bill maher identifies new political species: the “non-apoplectic obama hack”

Es­ti­mated reading time is 5 min­utes.

THERE WAS A STUDY DONE that found out on­line con­ver­sa­tions that were in­ter­cepted and stored by the NSA—nine out of ten were not from for­eigners. They are from or­di­nary cit­i­zens, and I want to read this: ‘Many files . . . de­scribed as use­less by the an­a­lysts had a star­tlingly in­ti­mate, even voyeuristic quality. Sto­ries of love and heart­break, il­licit sexual li­aisons, mental health crises, and dis­ap­pointed hopes.’ 

This is ex­actly what they said they weren’t going to do. Just, you know, be nosy and look into the lives of pri­vate people for their own shits and gig­gles. And I just want to say, if this was hap­pening under Bush, lib­erals would be apoplectic. I’m sorry, but lib­erals are just some­times use­less Obama hacks without a shred of in­tel­lec­tual honesty.”

From “Bill Maher Blasts ‘Use­less Obama Hacks’ Who Refuse To Crit­i­cize NSA Sur­veilance” on the Huff­in­gton Post site (July 13, 2014). The study that he is citing was done by The Wash­ington Post about the data from the ‘Snowden files’ (“In NSA-intercepted data, those not tar­geted far out­number the for­eigners who are”).

The quotes that follow below are from the Com­ments sec­tion of the Huff­Post page above. They echo my own re­sponse to Maher’s state­ment and vir­tu­ally every other person I know who voted for Obama. (Note that I have edited/corrected the grammar/punctuation where nec­es­sary, not to alter the writer’s meaning but be­cause many of them are written on spur-of-the-moment and er­rors were left un­cor­rected when the writer presses the SEND COMMENT button.)

“I say this as a staunch lib­eral: I do not ap­prove of the NSA and what they are doing as far as spying on everyone. I do feel they have a le­git­i­mate job to do. There are people in the world that want to hurt this country and it’s cit­i­zens.” – Jef­frey Howard

“I’m a lib­eral and I don’t have a single lib­eral friend who isn’t out­raged by Oba­ma’s sup­port for and ex­pan­sion of the NSA. The idea that lib­erals sup­port every­thing Obama says and does is non­sense from Fox News.” – Xtfr Em

“This is one of the is­sues over which the Left dis­likes Obama. They call him a Mod­erate Re­pub­lican for a reason.” – Kevin Bain

“It’s awful when the oth­er­wise sharp Bill Maher makes an ab­surd com­ment in one of those manda­tory, even-steven jabs to the left. I don’t know of a single lib­eral who em­braces Obama no matter what, and cer­tainly not a single lib­eral who sup­ports NSA spying on Amer­i­cans.” – Mike Tucker

Attacking a straw man time

Please reread Bill Maher’s state­ment above: he is NOT dis­cussing state­ments that were made by anyone! He is, in fact, dis­cussing the lack of state­ments from “lib­erals” who he be­lieves should be be­rating Obama for the con­tin­uing NSA sur­veil­lance of Amer­ican cit­i­zens. Also in fact, he of­fers no ev­i­dence to sup­port his ar­gu­ment be­cause his ar­gu­ment is based on a pre­sumed lack of ev­i­dence! It is a vari­a­tion of the time-dishonored straw man ar­gu­ment.

“A straw man ar­gu­ment (also known as an Aunt Sally in the UK) is an in­formal fal­lacy based on the mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of an op­po­nent’s ar­gu­ment. To be suc­cessful, a straw man ar­gu­ment re­quires that the au­di­ence be ig­no­rant or un­in­formed of the orig­inal argument.

At­tacking a straw man im­plies an ad­ver­sarial, polemic, or com­bative de­bate, and cre­ates the il­lu­sion of having com­pletely re­futed or de­feated an op­po­nent’s propo­si­tion by covertly re­placing it with a dif­ferent propo­si­tion and then to re­fute or de­feat that false ar­gu­ment in­stead of the orig­inal proposition.

