In his show-ending monologue several weeks ago, Real Time host Bill Maher, who performs at TPAC's Jackson Hall Sunday night, took aim at open-carry fanatics and their extreme, oddly erotic attraction to their guns. In particular, his use of the term "ammosexuals" really ruffled some feathers. So in anticipation of Maher's show smack-dab in the bull's-eye of gun country, the Scene chatted by phone with the outspoken political commentator and satirist about the nuances of ammosexuality. Also on the agenda: Eric Cantor, Bo Bergdahl, immigration, religion and more.
Last time I interviewed you we talked about the gun nuts of Tennessee. I'm not going to rehash all that, but what do you think about all of the mass shootings this year?
Guns was the subject of our show-ending monologue [on June 6] and it got more reaction on the Internet than anything we've done in quite a few years. So obviously guns is a subject that hits home. The basic theme of it was that it's not just that guns are so legal in America — the problem is that they're so popular, that people love them so much, they think they're awesome. This, to me, is the big problem. I don't think any other country has this. Even other countries that have guns, I don't think they love them the way we do. And we showed pictures of guys with their guns, and kissing their guns, and taking pictures of them. And we called them ammosexuals. This really pissed them off.
Did you see Joe the Plumber's comment after the Santa Barbara shootings?
Yeah, lovely. There's this idea in America that guns are just a great way to solve problems. There's a picture in the paper this week of a sign someone hung up in Wayne, N.J., and they didn't like it that some people speed through the neighborhood. And the sign said, "If you hit one of the kids because you're speeding, you won't need a lawyer" — with a picture of a gun next to it. So that's where we are. If you do something I don't like, I shoot you.
Do you feel Obama dropped the ball on gun control, or was it impossible?
They did try. There was a bill called the Manchin-Toomey Bill, which was as watered down as it could possibly be. Some of it was actually really pro-NRA. And that didn't pass. This is again my point about how a small minority rules. Most of the people in this country want some form of gun control, and yet it's a nonstarter in Congress, because of this rabid minority that has us by a stranglehold.
What do you make of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor losing the primary to David Brat?
The Republicans are always trying to limit voting, and if we let more people vote, it would be much more of a representative democracy. I think only 5 percent of the people voted [in that election]. People should be able to vote online, or on the weekends. Australia has mandatory voting. We seem to be moving more and more to this place in America where it is the most rabid, focused minority that rules. We see them trying to do this in general elections, and now they're doing it in their own intra-party elections. It's not really a good way to run a democracy. The problem is, the moderate people are never the ones who are the most motivated. You never see someone with a sign, "What do we want? Gradual change! When do we want it? At a reasonable timetable!"
Do you think there was any attempt to suppress vote in the Cantor/Brat primary?
I think by not making voting easy, that is an attempt to suppress voting. There is no reason why, in an age when we do our banking online and our shopping online, we can't do our voting online. And when I say online, you can do it from a phone. Yes, poor people sometimes don't have a computer. They almost always have a cellphone. And a cellphone is a computer. There is no reason why it has to be steeplechase, an obstacle course. Lots of people probably didn't even know there was an election, because it was a primary for an off-year election and so forth. And we all know that the election we're going to have in November is going to be skewed toward older white people. It's not going to be like a general election. A general election, that's when everybody comes out. The minorities come out, and more women, and more young people. That's like a Pharrell video. (laughs.)
But the midterm election is like that chair that goes up the stairs. It's just the older white people, and they're not representative of the country anymore.
One thing that interests me is how Cantor outspent Brat 26 to 1, and he had internal polling saying he was up 62 to 28 percent. I mean, poor turnout has a lot to do with it. But is there something going on in the Republican party where they are just really clueless?
We found that out in 2012, remember? They thought Mitt Romney was going to win. Peggy Noonan, who was seen as one of their intellects, wrote a few days before the election that she was quite sure Mitt Romney was going to win, because, she said, "I see more lawn signs for him. And the vibes are just right."
Vibes? Nate Silver has a thing called a computer. They're not going by vibes and lawn signs on the Democratic side. And [Silver] did pinpoint it, like, down to the decimal point. Remember Karl Rove on election night? They were all shocked.
It shouldn't be surprising that only 6 percent of scientists are Republicans. They're not a party that believes in science. And it's going to kick them in the ass.
Do you think this is ultimately good for the Democrats? Does it make the Republican party shakier? Is Brat likely to win in November?
He may win that district. But the real beneficiary of this is Hillary Clinton. What this election says — because it was so much about immigration — is that there is not a Republican in Congress who will now touch the immigration issue. So in 2016, they will be known as the party that blocked immigration reform, and is crazy about shooting people who come over the border, which will make it ever more easy for Hillary to win the Latino vote, which as we all know is becoming the deciding factor in states like Texas and California. California is already liberal. But Florida too. I think Hillary thinks this is fantastic.
