Bill Maher: Yes, I Can Generalize About Muslims

The outspoken Real Time host dishes on a variety of topics, including his “Flip A District” campaign, the controversy in the wake of his throw down with Ben Affleck over Islam, and more.

Bill Maher has been making some pretty big headlines of late.

It started with a live episode of his HBO series Real Time with Bill Maher followed by a live stand-up special, Bill Maher: Live from DC, which became the network’s highest-rated stand-up special in five years. Soon after that his clash with Ben Affleck, who nearly blew a gasket, sparked a national debate over Islam. Then he turned to electoral politics, and his campaign to “Flip A District” in the town of Northfield, Minnesota, where the boisterous comedian and political commentator has set his sights on flipping Rep. John Kline (R-MN), a six-term representative.

“It’s simple,” wrote Maher. “There are a lot of terrible, entrenched congressmen out there. Many don’t even have an opponent. We’re going to choose one of them, throw him into the national spotlight, and see if we can’t send him scuttling under the refrigerator on Election Night.”

The Daily Beast caught up with the opinionated Maher to discuss “Flip A District,” exasperated Affleck, being branded an Islamophobe, and his secretive drinks with Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul.

How did the live “Flip A District” event in Minnesota go where you’re trying to flip Republican Representative John Kline?

You know, it was a lot of fun! The people were super enthusiastic, as you might imagine. It was something that doesn’t happen in a small town in Minnesota. It was like Henry Hill from Goodfellas came to town. We had a crowd on our side, so I was sympathetic to the three conservatives, but they were saying some crazy conservative shit like, “Global warming isn’t real… it’s the scientists who are being paid off.” As if the problem is the money going to the scientists who do believe in global warming! I think the problem is the scientists who are getting money from Shell Oil and Exxon Mobil. So, we’ll see.

The “Flip A District” campaign is, it seems, really trying to shine a light on candidates like Kline who are essentially preying on ignorance and not even campaigning.

That’s the main thing we’re trying to get across: John Kline is running a campaign of hiding. He makes no appearances—no debates, no town halls—and nobody seems to care! It’s the way it’s always been up there, and the less that anyone knows about an election even happening, the better for him. Bringing that to the attention of people will make a difference. It may not make a difference this time, but we’ve planted the seed. We won’t know until Election Day whether or not it will be a success, but there are a lot of things in this election stacked against the Democratic candidate—the president is super unpopular, and there’s the panic that’s going on right now with Ebola and ISIS, which all plays into the hands of the Republicans.

With the Ebola panic, there’s a serious problem in Africa, but as far as the ‘round-the-clock coverage in America is concerned, do you feel it’s overblown? It strikes me as reinforcing the xenophobic, Old World line of thinking that Africa is the “Dark Continent” where diseases emanate from.

No, I disagree. And I’m someone who’s always saying we’re shitting our pants too much. To me, I’m not worried about ISIS at all. I’ve mocked that from the beginning—that you’re going to get your head cut off while waiting for an iPhone. But this Ebola situation? I’m not panicking, but from the start they’ve underestimated it, they’ve not been ahead of it, and they keep saying things that the next day turn out not to be true. First it was: “It’s not going to get here.” And then it got here. Then: “It’s not going to spread out from the one guy,” and then it spread out from that one guy.

Where’s the kick-ass-and-take-names mentality that we need with Ebola right now? I’ve really had it with all this “voluntary Ebola” response. Where’s the mandatory quarantine? Do we really need to have people flying in-and-out of Liberia to take care of the crisis, specifically? And let’s not even get into what a nightmare it was inside this Dallas hospital. Just two days ago my tweet was something like, “Nigeria has contained Ebola. All we have to do—no offense, Nigeria—is be better than you.” Well, I think my tweet today would be, “Sorry, Nigeria! I think I’ve overestimated America. We’d like to be just as good as you.” Have you heard what they’re doing in that hospital? They weren’t even wearing protective clothing that covered their whole bodies. And then this doctor said, “Put tape on your neck.” What the fuck?! It seems like a lot of people have been exposed, whereas when the one guy came back, we could have shut it down right then and there. And we didn’t.

What are your thoughts on the 2016 presidential election? I understand you’re not so hot on Hillary Clinton.

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Well, first of all, she’s a centrist and a hawk. That’s not a great recommendation.