This tech­nique has been used throughout his­tory in polem­ical de­bate, par­tic­u­larly in ar­gu­ments about highly charged emo­tional is­sues where a fiery, en­ter­taining ‘battle’ and the de­feat of an ‘enemy’ may be more valued than crit­ical thinking or un­der­standing both sides of the issue.” (Wikipedia)

That is, be­cause Maher is dis­cussing what al­legedly is NOT being said, there is no source to which he can point to but­tress his ar­gu­ment. All that those who think he was over­broad in his pro­nounce­ment have to do is to find a few sources where crit­i­cism of Obama by lib­erals do exist.

And they abound!

They are every­where, es­pe­cially in the con­ver­sa­tions that we hear every day from those around us. Normal Joes who vote and read and have con­ver­sa­tions about politics.

There­fore, he is equating si­lence (no state­ments of de­ri­sion) with ac­tual state­ments of non-derision (and pre­sum­ably there­fore of sup­port) that no one made. He then at­trib­utes these non-statements, this si­lence, to no rec­og­niz­able entity—the term “Obama hacks” de­scribes no one in par­tic­ular, whether or not such people exist. (Which we can as­sume they do, but I prefer to as­sume as little as possible . . .)

Rhetorical question time

How did Bill ar­rive at this con­clu­sion? Did he mon­itor every web­site and blog, news­paper and mag­a­zine column, and radio and tele­vi­sion show to de­ter­mine that “lib­erals” were not, in fact, quite “apoplectic” about the NSA surveillance?

A good mon­itor of lib­eral and pro­gres­sive at­ti­tude and opinion did exist for a few years: it was called pro­gres­sive talk radio. Brought to na­tional at­ten­tion by the launching of Air America in 2004, it al­lowed such hosts as Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz (both of whom went onto tele­vi­sion) along with Thom Hartman, Randi Rhodes, NorMan GoldMan, Ron Reagan, Al Franken, Mike Malloy, Mike Pap­pan­tonio, Stephanie Miller, etc., to re­flect the views of ap­prox­i­mately 50% of the elec­torate on a na­tional podium.

Ex­cept the DLM (damn lib­eral media) re­moved most of these out­lets from AM sta­tions around the country. And that in­cludes lib­eral mar­kets (Seattle and Port­land come to mind) and mar­kets where the shows were rated at the top of their time slot.

Fi­nally, to end this piece, I will quote an­other mes­sage from the Huff­in­gton Post Com­ments section:

“The problem with the right’s over-the-top, hy­per­bolic re­ac­tion to every single teeny tiny [thing] Obama does [is] that it un­bal­ances all objectivity—so when he does do some­thing le­git­i­mately worth crit­i­cizing, it’s hard to [sep­a­rate] the wheat from the chaff.” – Wen­delyn Wood Anderson

PS: Yeah yeah yeah I ti­tled this “bill maher iden­ti­fies new po­lit­ical species: the non-apoplectic obama hack” but I am a fan and al­most al­ways enjoy his shows and rec­om­mend his sorta doc­u­men­tary movie Re­ligu­lous . . .


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B) I’ll defer to Hedges on this point. It’s worth a read if you can be open to it. For many boomers ’the six­ties’ is a scared cow about which they’re not ca­pable of hearing crit­i­cism. What a downer it must be to look back over 40 years thinking one’s life peaked in one’s 20s...

C) I re­call hearing Al Sharpton say he didn’t mind Obama having ‘these’ powers - pre­sum­ably extra ju­di­cial as­sas­si­na­tion and NSA spying. Hard to imagine him saying that during a Bush or Romney ad­min­is­tra­tion. This is my point (and I sus­pect Ma­her’s): During the Bush years it was no trouble finding crit­i­cism of his ad­min­is­tra­tion and poli­cies on the web, in print, and on tv - from what are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered ‘left wing’ sources. Dai­lykos, Salon, msnbc... Take your pick. Now I have to go dig­ging to find the (al­most al­ways qual­i­fied) crit­i­cism. The right wing crit­i­cism you cite is in­sane non­sense, and to­tally ex­pected from sociopaths. 

