Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York was on ABC This Week this morning (click here for the transcript). One of the topics that he addressed was controversial left-wing comedian Bill Maher, who has donated a million dollars to Barack Obama's super-PAC. Many Republicans are saying that Obama should give back the money, since Maher has called Sarah Palin derogatory names. This is currently an issue because right-wing talk radio host Rush Limbaugh has received flack (and even drops in advertisers) for calling Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute", and Obama and others on the Left have criticized that as uncivil discourse. Republicans are responding that Bill Maher is uncivil in his discourse, too, and so the Left should criticize him as well.
When asked if the Democrats should return Bill Maher's donation, Charles Schumer said the following:
"Well, no. I mean, look, the bottom line is that Rush Limbaugh's comments were just nasty and directed at a particular young woman who had a particular point of view and was expressing herself. Bill Maher is a comedian. It's much different. Rush Limbaugh has tremendous weight in the Republican Party. No one will rebut him. Bill Maher's a comedian who's on at 11 o'clock at night but has very little influence on what's happening here."
Schumer's response is understandable, but it's sad. It's understandable because Schumer does not want to make headlines by openly demanding that the Democrats return Maher's money, since that would place the Democrats in an awkward position. (I've watched enough of The West Wing that I can picture Josh Lyman arriving at that conclusion!) But it's sad for a variety of reasons:
1. Contrary to what Schumer says, Bill Maher does have political influence, for Maher is giving a million dollars to the Democrats.
2. Schumer's attempt to downplay Bill Maher as a mere comedian while he criticizes Rush Limbaugh is quite a stretch. Both Rush and Bill Maher are comedians in that they try to be funny, but they also claim to be presenting legitimate points-of-view on politics and policy. In my opinion, Rush and Bill Maher are in the same boat.
3. Right is right and wrong is wrong, regardless of who is doing it. Unfortunately, in U.S. politics, people tend to give a free pass to their own side while condemning the other side. One result of that is Schumer's poor logic (at least on the issue of Rush and Bill Maher) that he displayed this morning.
4. Due to pressures on politicians to be team players, it's rare to find a politician who stands for what's right, even when it creates an awkward situation. Chuck Schumer could have been a hero this morning by declaring that Democrats should support civility and thus return Bill Maher's check. Instead, he chose to be a team player and to engage in silly partisan games.
This is not to say that Schumer hasn't done good things in the area of civility. He has appeared on right-wing shows and has discussed issues in a respectful manner. After the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, he and Republican Senator Tom Coburn sat next to one another to show their commitment to transcending political polarization. I just wish Schumer was more of a hero this morning.