Bill Maher and Michael Moore got in a heated exchange Friday night on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and eventually made a pricey on-air bet — the stakes: a trip to Hawaii — over a factual dispute. And, as it turns out, Maher will be footing the bill for Moore’s upcoming luau.
The conversation started friendly enough with Maher (known for taking people to task for their weight) complimenting the slimmed-down Oscar-winning filmmaker for looking “svelte.” The first topic they tackled was the viability of capitalism vs socialism as far as the best direction for the Democratic Party in the primaries ahead and beyond.
“I don’t really agree that we should junk capitalism,” Maher said as an opener.
“The old capitalism is gone and the new capitalism is a cruel and evil system, Bill,” Moore said. “It can’t be fixed. It’s too late. We’ve gone too far. We’ve almost virtually destroyed the middle class, the one that you and I grew up in. That’s gone. What is socialism? To me socialism is everybody has a seat at the table and everybody gets a slice of the pie. We have to believe in that if it’s a democracy.”
Moore praised Maher for being “ahead of the curve for some many years” on issues such as climate change and marijuana legalization but then challenged him by asking “why pull back now” on socialism. Maher, citing the need of the Democrats to win the White House, said “the country isn’t there” on the embrace of socialism. Maher chided Moore for “lumping a lot of vague shit together.”
Moore agreed that the stakes are high: “If the election were tonight, Trump would win. You have to respect the evil genius of this guy.” But he said the change is in the air. “We live in a liberal country. The majority of Americans agree with us on minimum wage, mass incarceration, women’s rights, pro-choice. They are with us right now. Why not take the moment when we are in power and use it in this election?”
The pair went round and round about the vagaries of generational politics, opinion polls, and health care. The tenor of the exchange ticked up a few degrees, however, over the past, not the future: Maher said the Barack Obama won as “a centrist” and Moore countered that the two-term president ran as a populist. “No he didn’t,” Maher said tersely.
Moore recounted the fact that when he went into the voting booth in 2008 that the name on the ballot was Barack Hussein Obama — suggesting that the choice of the including the candidate’s middle name alone was a bold pronouncement of the candidate’s populist persona.
“That’s not a policy,” Maher said dismissively.
That’s when Moore got fiery: “No, but If you’re playing safe you don’t put f—ing ‘Hussein’ on the ballot! A centrist doesn’t call himself Hussein!”
“It may not have been up to him,” Maher said.
Moore pushed the point: “Are you kidding? The candidate has to sign off, whether you’re ‘William Jefferson Clinton’ or ‘Bill Clinton’…yes, he did it because he had courage!”
Maher: “Put you money where your mouth is…what do you want to bet, a trip to Hawaii?” Moore was all for it. Maher may have had regrets. He ended the segment with a remorseful, ‘Am I going to lose that bet?'”
Immediately after the segment former RNC Chair Michael Steele clarified the matter by saying the candidates absolutely choose the way their name appears on the ballot. Moore was likely saying Mahalo by then.