An interview with Bob Costas on Friday’s edition of Real Time started out about sports but not surprisingly, it did not take long for the discussion to turn political. At first, the conversation focused on Colin Kaepernick, with Costas and host Bill Maher speaking favorably about the controversial former quarterback. Eventually, the conversation turned to political correctness; with the majority of the panel taking the view that an obsession with judging historical figures by today’s standards leads to a slippery slope.
Maher asked the former NBC sportscaster if he saw “anybody like today who’s in that league with…Ali and Arthur Ashe and, you know, people who really change culture?” After praising SJW atheletes LeBron James, Malcolm Jenkins, and Doug Baldwin as “articulate and well-informed,” Costas mentioned the name “Colin Kaepernick,” which caused the crowd to erupt into applause. Costas proclaimed that “Colin Kaepernick called attention to a very important issue,” adding “he did it with grace.”
But Costas ultimately declined to elevate Kaepernick to the level of Ali or Ashe, because in part, he said voting was useless, as if Hillary was just as bad as Trump. Nonetheless, Costas concluded “he did a good thing…but I think others can carry it forward…more effectively.”
Eventually, the conversation turned into a debate about political correctness; with a particular focus on the controversy surrounding Kate Smith. The legendary singer has become a target of the PC police because “she sang a horrible racist song in the 30s.”
Costas advised against writing Smith “out of history posthumously” and argued that:
We make the mistake of assuming that our cultural moment represents some kind of end game…of sensitivity and awareness and the truth is that those wagging the finger today, if things keep going the way they are, with extreme political correctness or extreme identity politics progressing at warp speed, then those wagging a finger today may be on the other end of it tomorrow.
CNN’s John Avlon agreed, saying “the impulse to excise artists for any manner of sins gets a little, a little Orwellian, it gets a little bit writing them out of history. We have got to confront our history, the good, bad, and the ugly, especially the ugly. But disappearing it seems really dangerous.”
Throughout the conversation, the panel talked about the consequences of judging historical figures by today’s standards. Costas brought up the existence of a “Marx brothers routine that is punctuated by ‘And that’s why darkies were born,’” asking “are we going to stop watching Marx brothers movies?” Maher mentioned that a Kate Smith statue in Philadelphia was taken down before wondering if a Ralph Kramden statue in New York City would be taken down because he “used to threaten to punch his wife in the face if she kept annoying him,” a practice the PC police would certainly find unflattering.
While Friday’s Real Time included the usual material one would expect, like the Kaepernick praise, it also made some very good points about political correctness. It would benefit the Kate Smith protesters to listen to their fellow liberals in this case.
A transcript of the relevant portion of Friday’s edition of Real Time is below. Click “expand” to read more.
Real Time With Bill Maher
BILL MAHER: But look, whenever I have you on, I’m always like, oh good, because especially a week like this, I’m so depressed because of the Mueller thing, and I think good, Bob’s on, we can just talk about sports, except, you know what, sports, it always goes to politics. Sometimes, it leads politics. You know, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Robert Kraft making the happy ending an issue as it…
BOB COSTAS: Right.
MAHER: …finally should be in America.
BOB COSTAS: And Robert Kraft being in the same sentence with Jackie Robinson is rather disturbing, actually.
MAHER: Well, no one defends Robert Kraft and I feel like I should.
MAHER: I don’t like his…
COSTAS: Somebody has to take up the lost causes.
MAHER: I don’t like his politics but, you know, he’s a…he, he lost his wife of like many decades, so he’s getting a little love at the place and, you know, we have to…anyway.
COSTAS: Don’t let that go.
MAHER: So, so is any…you see anybody like today who’s in that league with, with Ali and Arthur Ashe and, you know, people who really…
MAHER: …change culture? Curt Flood.
COSTAS: Lebron…Lebron James has tried to step up.
COSTAS: Malcolm Jenkins with the Philadelphia Eagles, Doug Baldwin, they’ve been, they’ve been articulate and well-informed. Colin Kaepernick certainly…
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
COSTAS: Yeah. Colin Kaepernick…
MAHER: Hey, that one got applause.
COSTAS: Colin Kaepernick called attention to a very important issue.
MAHER: And paid for it.
COSTAS: He…and paid for it.
MAHER: Like Ali.
COSTAS: He did it with grace. The reason I wouldn’t elevate him to the level of an Ali or an Arthur Ashe or Kareem, who continues to be a public intellectual, or Curt Flood, whom you mentioned; is that every time he speaks, which is rarely, he says something that doesn’t necessarily…
MAHER: Oh yeah.
COSTAS: You know, when he says…
MAHER: Yeah, I…
COSTAS: …I don’t vote because the oppressor will never, never allow you to vote your way out of your oppression, I guess it doesn’t matter to him that when he first took a knee, Obama was President…
COSTAS: And when he was blackballed from the league…
COSTAS: Trump was President.