Maher scripted? I don’t know. As­suming all tele­vi­sion isn’t mostly fake... I watched the en­tire seg­ment and it wasn’t during a mono­logue. I wouldn’t doubt it’s in his notes along with the talking point about that news item. I don’t doubt he had that kind of sweeping gen­er­al­ized thought. But he said it in the course of a rant. I found it more ac­cu­rate as a claim than trou­ble­some as a gen­er­al­iza­tion. But then I have no al­le­giance to a party and think there are no true lib­erals anyway. What I do find trou­ble­some is the clear cut dif­fer­ence in prin­ciple when it’s ‘their guy’ from what­ever it is that gets the ‘lib­eral’ im­pri­matur these days. Their prin­ci­ples are cir­cum­stan­tial. But then many boomers found their ‘six­ties’ values were up for sale at a price too, when the time came. Kudos if nei­ther were true of you...

A) Hasty Gen­er­al­iza­tion refers to the in­formal fal­lacy most ap­pro­priate to Ma­her’s state­ment, scripted or oth­er­wise, as op­posed to the Straw Man fal­lacy you as­cribed to it.

It’s up to you if you want to vote for the lesser of two evils. Don’t ex­pect me to.

B) To be clear, I don’t be­lieve there is a true lib­eral left in the de­mo­crat party. I don’t count pro-choice, pro gay mar­riage, mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion, and other such di­ver­sions of iden­tity pol­i­tics. Pri­marily I’m con­cerned with is­sues of eco­nomic jus­tice (from whence most others flow), work­er’s struggle, anti-war, checks on cor­po­rate power. The so-called (fash­ion­able) lib­er­alism of the 60’s was largely self-indulgent nar­cis­sism com­pared to the 30’s and ear­lier. Hedges’ ‘Death of the Lib­eral Class’ il­lus­trates the con­trast most effectively.

C) At the outset, you could have just said, “Maher does not speak for me or the people I know”. This whole de­bate might have been dif­ferent. Mean­while, where is anyone in the press or con­gress crit­i­cizing Oba­ma’s drone policy, war­rant­less wire­taps, ‘surge’ in Afghanistan, etc. There is a lot of si­lence from what oth­er­wise were very noisy quar­ters during the Bush years... It’s not hard to imagine Snowden being hailed as a hero had he come out on Bush’s watch.

D) Your not-entirely in­cor­rect at­tack on Ma­her’s failure to qualify his pro­nounce­ment smacks of de­fen­sive­ness and apolo­getics for the de­moc­rats, and nit-picking rather than dealing with the sub­stan­tive issue he raises. Yes I know that’s my opinion...

Even after scrutiny by your rigid stan­dards, I stand by my orig­inal opening state­ment. I gave two ex­am­ples sup­porting that state­ment in the same para­graph. If you’ve for­gotten that a para­graph in­cludes a topic and sup­porting sen­tences, not my problem.

You’re right -- you didn’t cite names, you used “TV shows”. And which TV shows were those? Schultz and Sharpton. I promise to try harder to make the con­nec­tions that you keep missing easier.

But all of this is re­ally just about quib­bling, right? You can’t crit­i­cize any­thing sub­stan­tively so you go after the terms themselves.

For someone who men­tioned Randi Rhodes, I’m stunned that you didn’t know she fa­mously hung up on Ralph Nader after the 2000 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, after blaming him for the loss. Real classy broad. I’m sur­prised she didn’t ac­cused him of get­ting his facts from Fox News. Well, maybe if she hadn’t hung up...

I made ref­er­ence to your Bush Vs. Obama post in “#6” It’s laugh­ably typ­ical. The debt under Bush nearly dou­bled. And under Obama it has nearly dou­bled again. But that’s okay. I mean, lib­erals have to have their “China owns America...” to keep up with Re­pub­li­cans. Now that’s what I like to call “fair & balanced”!

The Amer­ican po­lit­ical system de­mands mas­sive amounts of money. Both par­ties are con­stantly whoring them­selves out for more. Or pimping sur­ro­gates. Hell, the pres­i­dent will have Michelle out on the trail on all fours if it means holding the senate. The both neg­a­tively cam­paign. It’s not about prin­ciple. It’s about win­ning. Don’t be­lieve me? Go watch Chris Matthews’ re­ac­tion to the drub­bing Obama took in his first de­bate with Romney two years ago. So yeah, no real dif­fer­ence in ap­proach. The GOP has their “war on Christmas.” The De­moc­rats have their “war on women.” The GOP has the Tea Party, and the De­moc­rats have Randi Rhodes. Equally worth­less propositions.

