NEW YORK — Bill Maher couldn’t have asked for a better act to follow.
Maher took the stage at the Radio City Music Hall Monday after Ann Coulter – with whom he’d spend the rest of the night debating – had held forth for 15 minutes on the sins of liberals.
The applause for Maher was huge – exactly as one might expect in not-exactly-blood-red midtown Manhattan.
“If we were having this debate in Springfield, Mo., it would be different,” Maher said.
But even in mostly hostile territory, Coulter was no shrinking violet. When moderate Mark Halperin brought up Meghan McCain’s swipes of Coulter on The Daily Beast from earlier in the day — the daughter of the would-be president called her “offensive, radical, insulting, and confusing all at the same time"— Coulter said it didn’t bother her.
And Coulter dealt with the occasional boos while debating with Maher over stem cell research, Iraq, and of course, the 44th president – all while delivering her own blows on everyone from Timothy Geithner to Nancy Reagan.
Coulter began her remarks by noting that it was once OK for the media to mock a candidate’s middle name—as when James Danforth Quayle was the GOP’s VP candidate in 1988.
“Doesn’t the middle name ‘Hussein’ in a Democrat reinforce the impression of the Democrats being soft on Islamic terrorism?” Coulter said, adding that she finds it “hilarious” when Republicans toss it around.
Coulter talked said liberals are always first to be offended — and are “masters of finger-waving indignation.”
She didn’t hold back on the media, either.
“Overnight, the media went from being watchdogs for the people to guard dogs for the government. That’s with the exception of Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann, who are lapdogs of the government,” she said.
“Time magazine got the ball rolling by comparing Obama to Jesus Christ,” Coulter said moments later. “So I lost a bet: they do know who Jesus Christ is.”
Coulter riffed on the media’s comparisons of Obama not only to Jesus, but also to Lincoln, asking: “Did Lincoln do blow mostly in high school or did he wait until college?”
That’s where Maher picked up when he got his 15-minute shot.
“To start off, George Bush did a lot more blow than Obama ever did,” Maher said. “Please don’t ruin the only thing I like about him.”
Maher, the host of HBO’s “Real Time,” aimed at the other side—such as congressional Republican indignation about debt.
“Who put two wars on a credit card?” Maher asked. “There is this debt because George Bush spent money like a pimp with a week to live.”
Maher got applause for any shots at Bush, as when he mentioned Obama’s quoting of Voltaire—“no George W. Bush, that’s not a Harry Potter character.” He used the term “bimbo” to describe Bush, Quayle and Sarah Palin. And Maher attacked those who consider themselves “real Americans,” by claiming that “if it wasn’t for the two coasts, this country would have been sold off to China thirty years ago.”
While Coulter criticized the MSNBC hosts, Maher took on Rush Limbaugh.
“We all say crazy s--t when we’re high,” Maher said. “I think it’s interesting that he is now the undisputed leader of the Republican Party. It shows how clueless they are. They went looking for the future and they found radio.”
Following the opening statement and remarks, Halperin sat down with both Coulter and Maher and began asking about Monday’s news that Obama had ended the Bush-imposed limits on embryonic stem cell research. That led to the two battling over Nancy Reagan, who has come out in support for Obama’s decision.
“Nancy Reagan was so madly in love with Ronald Reagan,” Coulter said, “if you told her that we could bring Ronald Reagan back to life, cure Alzheimer’s by disemboweling everyone in this audience, she would say ‘do it.’”
Maher: “So you’re saying Nancy Reagan, the patron saint of the Republican party - - ”
Coulter: “She’s not the patron saint of the Republican party.”
Maher: “She’s somebody you revere . . . You’ve just said she’s bats--t crazy.”
Coulter responded that it’s funny to see liberals—who once chided Reagan for following astrology—now trying to bring her into a science debate. “I never saw her as a seer of technology,” she added.
The two went on to debate evolution, Iraq and whether Wall Street is full of liberal Democrats, as Coulter claimed.
But even the two political opposites had something in common—that is, in addition to enjoying talking in front of a big audience and getting publicity.
At one point, Halperin asked if the debaters thought Obama regretted any of Obama’s personnel appointments.
Maher said he regrets Obama’s choice of Geithner, because, he said ,the treasury secretary “sounds like he’s sh--ting in his pants.”
“Do you think he inspires confidence, or you more in the pants thing?” Halperin asked Coulter.
“No, I agree with Bill 100 percent on this,” she said.
“We’ve reached consensus here,” Halperin declared. “You both think Tim Geithner’s doing a bad job. If you were Tim Geithner, and heard that Bill Maher and Ann Coulter both thought you were doing a bad job, would you say ‘oh good’ or ‘that’s a bad thing’?”
And on that, there was one more point of agreement: Both Maher and Coulter said that a cabinet secretary wouldn’t want their support.