U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) discusses his new book with Bill Maher.
Photo credit: Janet Van Ham/HBO

In 2017’s America, we always have to have someone as a target. This weekend, the person finding himself under fire is U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE).

Sasse went on the Bill Maher’s HBO show ‘Real Time.’ Maher is a liberal ‘comedian,’ known for utterly vulgar comedy and commentary. Somehow, he’s still a darling of the left. Interesting.

Sasse went on Maher’s show to talk about some of the content of his recent bestselling book, The Vanishing American Adult, with a different audience. They were discussing the boundaries between adolescence and maturity, and the conversation turned to banter about adults still dressing up for Halloween. Sasse said that this didn’t happen in his state, and the dialogue continued as follows:

Maher: “I’ve got to get to Nebraska more.”

Sasse:“You’re welcome. We’d love to have you work in the fields with us.”

Maher: “Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house nigger.”

At this comment, Sasse’s face grew clearly uncomfortable, and you could tell he was astonished to hear such a thing come out of Maher’s mouth. The conversation quickly continued without Sasse calling out the comment for what it was: racist, and crude.

Senator Sasse quickly regretted not calling the comment out and tweeted out this four-part apology:

Sasse is still under fire. I think that these attacks are invalid for several reasons.

Sasse reacted exactly how I would have, and later responded exactly how I would have.

Would you expect to hear the n-word during an interview in 2017? I wouldn’t. When watching the video, it’s clear that Sasse was caught off-guard and shocked by what came out of Maher’s mouth. Would it have been better if he had stopped the show and commented on what a terrible word that is? Yes. However, if I was in his place, I can only imagine how flustered I would be; I’m sure I would not be thinking straight at that point. Although it would have been better for Sasse to call Maher out right then and there, I can understand why he didn’t, and I appreciate that he took the time to apologize after the interview.

There was an apology that was not coerced.

Unlike many politicians who make mistakes, Sasse didn’t have to be coerced into giving an apology. He simply gave it. There was nothing Kathy Griffinesque about it either; it was completely uncoerced. It was obvious that Sasse was kicking himself for not commenting on the racist remark directly after it happened. I’ll take an honest apology over a tacky, forced one any day. Maher hesitated to apologize, and there was definitive pressure on him to do so when he gave an apology.

We are hypocritical in who we target for the abuse of free speech.

Free speech includes hate speech and harmful speech as well; however, for a great society to function, it is important to call out abusive free speech where we see it (granted, I’m not on the same side as Millennials who simply can’t tolerate hearing things they don’t like; I think it’s important to call out hate and racism such as the use of the n-word in this scenario). However, you typically only see abuse of free speech called out in certain scenarios.

Is the person in question a conservative who said something terrible? You’re probably going to hear about it in the next day’s headlines. Is the person a darling of the left? You most likely won’t hear much fuss about it. Would Maher’s comment have even made the news if not for the lack of comment at the moment from Sasse? Questionable.

Sasse was attempting to reach out.

If there were any grave mistake on Sasse’s part, I would say it was going within 500 feet of Bill Maher. However, it is commendable that he was trying to reach out to a broader audience with different values. Would I have chosen to go on that show? No, but I completely understand Sasse’s logic in choosing to do so.

Let’s give Senator Sasse a break, because, honestly, we would probably be in the same situation if we filled his shoes.

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