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Note to Bill Maher: It’s OK to Cry

By Brian | September 19, 2006 | Share on Facebook

I finally got around to watching Bill Maher’s Real Time from last Friday night. The show is always provocative and funny, but this week’s offering had a couple of things worth commenting on.

First there was Gloria Steinem who, at one point, said this:

This world is divided into two kinds of people: those who divide people into two kinds of people, and those who do not.

I honestly don’t remember what she was talking about, but I think that’s just a fantastic line, so I felt the need to write it down.

Then there was Maher’s mid-show comedy bit. He usually stops his panel discussion for a Jay Leno-like comedy bit (fake products, phony headlines, etc.), before finishing off the discussion and moving on to the hilarious “New Rules.” This week, the bit was about Bush’s “seven minutes in the classroom,” a topic that Maher has relentlessly pounded for five years now. Apparently, the children who were in the Florida classroom with the President on 9/11/01 (now ages 12-15) were interviewed about their experiences that day. Maher quoted one of them as saying, “His face just started to turn red. I thought, personally, he had to go to the bathroom” and another as saying, “He looked like he was going to cry.” Then he mocked the President for crying and showed fake children’s drawings of the President peeing in his pants and planes flying into the World Trade Center.

I realize it’s a comedy show, and I’m not the kind of person who is easily offended, but this really bugged me. First of all, he conveniently left out some of the kids’ other quotes, like “You can’t judge a man on seven minutes. What he did is what he could do” and “I learned a lot. I learned anything can happen at any given moment.” Also, he glossed over the distinct change in tone from the original story to this one. Maher (and many others) have suggested repeatedly that Bush stayed in the school for seven minutes because he either didn’t comprehend the enormity of the attacks, or didn’t consider them important enough to disrupt his photo op. The kids’ version tells a very different story, though. I don’t think any of the released pictures from that day showed the emotional reaction that the children described seeing on the President’s face. This, coupled with the 9/11 Report’s description of why he sat there for seven minutes give us a pretty good sense of what was going through his mind at that fateful moment.

Finally, it just takes an unbelievable amount of chutzpah to mock the President of the United States for being moved to tears on September 11th. Given how much the rest of us cried that day, and given the fact that we weren’t responsible for the security of 300 million people at the time, I think we can spot the guy a few tears, no?

Topics: Political Rantings, Primetime TV | 10 Comments »

10 Responses to “Note to Bill Maher: It’s OK to Cry”

  1. jason says at September 20th, 2006 at 11:58 am :
    I’m no fan of President Bush and I could give you a whole laundry list of reasons why, starting with the completely subjective and admittedly irrational observation that I find his personality abrasive, but the one thing I can’t fault him on is how he behaved on 9/11. How the hell was he supposed to react, especially since no one really knew what was going on at that point in the day? Was he supposed to leap from his chair and run off to commandeer an F-16 so he could personally knock the remaining hijacked planes out of the air? Um, no, that’s what Harrison Ford would do in a movie, but we all live in the real world, and he reacted like a real-world human being: with shock, disbelief, fear of the unknown, and grief. It was one of the few times that I’ve ever seen Bush behave like the average guy that his Middle American supporters imagine him to be.

    Bill Maher often scores some valid points with his deliberate iconoclasm but I’m with you, Brian: he was out of line on this occasion.

  2. Jeff Porten says at September 22nd, 2006 at 5:17 pm :
    Brian, this is very simple. I didn’t see the classroom footage until long after the fact, but what I did see live was Bush’s press conference on the same day, and my gut reaction was, That man is terrified out of his gourd. This made an impression on me that was not erased when his handlers and speech writers proceeded to make him look “presidential” at the National Cathedral a few days later. It is entirely reinforced — but not created — by seeing footage of him paralyzed with fear the morning of.

    Is it entirely human to be terrified on 9/11? Absolutely. Am I justified in saying that I’d rather have our leaders during such times be a bit more courageous? I’ll leave that to you to decide.

  3. Jeff Porten says at September 24th, 2006 at 7:10 pm :
    Not really. Maher is doing it to be entertaining. That’s his job, and he’s pretty good at it.

    The last thing I’m talking about is presentation. What I’m talking about is character. I personally don’t want the president to jump into an F-16, and if you do, I recommend Independence Day and various Tom Clancy novels. I’d rather have my president wielding the power of the United States courageously and effectively.

    It’s pretty rare that we get a direct glimpse of an unhandled president, but in this case I think we got one, and he showed himself as much in control as a deer in the headlights. I don’t trust people who are acting out of fear and terror, individually or in the aggregate, and I think this has a lot to do with both Bush’s decision to devolve much of his power onto Dick Cheney, and in the overall GOP strategy to scare the hell out of the American people. It was a feeling they were comfortable with.

