Sen. Ben Sasse: I should have spoken up when Bill Maher used N-word in interview.

GOP Senator: I Should Have Spoken Up When Bill Maher Used N-Word in Interview

GOP Senator: I Should Have Spoken Up When Bill Maher Used N-Word in Interview

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June 3 2017 10:53 AM

GOP Senator: I Should Have Spoken Up When Bill Maher Used N-Word

Bill-Maher-Performs-During-New-York-Comedy-Festival
Bill Maher performs during the New York Comedy Festival at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 5, 2016, in New York City.

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Sen. Ben Sasse from Nebraska didn’t wait long to agree with all the outrage on social media that quickly chastised him for just sitting there when HBO host Bill Maher used the N-word during an interview on Friday night. The senator took to Twitter early on Saturday to say that he should have chastised Maher for using a word that amounts to “an attack on universal human dignity.” (Update: HBO called the comedian’s comments “inexcusable and tasteless,” and Maher later apologized.)

The controversy arose during Maher’s weekly Real Time show, where Sasse was a guest to discuss his new book, The Vanishing American Adult. At one point of the conversation, Maher pointed out how adults are putting a lot of effort into dressing up for Halloween these days and asked the senator whether that was a phenomenon in Nebraska as well. “It’s frowned up,” Sasse said. “We don’t do that quite as much.” Maher seemed encouraged by the answer and said that he should “get to Nebraska more.” Sasse then replied that the comedian was welcome to go: “We’d love to have you work in the fields with us.” Maher seemed surprised by Sasse’s invitation and then jokingly replied, “Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house nigger.” Sasse grinned and chuckled.

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The Real Time audience applauded, but many took to social media to criticize the comedian for somehow thinking it was OK to use the N-word on television. That lack of action on his part was wrong, Sasse wrote on Twitter Saturday. “I’m a 1st Amendment absolutist. Comedians get latitude to cross hard lines,” Sasse tweeted. “But free speech comes with a responsibility to speak up when folks use that word. Me just cringing last night wasn’t good enough.”

Sasse tweeted that he wishes he would have “been quick enough to say in the moment, ‘Hold up, why would you think it’s OK to use that word? The history of the N-word is an attack on universal human dignity. It’s therefore an attack on the American Creed. Don’t use it.’ ”

Some saw Maher’s use of the slur as another example of his racism. The Root’s Monique Judge says what happened Friday night is another example of why the comedian’s show needs to be canceled:

This is not the first time Maher has crossed the line or shown himself to be a troll for ratings.
In February, he invited infamous alt-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos on his show along with Larry Wilmore. After Milo trolled his fellow guests for most of the show, Wilmore ended up telling him that he could “go fuck” himself. […]
Maher doesn’t get a pass just because he likes black women. In fact, that makes his racism disguised as comedy especially egregious. He proved once again on Friday night that he doesn’t care about black people or blackness; we are all just props to him, and co-opting our women, our language and our oppression is just a ploy to make himself seem edgy and hip.
The man is disgusting, and his time in the limelight is long past over. Real Time With Bill Maher needs to be canceled immediately.

Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson agreed Maher needs to go, writing on Twitter that “There are no explanations that make this acceptable.”

Writer Wajahat Ali pointed out that anyone who was surprised by Maher being “racist-y” needs to “check w your Arab & Muslim friends.”

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.