In the sort-of wake of September 11th, when the hurt was still fresh and before our incursion into Iraq had turned the ‘War on Terror’ into a Benny Hill sketch with Ak-47s, Bill Maher, still stinging from being booted from ABC (a move which, admittedly, should be irksome to anyone who cares remotely about free speech), penned this screed against lazy patriots (i.e., the kind who are willing to stick 10 flags on their SUV, but not willing to drive the SUV any less).
I like Bill Maher, but I’m sometimes irritated by his tendency to deliver his pop-wisdom one-liners with a gravitas usually reserved for Stone Phillips. It comes off as spurious and condescending. The damnedest part is that Maher makes good points; really good points, even if I don’t agree with all of them. But this is hardly a good format for it: a short throwaway book that mixes in jokes at inopportune times. Maher doesn’t have the “I’m kidding, but not really” sort of schtick down like, say, Al Franken does.
In 2007, after Dubya has publicly decried—though not acted upon—the US’s dependence on foreign oil, the idea seems, like soooo 5 minutes ago. When Maher wrote this in 2003, suggesting that maybe, just maybe, our dependence upon oil from the Middle East was an integral part of the problem, it was still a somewhat fresh idea. He comments upon, and I distinctly remember this being so, the fact that the American sense of entitlement is so great that being asked to give up anything, be it oil or otherwise, is tantamount to treason. “If I don’t drive this Hummer to work, then the terrorists win!”
There is one way in which this book is now dated, I feel, and that is Maher’s emphasis on nation security. He more or less states, clearly, that the role of the government is to ensure nation security, no matter what the cost. With all the shit that’s gone on in the last four years, I’m almost positive he’s not saying that now. Something I think he’s probably still lobbying for are intelligent profiling of suspects (which I agree with, though I think he’s too glib with the arguments against).
But the crux of the book, in a very general way, is that the war we’re fighting now is very different from the ones that our grandparents fought: Maher’s clever alteration of WWII-era propaganda posters (e.g. “When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler”) underscores the notion of personal sacrifice that emboldened “the greatest generation” but by stark contrast, seems almost anathema today. “Conservation is for pussy-footing lib’ruls: real Americans guzzle gas and eat McDonald’s 3 times a week, the way God intended!” It’s all good and fine to say that we support the troops, but all we’re really doing is either calling for them to come home, or saying in no uncertain terms that calling for them to come home is the same as calling for them to lose.
It seems a shame that this book is as short and insubstantial as it is, and that it got so little attention, because it has a lot to say. But, I’m afraid, it is also extremely dated, a mere four years after its initial publications. That’s the world of politics for you.