But Bill Clinton was a centrist, too.

Yeah, and I’m not so crazy about him. First of all, he had a very lucky time to be president. Nothing was going on. Terrorism wasn’t really going on—there were terrorist actions, but nothing like 9/11. There was no Ebola. There was peace and prosperity, which he managed fine. My assessment of his administration is he should’ve used that time to address real issues. He could’ve addressed global warming. He didn’t.

He tried to pass healthcare reform but Newt Gingrich and the GOP-controlled House and Senate shot it down.

They didn’t try that hard. They didn’t push it. They didn’t use the bully pulpit. So, that’s typical pussy Democratic politics. Bill Clinton was really “Republican-lite.” He was successful to get elected as a Democrat, but he turned the Democrats from the party of liberals into the party of soft conservatives. A lot of our banking issues, like the repeal of Glass-Steagall, happened under Clinton. He and his wife are corporatists, and to me, the essential problem of America is that corporations run the country—it’s not really a democracy anymore, but an oligarchy—and they were much more a part of that problem than a solution.

I heard you were a fan of Rand Paul’s—until you grabbed drinks with him and he downplayed global warming. What did he say?

Yeah. He echoed Dick Cheney about global warming and said, “We should be concentrating on ISIS.” I thought, “If that’s where you are…” And he mumbled something on global warming about, “Well, there have been periods where the earth was cooling…,” and I was like, “Really? We’re going to trot out that old canard?” We did a bit on the show where we talked about Republican zombie-lies—that when Republicans tell lies, they just never die. Take “trickle-down economics.” Even after it’s been disproven, it just continues to live! And it’s like, “Really? You’re just going to give me the zombie-lie on global warming?” He would have to do a lot better for me to consider him. I like his stance on ending the American Empire and not getting into any more foreign entanglements, but he’s going to have to go a lot further than that.

The Ben Affleck episode on Real Time was just great television. On no other show would you see an A-list actor from a newly released blockbuster like Gone Girl getting fired up over Islam. What did you make of that heated exchange? He seemed pretty fired up the moment Sam Harris sat down.

Well, I’m done talking about it. My view is I’ve said what I had to say about it the week before, when I did a formal monologue at the end of the show that I wrote very carefully, and they were responding to that. I will say that we legitimately started a national debate on something that needs to be talked about, and it’s very gratifying to finally see that a heck of a lot of liberals understand that the real liberals in this debate are people like me and Sam.

But when you do make generalizations about Islam…

…It’s not a generalization! First of all, this is nonsense—this idea that you can’t make generalizations. All of knowledge is based on generalizations. No one can interview all 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. It’s a dumb argument. Read any history book and it’ll use the word “Christendom,” but they didn’t interview every Christian in the 1600s. We’re talking facts. We’re talking polls that have been done over decades, time and time again telling us what people are thinking about the world. So this idea that we are making generalizations? It’s just stupid. We understand that 1.5 billion people don’t all think alike and that there are differences from country-to-country, but you can’t advance any sort of knowledge without making generalizations and it doesn’t mean they’re inaccurate. To say that it’s a widespread belief in the Muslim world that death is the appropriate response to leaving the religion is just a statement of fact. We should stop arguing about that and move on from it and figure out what we can do about it. To dismiss that is just like saying, “Global warming doesn’t exist.”

If all Muslims are generally bad, then where does five of the last twelve Nobel Peace Prize winners, all of whom are Muslim—people like Malala Yousafzai—fit in?

Man, I’m done talking about this. I just don’t want to keep talking about this. I’ve said my piece, now the rest of you talk about it.

Have you read the Paul Krugman piece on Obama yet? He labeled him one of the most successful presidents in American history, and I’m curious what you thought of it.

I’ve got it on my reading table but haven’t yet. I’m guessing he’s making a similar argument that I have made in the past. It doesn’t take away that he got healthcare through and saved the economy from falling into a depression, but man, I just think that he should have been more out front on Ebola. Maybe it’ll get contained and all go away, but if it doesn’t, I just feel like we could’ve used a kick-ass-and-take-names guy from the get-go. What we learned in Africa is that you have to go all-out early and nip it in the bud, and the more it gets out, the harder it is to do that. It’s always “not likely” until it’s “likely.”