We agree on the wars in the middle/far east. And do­mestic spying.

But I’m sure you’ll find some­thing to quibble about with that, too.

I’m glad that in your re­sponse to Mr. Fis­cher you ac­knowl­edge being a victim.

That sums all this up nicely.

About the most you can crit­i­cize Maher for is maybe Hasty Gen­er­al­iza­tion, for not qual­i­fying his re­marks as ‘some’ lib­erals, etc… Given that he’s ranting on TV not de­fending his doc­toral thesis I’m not in­ter­ested in holding him to MLA guide­lines. If you want to, that’s your business.

I per­son­ally know sev­eral ‘lib­erals’ (De­moc­rats would be a better label) who STILL blame Nader for the last 14 years. So you know none, I know many. When it comes to si­lence from what should be ‘apoplectic lib­erals’ I hear and read even more - or better yet how Obama didn’t have a ‘choice’, the right ‘made’ him do it, etc., in short, that he (and pre­sum­ably the left) are the ‘vic­tims’. Fur­ther­more, Green­wald and others have doc­u­mented, going back years, wide­spread liberal/democratic sup­port for Obama poli­cies from drones, Guatanamo, whistle­blower per­se­cu­tion, and so on. You can look it up when you’re done being pow­er­less. Of course you can con­tinue to stand around, arms folded, being ‘out­raged’ but I bet when 2016 rolls around you’re all voting FOR a con­tin­u­a­tion of same with HRC. Then you can be vic­tims again for an­other 4 or 8 years!

1. Frankly, I don’t get it. You first as­sert that I used “no names, just ‘lib­eral com­men­ta­tors…’ ” and then later YOU cite the names I ac­tu­ally DID men­tion -- Shultz and Sharpton. So which is it going to be? Did I use names or not? (yes, we both know the answer)

2. My state­ment vis-a-vis Sharpton and Shultz rarely (sorry, I’ll use the exact phrase­ology since that seems to be im­por­tant -- “al­most never”) men­tioning the pres­i­dent’s name un­less it’s to heap praise is not opinion. To use the same non­sen­si­cally twisted wisdom on which you orig­i­nally chal­lenged Maher: have you seen EVERY episode of Ed Schultz’s pro­gram that I’ve seen?

I hope having just written that makes you re­alize how dumb that sort of re­sponse is: about as dumb as someone stating that I get my facts from Fox News.

3. No doubt some of the state­ments I made were gen­er­al­i­ties, using ab­solute terms like “none” or “no” or “every.” You can be crit­ical of my state­ments se­man­ti­cally, fair enough. Just don’t do so and ex­pect me to take ref­er­ences to myth­ical places seriously.

4. You’re right, I’m not like any in­de­pen­dent you’ve known. Be­cause I’m not an in­de­pen­dent. That I don’t squarely fit into a box con­tinues to be a source of frus­tra­tion for people. How’s this: don’t try. 

5. You could have avoided the en­tire issue of some­body taking ex­cep­tion with what you said by just ac­knowl­edging that Bill Maher doesn’t know how YOU or the “lib­erals” you know feel.

6. With re­gard to my “righty” talking point, thank you for not trying to re­fute it. Or should I just say, “It’s ab­surd? Wow! Great point!” ? It’s not re­ally sur­prising that someone who would take issue with fig­u­ra­tive terms would have a sim­ilar dif­fi­culty un­der­standing the dif­fer­ence be­tween policy and approach(which, in­ci­den­tally, makes your little sub­se­quent ex­ample of the dif­fer­ence in the last two pres­i­dents ir­rel­e­vant, though highly amusing). I’m some­what sur­prised you would think the major po­lit­ical par­ties somehow op­erate under dif­ferent rules. Jesus Christ, even the pres­i­dent said early in his ad­min­is­tra­tion that he doesn’t pay at­ten­tion to the talking heads be­cause everyone (there’s that term again!) seems to have some niche they’re trying to fill. (no wor­ries, you can write him a letter)

7. Mean­while, Han­ni­ty’s on later…I’m so ex­cited. Maybe they’ll be a little nugget on Beng­hazi. You can’t tell me Lois Lerner wasn’t there!

