Pelosi, Maher, and Cosmopolitan Bigotry

In the above clip (via Ta-Nehisi Coates), Bill Maher says, “When I see the toothless guy, as a liberal, what I say is, I want to help you get teeth. Why does that make me an asshole?”

Of course, wanting dental care for the poor is not what makes Maher an asshole. What makes him an asshole is that he feels compelled to add a crude imitation of a Southerner saying, “You damn Yankee, trying to get me teeth!”

That moment perfectly crystallizes everything that’s wrong with the above clip, in which Maher and Alexandra Pelosi (documentarian and daughter of Nancy Pelosi) take aim at “both sides” by portraying both poor white rural Southerners and poor black city-dwelling Northerners as equally grotesque, stupid and lazy. Maher may support policies that would ease the suffering of the poor, but he’s also roundly contemptuous of the poor’s experiences. Those experiences aren’t real and meaningful in the sense that the white coastal elite’s experiences are real and meaningful — instead, they’re just a canvass onto which Maher can impress his own moral sophistication and enlightened sensibilities.

The irony is that Maher and Pelosi’s “enlightenment” corresponds to a total incuriosity regarding the lives of people who don’t reside on their lofty socioeconomic stratum. While Pelosi might pat herself on the back for having, “intelligent conversations with these people,” (these people being poor white Southerners), the clips she shows of those conversations don’t tell us anything about them beyond their willingness to reiterate certain right-wing shibboleths. “This is what they believe,” she says, but she never bothers to explore the nature of their belief, the why of it, nor anything of the world in which they live. By the same token, she thinks she can score a point against the “entitlement culture” by showing a clip of a young black man in New York who admits he can’t find work because he has a criminal record. But she never asks why a young black man in a city with notoriously racist policing policies has a criminal record, or why that record might disqualify him from finding work.

But perhaps the starkest moment of willful ignorance comes when Maher uses a permutation of the “some of our best friends are black” defense as a way of excusing Pelosi from charges of racism (Pelosi actually uses the expression “welfare queen” repeatedly, evidently without irony). “I mean, I, after all, just gave my imaginary child’s college fund to Barack Obama,” he says, “and your mother is Nancy Pelosi.” The charitable reading of that defense is that Maher has absolutely no understanding of how racism perpetuates itself, and no desire to learn.

Moments like that make Maher’s mockery of poor Southern ignorance especially pungent. “Maybe it’s you,” he says, addressing the camera. Of course, there’s no way it could ever, in a million years, be him.

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5 Responses

  1. Huh, so Alex P thinks that the Democrats need to emphasize old-fashioned personal responsibility so that they can relate better to working class [white?] folk? I’d like to see the Republican reaction to that – I imagine a combination of pleasant surprise and strategic worry.

    Policy solutions are only touched on obliquely in this, but what do you think would be the platform of a party that took Pelosi’s view? It makes me wonder if anyone has ever tried a social democracy with a large dose of state coercion for the recipients of entitlements. Like a halfway point between sending lumpenprole non-producers to the gulag on one hand, and generous NSA handouts on the other. The recent topic of drug testing for welfare beneficiaries would be an example.

    One last comment… Coates describes the subjects of Pelosi’s ridicule as “powerless”. Doesn’t this suggest a condescension via pity which mirrors Pelosi’s condescension via ridicule?

  2. One last comment … Coates describes the subjects of Pelosi’s ridicule as “powerless”. Doesn’t this suggest a condescension via pity which mirrors Pelosi’s condescension via ridicule?

    I believe Coates was talking about political power.

    • Grrr!! This was meant as a reply to Kyle Kovacevich.

  3. […] be noted that, for all of Pelosi and Maher’s pretensions to being fearless truth-tellers, their denunciations of the “entitlement culture” are nothing new. Here’s Barbara Ehrenreich from last week, talking about the history of the […]

  4. “theres no difference between those welfare queens, wall street, the defense contractors…[it’s] the entitlement culture in America” Epic. Ron Paul-ian even

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