The man Maher called “The ultimate rock ‘n roll rebel,” Little Steven Van Zandt, was the first guest, plugging his new book, Unrequited Infatuations. Although most know him through his music and particularly his role as Silvio Dante on The Sopranos, Van Zandt has long been involved in politics, sometimes to his detriment.
“Politics wasn’t cool in our (music) business,” he admitted. “It’s one of those show business things, stay away from politics and religion. So I just just jumped in and made that my identity. When I left the E Street Band, (I asked) how do I justify my existence? So I’ll be the political guy.”
A series of political albums followed, but more important was Van Zandt’s role in sparking a cultural awareness of South Africa’s apartheid system. He was one of four people behind the movement to boycott the Sun City resort in that country, which eventually raised enough consciousness and influence to lead to a sanctions bill being passed. “We did light that spark,” Van Zandt admitted.
Van Zandt, now age 70, said he didn’t really want to come off as ungrateful that he hasn’t achieved more in his music career. But he noted, “You’re going to go through life and have some frustrations….but it’s not a matter of not being disappointed, it’s what do you do with that You find a way to move forwards. And I hope the (new) book is helpful in that.”
Turning to the panel portion of his program, Maher was joined by Katherine Mangu-Ward, the editor-in-chief of Reason, and Matt Taibbi, editor of TK News on Substack.
First up was a discussion on the two massive spending bills being pushed by the Biden administration for infrastructure and social programs. The bills together could total as much as $5.5 trillion, but the trio was surprisingly skeptical on its promise.
“Nobody knows what’s in the bills,” said Mangu-Ward, noting that the American people didn’t necessarily support spending that amount of money. “It’s reasonable to say, “Let’s talk about this,” she said.
Maher said that attitude arrived with the pandemic. But Mangu-Ward countered.”It is everything every Democrat ever wanted to do.”
The discussion then moved on to education. “I’m not so sure that the more education we get, the better we are,” Maher said. “I don’t know what they’re teaching at the colleges. I don’t know that they’re teaching the subjects that are substantive anymore.” He called out the notion of “Credentialism,” defined as looking down on people who don’t have a degree.
Taibbi was firm in his rejection of credentialism. “People have to face the idea that higher education in America is a scam,” he said, adding it’s unlikely that the return on investment in huge tuition would result in a good job. That has led many to awaken, he claimed. “I could have waited tables from the beginning,” Taibbi said of that gradual dawning.
Maher then went into a song and dance about the validity of the Trump-Russia probe. Taibbi shut him down convincingly, popping the bubble on every Maher point.
Mangu-Ward also pooh-poohed the idea that there was collusion.”Trump did a terrible job of colluding with Russia if he was trying to,” she said, lamenting that the “focusing on Russiagate distracted from (Trump’s) terrible immigration policy and his budget.”
After a brief discussion about the new Merck & Co. Covid-19 pill treatment, Maher wound up the program with a diatribe against van life, the young people who rebel against the careerist conventions and take to the road to explore.
Maher noted that younger people have got it backwards, and that you’re supposed to get in a van and travel after the working for a living thing.
“I want to know why filming van life would be found remotely interesting,” Maher said. “Brian Laundrie was not an interesting person until he became a person of interest.”
What the culture of Instagram van life does accomplish, Maher concluded, is that it provides a way “to monetize f***ing off.”