Last Friday night, I made my way to “Television City” in Los Angeles, the sprawling campus of endless sound stages where America’s favorite as well as forgotten TV shows are made.
I had been invited to be a guest panelist on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”
I found myself the token conservative, the pin cushion, the foil for the snide and snarky, the stand-in for evil Romney. The audience was packed with Obamanites howling for conservative blood. It was a great night.
While I was fully aware of Maher’s politics and “humor,” I had been lured into this by the promise of a balanced panel: Maher and one other liberal and me and one other conservative.
The actual panel consisted of Bill Maher, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, and a TIME magazine reporter named Rana Foroohar, who had earlier equated Glenn Beck listeners with the terrorists who killed the U.S. ambassador in Libya.
Salmon Rushdie was also a guest on the same show. As a measure of how the show went, the chief of security personally walked me to the after-party room while the man the Islamists have sworn to kill was escorted by the females from the Maher staff.
Maher’s staff was professional, thorough and welcoming. I was made to feel at home but had no illusions about what was to come when Chris Matthews snarled a brief hello as he brushed by me to the makeup room.
At the start of the show, as expected, Maher and company were still chewing on Romney’s 47 percent comment from last May. How horrible to write off half the American people. How awful to stigmatize veterans, Social Security pensioners, poor people, etc. How out of touch, etc.
I made the mistake of replying with facts. Romney was responding to a question about his prospects to win the election, not how he would govern.
And every American ought to be concerned about the rise of dependency on food stamps and welfare, caused by the failure of Obama’s economic policies, indicated by persistent high unemployment, falling incomes and shrinking household wealth during the so-called recovery.
That response set off a Chris Matthews firestorm. Liberals hate facts that contradict the party line.
While I expected the rebuttal, “Look what he inherited from Bush,” I didn’t expect Matthews to falsely claim that Obama inherited unemployment over 10 percent. Unemployment in January 2009 was actually 7.8 percent and has not been that low since.
Then Matthews really lost it, bellowing you people are just racists who hated Obama from the first day. I haven’t heard the “you people” phrase since Ross Perot used it in front of an African-American audience in 1992.
According to Matthews, any criticism of Obama is racist. End of story. He added that Mitch McConnell’s early vow to defeat Obama indicated that Republicans hated Obama from the beginning.
Maher had to remind Matthews that Democrats hated the “nincompoop” Bush from the beginning, too.
Matthews then flashed another red herring. He asked why you people defined success by money earned. Aren’t teachers a success? Soldiers fighting in Afghanistan? It didn’t matter that Romney had never defined success as solely measured by money made. Chris was on a roll.
Rana Foroohar chimed in, claiming that social mobility, the opportunity for success, was dwindling in the U.S. She dismissed the reality of the “bootstraps” concept in a city full of rags-to-riches stories in a country that attracts millions of immigrants seeking that opportunity.
Like I say, it was quite a night.
Then Matthews really got personal. Your crowd inherited everything. You were born sliding into home. You’re playing a racial game.
I, not too gently, told Chris that I had come from humble beginnings and had worked for what I had. More importantly, Romney, when he did inherit his parent’s wealth, gave it away. What he has today he earned, too.
Maher then took the show in an unexpected direction when he asserted that Islam was different. In no other religion, Maher said, do you find about half its followers willing to kill people who don’t share the faith.
That inflamed Matthews against Maher, leaving me out of the crossfire for a moment.
In the after-show party, Maher expressed surprise that Matthews was so hard core. Maher told me that Matthews had a centrist reputation in past years and suggested that Chris had moved left to keep his job at an increasingly leftist MSNBC.
I went home to San Diego thinking that my experience was what awaited Mitt Romney in his upcoming debates with Obama.