Over at Reason, in observing that people tend to find political humor funnier when they agree with its political slant, Jacob Sullum summarizes Maher’s position as, “There’s No Double Standard, Because I’m Funny, and Rush Isn’t.”
MAHER: I’m a comedian – not just a guy who says he is, like Rush, but someone who – well, you saw me do stand-up last year in D.C. There’s a big difference between just saying you’re a comedian and going out and getting thousands of people to laugh hard for 90 minutes. And the one I’m compared to most is Carlin, who also had these kind of problems. Edgy is my brand – everyone wants that, but they say, “but never go over the line.” It’s like telling Tom Brady, ‘Throw into coverage 40 times a game every game but never throw an interception.’”
TAPPER: How do you know when you’ve gone too far?
MAHER: I let the audience be the guide. The bit I did about Palin using the word c—, one of the biggest laughs in my act, I did it all over the country, not one person ever registered disapproval, and believe me, audiences are not afraid to let you know. Because it was a routine where that word came in at just the right moment. Context is very important, and it’s also important to remember that stand-up comedy is the final frontier of free speech. Still, I stopped doing that routine, but I would like someone to replace that word if it’s so awful with another one that has the same meaning for a person – not just women, it’s a word you can and lots do (all the British, for example) use for both sexes. It has a very specific meaning.
In other words, on the very safe assumption that Maher’s audiences are mainly “progressive,” he’s basically confirming here all of Kirsten Powers’s worst suspicions about how seriously her own side takes this subject. In fact, the most revealing part of the interview comes in the follow-up question when Tapper presses him on the similarities between what he said and what Limbaugh said and Maher distinguishes them by saying, “[H]e went after a civilian about very specific behavior, that was a lie, speaking for a party that has systematically gone after women’s rights all year, on the public airwaves” (my italics). That’s the crux of this, as I’ve noted before — that if you back the left’s social agenda, especially on abortion, you’re pro-woman no matter where your rhetoric carries you. That’s Kirsten’s ultimate disconnect from the Democratic establishment. She’s a bona fide feminist so she thinks the rhetoric matters too; party apparatchiks like Bill Burton, who worry first and foremost about winning elections, think it matters only if it’s coming from the right. Ah, partisanship.