Very bad for Jeb Bush, who came out for compassion for immigrants, which as Rick Perry learned in 2012, is not where the base of the Republican Party is. And it's just a tragedy, really, for the party itself, because they're focused on an issue that obviously isn't even an issue. Net immigration is zero, or close to it, and the immigrants who are here are or course doing jobs Americans don't want to do. They're a vital part of the economy, and they do it efficiently and quietly. They're not more likely to be criminals. They're paying into the system. They're not getting as much out. It's a bargain. We should be thanking them.
What about the Bo Bergdahl situation? One thing that fascinated me about the whole thing is the obsession with his beard. And what do you think about beards in general, and people's reactions to them?
I think they go in and out of style. They were pretty popular back when Abe Lincoln was president. We have a beard on the $5 bill and on the penny! Somehow it was OK with them. A beard is just hair on the face. It does not mean something more. I know lots of people have shown the picture of the Duck Dynasty guy. He has a beard. He's a great American. Bo Bergdahl's father is not, because of course, Obama got his son out. That's why he's a traitor. And [Bo Bergdahl] may be a deserter. We don't know. We'll find all that out.
But what's plain to me is that if Obama had done the exact opposite, the right wing would be even more incensed about what he did. "How dare you leave someone on the field! That is the most basic idea of American military is that we never leave a soldier behind." We coined a phrase years ago — "blacktracking," changing your mind because Obama now agrees with you. And that's what they constantly do. The minute Obama agrees with anything they believe, they have to go back and do the opposite, because it has cooties.
I was just watching your recent discussion with Ralph Reed.
Love him. He's such a sweet guy. We talked for a long time after the show.
The one thing that he said that struck me was that whole concept of religion providing a moral compass. That's something I don't get, because don't people innately have a moral compass?
They've actually done studies about this. People who are ethicists, who are people pretty much without religion, turn out to be more ethical, because first of all, they have to be. They don't have a savior. They have to take personal responsibility. There's nobody dying for their sins. And they have to make it happen here on earth. And if you talk to any serious Christian, they will tell you, the most important part of the religion is not good works. An ethicist would say it's all about good works. The most important part of the religion is faith. You can be a bad person, but if in the final moments of your life, you say you absolutely, sincerely believe in Jesus Christ, then you're good to go. I think this is a terrible message. I mean, I was raised Catholic. I didn't think it was a good idea that you get to go to confession on Sunday, and whatever you did the week before, you can wipe away by telling your secrets to a man in a little box.
For people who are the dominant, by far, religion in this country — 80 percent or more — it's amazing the way they always feel persecuted. They're always under attack. They feel like gay people are persecuting them. "What about my right to take away their rights? Hating on gays is very important to my faith! We have to believe in a system where we divide people based on which hole they put their penis in."
It is amazing the way they have that all turned around.
It seems that the way Reed describes his faith, it's a religion for self-hating humans. He talks about how humankind is fallen and sinful.
I think you're absolutely right about that, and I think a lot of that comes from St. Paul. St. Paul is, of course, the main philosopher of Christianity. And — I'm not the first one to say this — if you read his books, it does sound like a self-loathing gay man. He does not like women — a lot. And I just feel like he was gay, and he was trying to suppress it. And that, I think, is where a lot of it comes from. And also, the martyr complex. I mean, they were martyrs for the first two centuries. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. So they still have that in them. They like that feeling of being the oppressed, even though they've become the establishment.
Things seem to be going swimmingly well in Iraq right now.
It is amazing that George W. Bush, even years after he's been in office, still has a way to screw things up. When you think about what's going on there, the Sunnis, whom we deposed, of course — Saddam Hussein was a Sunni, but he was a Sunni secularist, that was the Baathist Sunnis. Now after all the death and all the destruction, it looks the Sunnis are retaking power, but it's not the secular Sunnis, it's the religious-nut Sunnis who are taking power.
So you've been taking a bit of heat lately for your comments about Islam.
That issue reminds me a lot of global warming in this way. If you read the paper every day, which obviously most people don't, there's something in it almost every day that would scare the shit out of you about global warming. And yet, that's way off the radar for most people in America, as far as an important issue.
And it's the same thing with Islamic militancy. I was reading in The New York Times this article about Obama's new strategy, which is pulling out of Afghanistan because we need to fight Islamic militants in other places in the world. There are thousands — not dozens, not hundreds, thousands — of militant groups like Boko Haram, the one that kidnapped the girls in Nigeria, and like the group that attacked the embassy in Libya. Now, if there were thousands of, say, Mormon militant groups, wouldn't it be a bigger story?
This obviously is a problem, and it's just ridiculous that people think I am some sort of anti-Islam bigot because I am more worried about this religion, than I am, say, about Scientology or Hinduism.