Hey, just doing my best to fit into the box…

8. The rub of all this for me is this: from what I’ve read, I’d prob­ably agree with you on 95% of policy is­sues (you know, we “righties” have stick to­gether), and yet be­cause of the ap­proach, I wouldn’t ever want to be called a “lib­eral.” So I wonder: which of us is better off?

Obama is al­most never men­tioned by name by “lib­eral” com­men­ta­tors crit­i­cally, like he is somehow be­yond and fun­da­men­tally de­tached from NSA’s ac­tiv­i­ties, so Ma­her’s point is a fair one. Al Sharpton is known for saying “I don’t mind Obama with this power…but if it gets into the wrong hands…” in re­sponse to a va­riety of is­sues. Ed Shultz is no dif­ferent. Oba­ma’s name is con­spic­u­ously ab­sent un­less the sub­ject is praiseworthy.

“Lib­erals” may have fun­da­mental dif­fer­ences with “con­ser­v­a­tives” po­lit­i­cally, but not when it comes to tac­tics. Both are guilty of picking and choosing facts -- when they em­ploy facts at all. And both are guilty of utter non­sense: for the GOP, it’s a love af­fair for “free market” eco­nomics -- until they are the re­cip­i­ents of gov­ern­mental sub­sidy. For the De­moc­rats, it’s the fairy tale that Ralph Nader cost them the 2000 elec­tion, rather than the lack­luster cam­paign of the odds-on fa­vorite, who couldn’t manage a plu­rality of votes in his na­tive state.

You were wise not to ad­dress any of the di­rect points I made, but rather cir­cum­vent them with the “…but the people I know…” and “stop watching Fox” approach.

I’m not ex­actly sure what Bizarro World is, but I gave you real ex­am­ples from hosts of two MSNBC pro­grams. I never said “lib­erals” don’t crit­i­cize the pres­i­dent; I said that he’s rarely men­tioned by name by the afore­men­tioned hosts, un­less it’s to heap praise. 

Isn’t it cu­rious that anyone who dis­agrees with a “lib­eral” these days is treated more or less like those who dis­agree with con­ser­v­a­tives. Your pre­sump­tion that I watch Fox or listen to AM talk radio don’t isn’t just mis­guided, it’s ar­ro­gant. It’s ar­ro­gant in the same ways that people ac­cuse me of being a “lib­eral” when I crit­i­cize Geo. W. Bush, and a “con­ser­v­a­tive” when I crit­i­cize Obama. I guess not being af­fil­i­ated with no party is worse than being af­fil­i­ated with the wrong party.

The point is that there’s little dif­fer­ence in ap­proach be­tween the par­ties -- you’ve demon­strated it here. When Oba­ma’s got trou­bles, it’s al­ways “…but Bush started that…” or “…it’s the GOP House…” and very little (ex­cept, ap­par­ently from the people you per­son­ally know, who form a group who somehow never get their com­ments into widely cir­cu­lated media cir­cles) di­rect crit­i­cism. Not to be out­done, of course, the likes of Karl Rove and Reince Prebius(sp?) are quick to point out -- when they are the re­cip­i­ents of GOP crit­i­cism -- the tired line: “…but Obama…”

Yes, the right has its fan­tasy of a “lib­eral media” (my God, would a Fox News watcher say that???), but the left has it’s fan­tasy to: that this pres­i­dent is so much dif­ferent that his pre­de­cessor. (Re­futed, cor­rectly by your ex­am­ples of the ex­pan­sion of the so-called “war on terror”, NSA spying on US cit­i­zens, etc.) Yeah, I know…more “gems” from a Fox News watcher.

Maher is right. The left in their head-in-the-sand em­brace of Obama is wrong.

In­ter­esting that you don’t know anyone who thinks 2000 was Nader’s fault. I com­ment reg­u­larly on NPR, and they think the guy’s Satan.

And in­ci­den­tally, as much as I dis­liked the out­come (yeah, more Fox News- speak), the “rightwingnut” vote on the court was 7-2 when the Equal Pro­tec­tion Clause ques­tion was adjudicated.