Bill Maher and Bread Bags

Let’s be clear up front: I like Bill Maher.

I think he’s a unique combination of smart and funny, and I tune in to Real Time weekly. It makes me giggle, and it gets the synapses in my gray matter firing.

I also relate to Bill, in a way, because like him I am a liberal with a sense of humor. That means if I find something funny, I’m going to (a) make a joke about it, or (b) laugh when someone else makes a joke about it.

That out of the way, I was a little embarrassed for Bill when I watched the September 15, 2017, episode of his show.

I don’t agree with him 100% of the time, but I have to admit it was both odd and rare to see Bill Maher miss the mark twice in one episode. He’s usually more on the ball than that.

The first fumble came in the opening segment, when Bill asked NY Times columnist Bret Stephens, “What do you think the liberals biggest flaw is?”

They were discussing election 2016, and pondering upon the idea that Drumpf didn’t technically win the election, Hillary lost it. Bill wanted to know what Democrats should do differently in 2018.

Bret said, “I’ll give you an example that will make you feel uncomfortable.” He went on to explain that the last time he was on the show, January 2015, Bill did a bit about Iowa’s newest Senator, Joni Ernst. The bit made fun of Joni’s habit of mentioning she wore bread bags on her feet as a child.

According to Bret, the bit “practically explains the 2016 election.”

Bill quickly became indignant, and made two comments. First, he was aghast that he was being taken to task for the joke, and second he said he doubted Joni ever actually wore bread bags on her feet.

“She has shoes,” he remarked smugly.

That statement means Bill both missed the point, and that Bret didn’t explain the situation well enough.

Bread bags on your feet is neither a metaphor nor entirely literal, but a mix of the two. When I was a child, my family was poor and I wore bread bags on my footsies. This happened in winter, when  you would slide bread bags over your feet, and then put those bread bag covered feet into your boots. When your boots got wet, your feet stayed dry. At school, your boots (and bread bags) would stay in your locker, and you’d put your shoes on for the school day.

What bread bags represented was an inability to buy decent winter boots. For many people of a certain age, income level, and geographic location, it was commonplace.

Bret was trying to explain that Joni made a connection with the poorer class citizens of Iowa, and those people don’t like being ridiculed by arrogant liberals. The Republican machine took the joke and showed it to their supporters, saying, “Look at Hollywood mock you. Liberal elites are out of touch with real American’s like you.”

This, naturally, pissed off the people being made fun of, and Bret was saying that an inability by Democrats to reach out to poor people allowed Drumpf to swoop in and grab their votes in 2016.

Which is true, but Bret’s argument isn’t rock solid. Yes, he was right in saying these people do not like to be mocked and that Bill’s joke was an affront to their white-trash pride.

But these people weren’t going to vote for Hillary no matter what.

Bill Maher has a recurring comment: “If people in the Midwest want me to stop calling them stupid, they should stop being stupid.” Using those terms, the Midwest voters who helped send Drumpf into the White House weren’t going to stop acting stupid. It’s difficult to get them to vote for a Democrat in the first place, but Hillary Clinton? That just wasn’t going to happen. She was an intellectual, not a folksy pig farmer.

Which means the situation is a wash.

Bill Maher has every right to make fun of anything he sees fit. But he should understand the situation in its entirety when doing so. He didn’t make any lower-income fans by making fun of Joni Ernst, but that’s OK. Even if he hadn’t made the bread bags joke, people supporting Joni weren’t going to start loving on Mr. Maher anyway.

I said two mistakes were made on the episode. Missing the point on bread bags was one, and other item of note that night regarded a program known as “Broken Windows.”

Initiated by Rudi Giuliani during his tenure as the mayor of New York City, Broken Windows is a method of policing; it’s tenants involve fixing disrepair in the city in order to reduce crime. If there is graffiti, paint it over. If there is a broken window, fix it. Make the neighborhood look nice, and good times and less lawbreaking will follow.

That night, Bill Maher called Broken Windows a success.

Except it wasn’t.

There have been many articles examining and debunking the Broken Windows theory. The Freakonomics duo wrote about it, and the Hidden Brain podcast did an episode on the phenomena.

Which isn’t to say cities should allow graffiti to run rampant and allow dilapidated buildings to represent their neighborhoods. To say Broken Windows caused a decrease in crime, however, is a bit too much. Hearing Bill Maher call a Rudi Giuliani program a success made me cock my head like a confused puppy. I hope one of his writers corrected him after the show.

Thankfully, since he is more than vocal about his extracurricular habits, Bill can say was stoned when he said it.

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