What a relief to learn that race is no longer "a Republican or a Democrat issue," at least according to black liberal comedian W. Kamau Bell, one of the guests on Bill Maher's HBO show Friday night.
More accurately, race is no longer a partisan issue after first lady Michelle Obama is quoted saying something awkwardly similar to remarks from GOP congressman Paul Ryan that predictably resulted in liberals denouncing Ryan as racist. (Video after the jump)
Maher waded into the issue by quoting Ryan from his March 12 appearance on Bill Bennett's radio show when Ryan said this --
We've got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.
Conservatives accuse liberals of "seeing race in everything," Maher said. "Maybe we do. I'm asking honestly, is this a case where he's just being honest and it's not about race or are we seeing race here where it shouldn't be? Because that was the criticism, that he was talking in code."
Without a doubt, Bell quickly claimed, "I'm going to go ahead and say there was race there, that he was talking about black people when he said that. He's talking about blacks and Latinos when he says it, absolutely."
You can't blame blacks and Latinos "for not having jobs when there's no jobs to get in the inner cities," Bell said, "and you can't blame them when the schools suck, the hospital sucks, there's no grocery store, all their fathers in jail, you can't blame them for not doing better when that's the case."
Center for American Progress president Neera Tanden agreed with Bell, citing jobless rates in the inner city that reach 25 percent -- "What I think is really abominable about what he said is that he's really blaming people 'cause there are no jobs in these communities." (Let's raise the minimum wage and make the jobless rate even worse, shall we?)
Republican former congressman Rick Lazio defended Ryan, giving him credit for focusing on poverty. Whenever Republicans and conservatives do so, Lazio said, "they get smacked down and called a racist," leading them to wonder "why I got involved in this."
Which led to Maher falsely citing a quote from Ryan that was actually from Michelle Obama. It was a delicious moment, though its impact was lessened by Maher having resorted to deceit. Maher put it this way -- "Here's something else Paul Ryan said. He said, when it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can't be bothered. They're sitting on couches for hours, playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they're fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper. ... Oh wait, that wasn't him, that was Michelle Obama. Michelle Obama said that." This prompted no reaction from his audience, leading Maher to turn toward them and say, "hushed silence."
Bell immediately became less partisan. "I don't think this is a Republican or a Democrat issue," he claimed. "This is a people issue." Ah, Maher retorted, "suddenly" it's no longer partisan. To which Lazio added, "you just called Ryan a racist."
"Did I actually say he's a racist?" Bell responded. "I said he's talking about black people." Surely this will come as a relief to Ryan that a black liberal who insinuated he was racist quickly backpedaled when challenged.
All of which was getting a bit thick for Maher. "C'mon, I just read this and you thought it was from Paul Ryan," he said, followed by Bell pointing out, "you told me it was!"
"For a reason," Maher said, defending his deceptive tactic. "I'm just asking, is something less true if a white person says it about black people?"
"The truth is the truth and a lie is a lie," Bell responded. "I'm not going to represent the side of, like, if black people say it, it's more true because black people say it" -- just before Bell did exactly that.
Maher shot back -- "It does sound like Michelle Obama is agreeing with Paul Ryan. This sounds even more like, hey black people, don't be lazy."
But where did the first lady say that, Bell asked.
In a commencement speech at Bowie State, Maher answered.
"See, that's black people," Bell said, doing what only moments earlier he claimed he would not do -- "She's talking to black people. We talk to each other differently than we talk in front of you." And presumably Bell meant that black people are more truthful with each other than when in the company of white people.
All of which is a textbook example of the futility of talking race with liberals. Even with each other, they can't be honest about it. Bell implied Ryan was racist, then disingenuously denied he had. Bell said he would not claim that "if black people say it, it's more true because black people say it" -- then did exactly that in characterizing Michelle Obama's remarks at Bowie State.
Maher deserves credit for going where few liberals dare venture, though one wonders how many more moments of awkward silence his audiences will endure.