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What kind of country should this be?
Should it be one governed by traditions or one governed by science? Should its massive wealth move freely between selfish tycoons, or should it be overseen by a compassionate elite? Can smart people really rationalize voting for anyone but the Democrats?
These were the questions comedian Bill Maher raised at the stunningly hip Foxwoods MGM Grand this past Friday. The star of HBO's "Real Time" drew a large, diverse crowd to the casino, both young and old, yuppie and hippie. Packing the Mecca's elegant theater, the hordes of loyal fans cheered wildly for a philosopher king who rallied them behind the Democratic Party via edgy humor.
To be sure, Maher did partially criticize the Democrats, calling them weak and ineffectual. An ardent advocate of legalizing cannabis, the comedian also criticized President Obama for being "to the right of Pat Robertson" on that issue. Still, Maher told the audience that "this isn't Europe" and that there were really only two choices.
As such, Maher did what he could to get the crowd optimistic about Democrats and disgusted by Republicans. Maher even made the case that a second Obama term would be better than his first, joking that because President Obama is biracial, his first four years in office has been his "white term," but the second four would be his "black term."
Conversely, a good part of his routine focused on Mormonism, which is the religion of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Maher ridiculed Mormon theology, including beliefs regarding other planets, what he calls "magic underwear," and that a New Jerusalem could exist in Missouri.
Maher caricatures Republicans as being religious zealots and rednecks, lorded over by calculating billionaires. One of few bits in Maher's routine not regarding religion or politics mocks NASCAR. Likewise, he openly attacks the Second Amendment, questioning when Democrats are ever going to stand up to the NRA.
The message is clear: the Republican Party is a cancerous stupidity destroying the nation. Maher conveys this expertly through his humor, convincing the crowd that their best interests are embodied by the American Left. He nudges the audience to see that Republicans still fundamentally control our country and that they can only be stopped by voting for Democrats.
Certainly the comic has not always reflected these views. Years ago he characterized the two parties as a mother and a father who balanced each other out, personally claiming to be libertarian. Over the administration of George W. Bush, however, Maher became a staple of the Left, advocating single-payer healthcare and financial regulation.
Now he openly calls libertarian Sen. Rand Paul a "racist" and declares, "All politics is socialism."
Fans who come to see Maher's standup today are set to feel as though the political spectrum is completely linear. There is a group of greedy, short-sighted, moralistic cavemen on the Right, and a group of enlightened, sexually-liberated cosmopolitans on the Left. Anything else must fall somewhere in-between.
Certainly the tea party and the Occupy movement have nothing in common - no mention of the Federal Reserve, of course.
As such, Maher is a pillar for the Democrats, whether or not they recognize him as such. Not only does he rally the base, but he then hands Obama a $1 million check. What more could they hope for?
Clearly most Democratic politicians would be forced to distance themselves from the comedian's statements for fear of losing the votes of the religious or easily offended. Still, it's obvious that Maher's convictions match those of the base of the Democratic Party.
If ever a Democrat did have the courage to voice those principles, as does Maher, voters could be assured an election that was, if nothing else, entertaining.
Steven Durel is a freelance writer who lives in Colchester.