This weekend I watched Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. (I actually watch it every weekend.) Maher is always pretty good, but the overall entertainment value of the show depends heavily on the guests on the panel. This week featured Jesse Ventura, Paul Krugman, and some Republican android whose name I forget. One thing I learned from the show is that I’m completely justified in my total distaste for Ventura. Ventura constantly promotes himself as someone who says what he thinks, but it doesn’t take more than a minute or two of watching him speak to realize that there’s not much evidence that he thinks at all. Judging from the expressions on Maher’s face when Ventura spoke, I doubt we’ll be seeing him on Real Time again anytime soon. Paul Krugman acquitted himself very well, but the classic moment occurred during an exchange that began with Bill Maher griping about farm subsidies. Ventura responded with a defense of farm subsidies by saying that farmers were subject to price controls and that if they could charge a competitive price, they wouldn’t need subsidies (he also mentioned that milk would cost $20 a gallon or something along those lines). Maher’s jaw dropped and he gestured to Krugman, basically pleading to be rescued with facts. Krugman immediately said that the price controls on agricultural goods are price floors — the government sets a minimum price that farmers can get for their goods, not a maximum. At this point, rather than admitting that he was completely wrong and shutting up, Ventura started talking over Krugman and pressing his point further. Krugman immediately started rubbing his face in exasperation and becoming more animated, and of course the issue was never resolved (in Ventura’s mind anyway). Ventura also had a classic moment where he said that we knew that the war in Iraq wasn’t justified because the Bush twins weren’t over there fighting in it. It’s really a shame to think that this blockhead is going to get his own show doing political commentary on a “news” channel. That really tells us something about the level of political discourse in this country — being informed (for any definition of the word informed that you prefer) is not a requirement for becoming a big name political commentator.
I also watched K Street, and I have to say that it completely blew my mind. It is probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen on television, because it’s a mix of fact and fiction, and there’s really no way to what separates fact from fiction. The show features Mary Matalin and James Carville (real political consultants) working for a fictional lobbying firm along with some fictional characters. The main plotline in the initial episode involves James Carville being roped into doing debate prep for Howard Dean by one of the fictional characters on the show. The rest of the firm (they want to do work for Republicans and Democrats) is opposed, and they spend a lot of the episode meeting with real political figures to convince them that Carville has gone off and done this on his own due to his addiction to campaigning. In the meantime, the fictional character “calls” Paul Begala and asks him to help with debate prep as well. Then we have a scene where Begala, Carville, and the fictional guy meet with Howard Dean (yes, Dean is in the episode) for debate prep and give him some advice and a line to use in the debate if he’s asked about Vermont’s small minority population. Later in the episode we see footage from the debate where Dean actually uses that line. So did Dean really ask Carville and Begala to help with debate prep and did the show just come up with a fictional reason why that took place? Did the line Dean used really come from James Carville? This show is weird.