For many connoisseurs of US political commentary, Real Time With Bill Maher has remained a constant source of liberal principles. While its host has not always agreed with the President and his base, he has been a loyal disciple of sorts, lambasting the opposition whilst upholding the general rhetoric of the Obama administration. So why won’t Obama acknowledge this and make a guest appearance?
To elucidate, I will first give a brief context: for Bill’s 60th birthday in January, he requested Obama appear on the show while in office, on the basis that he and his audience support the President and that he has appeared on virtually every other show (from the Colbert Report right through to Between Two Ferns). Bill Maher, during his tenure with Politically Incorrect and Real Time, has interviewed former President Carter and dabbled with stand up in the White House for Bill Clinton, but he has never bagged a sit-down chat with an in-term Commander-in-Chief.
Of course, as is the case with what seems to be every minute plea these days, a petition was set up online and over 100,000 quickly signed their names down for Obama to give a response, which arrived a week ago in the form of a vague gesture of consideration whilst expressing open admiration for the show. Although disappointed, Bill largely shrugged it off but the question nevertheless lingers as to why Obama won’t do this one show, when he’s put his name to so many others. Here are just a few, quick interlinking theories:
- The Controversial Element: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were known for making critiques on their own platforms but they always kept it light hearted. Bill Maher doesn’t feel the need to do so. For example, he unreservedly warns about the threat of radical Islam and what he perceives as the innate flaws of that religion, often without pause for a snappy closer. In short, he’s not afraid to put his opinion on the line, even if it upsets some of his politically correct audience or the general public. Obama, as President, naturally has to avoid potential hazards with such divisiveness. Bad press is created for him on an hourly basis before he’s even brushed his teeth. Would it really serve him to make an appearance on a show where witty jabs at large chunks of American society are commonplace?
- The Partisanship Element: Bill Maher has absolutely no problem with criticising the Democratic base but it’s clear nonetheless that he sides with them over the GOP. While Obama is a Democrat, presidents should overcome partisanship. Like it or not, Obama has to work for all Americans and not just the ones who support him. By appearing on this show and grating Donald Trump’s hyenas, he would, in many people’s opinions, not be acting presidential-like.
- He’s Not Well Equipped Enough: On Jimmy Fallon, if you forget what your child’s name is, you could probably get away with it by playing a quick game of Box of Lies. This same flippancy applies elsewhere but on Real Time, you have to know what you’re talking about. That’s why so few celebrities join the panel discussion; it’s just a different ball game altogether. Now, I am by no means insinuating Obama is not clever enough to join Salmon Rushdie or Sam Harris. The problem is that he just wouldn’t be able to express his opinions fully for fear of political backlash on topics such as Marijuana legalisation (something Maher is devotedly in favour of). As with the partisanship element, he has to be sensitive to security issues, the opposition, his own party, international relations, and the people. On Bill Maher, of course, you expect the unfiltered, real guest who appears. Sidestepping issues and avoiding controversial subjects just wouldn’t work (which begs to question why certain politicians even bother). Perhaps, once he leaves office he can speak freely but for now, Obama’s own true opinions have to be kept, tucked away in a corner.
- He’s Afraid?: I think this is unlikely but it is plausible that Obama doesn’t have satisfactory answers to some burning questions, which again could be brushed off on other shows, but would be pursued on this one: Why’d it take so long to act on Guantanomo? Hillary or Bernie?, etc. There’s an element of vulnerability on this show, lacking from the press junkets, which would make for a stressful day; not that Bill would even go after Obama.
In these regards and in my own opinion, it seems the better question to ask would be: why would Obama think to appear on this show? Personally, as a fan, I would love to see it but for now, we’re going to have make due with the odd senators and representatives Bill does get. Hillary certainly won’t be appearing.