Marc Rubio, who's the new teabag senator from Florida, the new -- the new Bobby Jindal, I think, he made a speech, it was astounding. And this is not uncommon for a Republican to talk about this at the CPAC Convention. He said this is the only country in the world where an idea that started out as an idea on a cocktail napkin could wind up being traded on the stock exchange. No, other countries have napkins and stock exchanges. But you see, this is their room full of balls at Chuck E. Cheese. Their fantasy world they live in.
ZAKARIA: And if they actually look at the data and say, well, America is actually 20th on Internet in social world (ph) --
MAHER: In so many -- I mean, we're like 65th in infant mortality, 19th in literacy. You know, one of the big arguments during the health care debate that the Republicans put forward, one of their major talking points was why are we messing around with the greatest health care system in the world? I don't know. Maybe because the U.N. ranks it 37? You know, these people, they love the truth, they just hate facts.
ZAKARIA: When we come back, we will talk more about facts and we will talk about Republicans when we come back with Bill Maher.
ZAKARIA: And we are back with Bill Maher talking about American politics and lots more.
The Republicans, the Tea Party, is there anything about it, any pleasant surprises?
MAHER: For comedians, many pleasant -- they're one a week. I guess , you know, if you want to look at the silver lining, is that in the election we just had, they did not -- the American public did not elect any of the people we thought were the most extreme. Carl Paladino didn't win, Sharron Angle didn't win. Christine O'Donnell didn't win.
America I would never say is burden by being an intellectual country, but they did draw a line in the sand somewhere. They said, you know, some stupidity is just a bridge too far even for us. So that -- that's the good news. The bad news, of course, is that the teabaggers are ascendant. We see that they are already making rank and file Republicans change the way they view things like on earmarks and so forth. I think they're always going to have to answer to the Tea Party because they -- they worry about a Tea Party rebellion against them.
But, you know, what I think makes the teabaggers such a non- credible organization is that they pretend to be all about the deficit and taxes, you know. They're named after a tax revolt after all. And, first of all, almost none of them understand that their taxes have gone down under Obama. So they're named after a tax revolt, but they don't know anything about taxes. That's one thing.
The other thing is, if they're so concerned about the deficit, where were they when the deficit was going up mostly under Bush? I mean, again, these are those inconvenient things called facts. But most of the deficit was the Bush tax cuts for the rich which were urgently not needed and, of course -
ZAKARIA: Prescription drugs for the elderly.
MAHER: -- prescription drugs for the elderly, the two words that we put on the credit card. That's where the money went. Dick Cheney said during the Bush terms deficits don't matter and they seemed to go along. But suddenly when President Nosferatu takes office, deficits matter very much.
ZAKARIA: How much do you think the Tea Party is about, you know, taxes and libertarianism and how much is it about religion? I ask this because, a, I know how much you love the -- the issue of religion.
MAHER: I do.
ZAKARIA: But when you watched Glenn Beck's rally, what's fascinating is it was mostly about religion.
MAHER: I think he's doing what some people before him have done like L. Ron Hubbard, who's a novelist and decided, you know what, it's a much easier gig to be a religious leader.
ZAKARIA: And tax exempt.
MAHER: And tax -- tax exempt. And you already have people -- I mean, there's a reason they call them the flock, because they're sheep and they'll believe anything. So I think Glenn Beck is seguing (ph) from what he was mostly a political preacher, to a preacher preacher. It is an easier gig and you make more money, you know, Jim Baker kind of money. And so, yes, I think that could be something.
But, you know, the Tea Party -- I'm not the first one to notice this, is really an amalgam of a whole bunch of different types of people and it's some old school John Bircher types, it is some racists, it is actually people who care about the deficit and the debt as I do, as you do, we all do. And I think there is an element -- there was an article in the "New York Times" about a month ago that said an article of faith of all the teabaggers is to believe that global warming is a hoax. And you mentioned religion. I saw one of the guys quoted in the article, a teabagger guy said I've read my Bible. God put the earth here for us to utilize it.
And, you know, we can laugh that off exempt that the guy who's going to be taking over the energy commission, Shimkus, you know this guy. He's Republican John Shimkus. He's a real winner. He says that we don't have to worry about global warming, because in the Bible, God promised Noah after the flood, you know, Noah, the 500-year-old man who got two of every animal on the ship and got them to -- OK. He promised Noah after the flood, he wouldn't wipe out the world again, so why are we worrying about global warming.
I mean, what -- you're a man of the world. What does the rest of the world think of this country? It is embarrassing that we have these yokels who are in charge. They must be laughing at us in almost every world capital when they hear something like that.
ZAKARIA: Bill Maher, always a pleasure.
MAHER: Good to see you.
ZAKARIA: We will be right back.