MAHER: He was not helpful in the election because…
MAHER: …he said, I remember like tearing him a new asshole about it. He was like, oh Hillary, she’s a racist, he…Trump’s a racist, what is it…and that’s…okay. So we’ll talk to him.
COSTAS: Yeah, I mean, he, he, he did a good thing.
MAHER: He’s young.
COSTAS: He did a good thing but…
MAHER: Right. He did a good thing.
COSTAS: But I think others can carry it forward…
COSTAS: …more effectively.
MAHER: All right, so let me…here’s a sports question that is…well, everybody can answer this one because it’s really about the whole country. Kate Smith. How many don’t know who Kate Smith is? I don’t blame you. I barely remember, when I was a kid, she was this old bag on TV. I think I thought she was Ethel Merman. Do we have a picture? We probably…Right, okay, so, I remember like the Ed Sullivan, she’d be on.
MAHER: Like who is this corny old bag? Bring on Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. What is it…You know, she…
COSTAS: Nice reference.
MAHER: In their civil war uniforms. At least it was the union but, you know, you never know back then. But, you know, but Kate Smith, God Bless America, okay…
MAHER: …so it’s her turn in the barrel because they found out that besides singing “God Bless America,” which they play at Yankee games, she sang a horrible racist song in the 30s…
COSTAS: Two of them.
MAHER: Two of them. Okay but I don’t think Kate Smith was leading the charge to oppress black people. I think she was doing what every person did back then.
COSTAS: Well, rather than write her out of history posthumously, maybe it should be the proverbial teaching moment where you say, look, these…this was not, from what we can determine, an overtly hateful person. But it’s reflective of how insidious these attitudes were that someone who didn’t think…
COSTAS: …or didn’t mean any harm thought this was perfectly okay, and so did millions of other…
MAHER: That’s it. Millions…that’s what I’m saying is like…
COSTAS: There’s a, there’s a Marx brothers routine, are we going to stop watching Marx brothers movies? A Marx brothers routine that is punctuated by “And that’s why darkies were born.”
MAHER: Well, that’s the song she sang.
COSTAS: That’s right.
MAHER: Right. But it was everybody. And of course we look at it now, and we cringe, as we should, but I think people object when the attitude seems to be, “If I was back then, I wouldn’t have been acting that way,” yes, you would.
COSTAS: Well, not everybody but a lot of people…
MAHER: Almost everybody.
COSTAS: You know, I think we make the mistake of assuming that our cultural moment represents some kind of end game…
JOHN AVLON: Right.
COSTAS: …of sensitivity and awareness and the truth is that those wagging the finger today, if things keep going the way they are, with extreme political correctness or extreme identity politics progressing at warp speed, then those wagging a finger today may be on the other end of it tomorrow.
AVLON: It’s more than that, though, right? I mean, it’s, look…our grandchildren, great-grandchildren will look back and think we were monsters or idiots for something. That’s inevitable.
AVLON: And I think that’s why you have got to be real careful about projecting our values on the past while still keeping a sense of moral clarity in teaching. Look, I happen to think that she does a lousy virgin version of “God Bless America.” But I, I think the, the impulse to excise artists for any manner of sins gets a little, a little Orwellian, it gets a little bit writing them out of history. We have got to confront our history, the good, bad, and the ugly, especially the ugly. But disappearing it seems really dangerous.
ZERLINA MAXWELL: I mean, I think it’s great when people realize the mistakes they have made and apologize for them, I actually accept apologies…
MAHER: But she’s dead.
MAXWELL: No, so obviously this example’s not a good one in that case. But I do, but I do think that political correctness essentially is just don’t be an asshole. That’s all we are asking.
COSTAS: That’s the best definition.
AVLON: That’s the simple rule.
COSTAS: That’s what it used to be.
MAHER: That’s how it used to be.
MAXWELL: I’m not saying that some people don’t go too far…
MAXWELL: But that’s the fundamental thing is like there are things you shouldn’t say because that would make you an asshole and you don’t want to be that.
MAHER: But they, I mean, they took her, they took her statue down, which, I don’t care, again, I don’t give a shit about Kate Smith or if you sing the song, I’m going to get a hot dog because I don’t even think they should be singing the song. They used to sing “Take me out to the ballgame” and then after 9/11 we had to do that…could we give that a rest? Okay. But, but they took the statue down, and I think that Ralph Kram…I’ve said this before, Ralph Kramden’s statue. How long is that going to stay up because they get…there it is, in front of the bus station.
MAHER: He…every week, he…
AVLON: New York Port Authority.
MAHER: Yeah. Every week, he used to threaten to punch his wife in the face if she kept annoying him.
COSTAS: I actually…
MAHER: Tick tock, Ralph Kramden.