    Be that as it may — that last paragraph is debatable, but this one is not. When you looked to your president for leadership, you found it. When I did, I saw a shell of a man who was terrified by his sudden responsibility. I’m therefore not surprised by his actions since. We’re not going to find common ground on which of us is “right”, since we’re talking about perception.

  4. Brian says at September 25th, 2006 at 3:58 pm :
    I’d rather have my president wielding the power of the United States courageously and effectively.

    It’s pretty rare that we get a direct glimpse of an unhandled president, but in this case I think we got one, and he showed himself as much in control as a deer in the headlights.

    As you say, much of this is subjective. I’m fascinated, though, by the juxtaposition of the above two sentences.

    Why, if you wish the president to weild the full power of the United States courageously and effectively, do you highlight his behavior when he’s “unhandled” and discount his behavior when he’s working with the larger team of people who’s job it is to help him run the country?

    I would think his ability to lean on Cheney (and others) would be of some comfort in this regard, not viewed as a detriment.

  5. Jeff Porten says at September 29th, 2006 at 9:01 pm :
    We’re talking about two different things. “Handling” isn’t when Cheney helps run the country. It’s when an aide hands W a speech and says, “Go read this at the National Cathedral, after the diction coach walks you through it.” No question that by then he had been properly prepped to playact the role of fearless leader.

    I suppose, since you raise the point, that if I must have a president who wants to wet himself when the country is under attack, then sure, it is somehow reassuring that some of the people around him might have stronger character. I find it fascinating that we’re debating the logic of my seeing this as a flaw.

  6. Brian says at October 1st, 2006 at 10:24 pm :
    You’re making a set of assumptions that I don’t make (about every president – not just this one). Like the assumption that when someone writes a speech for him and the diction coach walks him through it, it means he doesn’t know/care/feel anything about what he’s saying. A good speechwriter puts the President’s thoughts & feelings into the most effective words. Just because it’s someone else’s words, doesn’t mean it’s not his message.

    You also make the assumption that Bush’s initial reaction of sadness/dismay/etc. defines his character, while his handling of things (with the help of his staff) doesn’t count.

    If anything, I’d say that “fearless leader” is a valid criticism of Bush’s policies, as opposed to something we wish he’d be.

  7. Jeff Porten says at October 5th, 2006 at 3:33 am :
    Sadness and dismay I can handle. It’s terror and cowardice that gets to me. If you don’t see it in him, or if you don’t mind it, then we don’t have common ground for argument.

    And BTW, “fearless leader” is a Bullwinkle reference, intended as satire.

  8. Brian says at October 6th, 2006 at 1:37 pm :
    I guess you’re right – no common ground.

    I’ve never heard Bush accused of terror/cowardice before. The overwhelming public criticism of him is more typically cowboy/overly agressive/reckless.

  9. Jeff Porten says at October 7th, 2006 at 8:58 pm :
    Sure — and why do most people act like overly aggressive cowboys? They do it to cover up being scared out of their gourds. Classic psychological defense mechanism. This is part of why my analysis hangs so well together for me.

  10. Brian says at November 23rd, 2006 at 1:11 am :
    Is it entirely human to be terrified on 9/11? Absolutely. Am I justified in saying that I’d rather have our leaders during such times be a bit more courageous? I’ll leave that to you to decide.

    Yes, you are justified. I would rather our leaders did as Jason suggested – jump in an F-16 and personally take out all the terrorists in a single shot. But I think we both agree that that’s an unrealistic expectation.

    What we’re talking about here is presentation, not policy. The handlers and speech writers are doing their jobs when they make him look “presidential” and I’m glad they did it. From a PR perspective, we need our leaders to appear confident and in control as quickly as possible. On the policy side, you don’t look at the first seven minutes, or the speech at the cathedral. You look at the series of senior staff meetings that began on the evening of 9/11, and ran through the remainder of the week, when we made the decision to prepare for war with Afghanistan, disrupt terrorist funding, eliminate the leadership structure of Al Qaeda, and align the countries in the region on our side.

    Opponents of the president have used the media (including Maher, who often talks as if he’s not a part of the media, even though he does it on a nationally televised, highly popular, politically topical TV show), have hijacked the first seven minutes to try and make the president look everything from clueless to scared. They’re doing the exact same thing the handlers & speech writers are doing, but the former is purely for political gain, and the latter has a component of national interest involved.