"This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government . . . In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes."
– President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Farewell Address to the nation, January 1961
Bill Maher, like Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, practices what the great satirists like Voltaire and Swift and Twain and Vonnegut all understood: make them laugh to make them think. Maher may at times push the limits of taste for some people, but his humor is usually pushing the audience to see the absurdities of our culture and government—local, national, and global. Some of the most effective satire is born of frustration or anger. Instead of shouting at or physically attacking the object of frustration, a satirist finds a way to poke fun at the situation and advance a more clear or sensible alternative. Maher is a master at this.
Case in point: at the end of every episode of his Friday HBO series "Real Time," Maher offers up a few "New Rules" for modern society. The rules target issues and people of the moment, and they allow Maher and his staff to craft the most literary satiric material for what is essentially an issues-based talk show. It's just Maher speaking directly to the camera. The April 23 "New Rule" directed at the Teabaggers/Tea Party was one of Maher's finest moments in years. He questions how serious these Teabaggers are about cutting the deficit and shrinking the national debt. No need to explain what he says—watch it for yourself:
Nice hat, huh?
The U.S. military Empire as a family's "big dumb boat" analogy is brilliant. It's an excess that our country can ill afford in economic times such as these. Yet we keep pouring trillions of tax payer dollars into this sinkhole for some inane notion of world dominance and to make us feel more patriotic and allegedly safer. As Maher suggests, let's cut our military spending in half and see who invades us. We sure could use the currently wasted cash to reduce our strangling debt from the past 9 years of elective wars, ill-advised tax cuts, and irresponsible non-regulation of our rigged financial system.
Like the great satirists, Maher's purpose in this "New Rule" is to ultimately display the folly of our country's behavior. We want the government to cut taxes but we still want the government to provide the key services we've come to depend on. Like children, Teabaggers—and many non-Teabagging Americans—don't seem to understand that there really is no free lunch. Everything costs money and someone has to pay for all of it. If we want granny to receive the health benefits of Medicare, we have to pay for it. If we want our parents to enjoy the benefits of Social Security they worked so many years for when they retire, we have to pay for it. If we want our roads maintained and our schools functioning and the water we drink to be clean and safe, we have to pay for it. It's that simple. And as Maher suggests, instead of funneling so much of our dear cash resources into military-industrial companies that primarily benefit the oligarchy of executives that run those companies and too much of our economy, maybe, just MAYBE, we should get serious about fiscal responsibility and slash our military budget by trillions. Maybe then the teabaggers and every stripe of American will benefit and quit complaining that we as a society are spending money on each other.