The Identity Crisis of a Liberal Thinker

In promoting his latest book, “The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas”, writer Jonah Goldberg has been making a solid, distinguishing point about how conservatives and liberals view themselves.

As Goldberg told CNN’s Piers Morgan a few weeks ago, we conservatives are largely aware that we are… well, conservative. There’s an inherent cognizance that allows us to self-identify as such.

Conservatives understand that small government, personal responsibility, the right to bear arms, and a pro-life stance are ‘conservative’ issues.

When conservatives watch Sean Hannity on television or listen to Rush Limbaugh on the radio, we recognize that we’re hearing a conservative viewpoint – not a mainstream consensus. When we turn on FOX News, we’re aware of a right-leaning tilt in much of their analysis.

Conservatives understand that when our candidates lose an election, it’s due to either unpopular policies, a failure to persuade voters toward a vision, or qualification concerns.

Because of this self-awareness, conservatives have traditionally been shy about expressing their political views. That’s changed a little bit over the past couple of years, but for the most part, we naturally presume that the people around us are not conservative, so we choose not to burden them with our grandiosity.

Liberals are often a different story.

They typically view themselves as the mainstream of America. They openly speak their mind in the realm of politics because they assume everyone around them pretty much feels the same way as they do.

Liberals watch the national network news and they can’t seem to find any ideological bias in its presentation. They buy into subtly (and not so subtly) placed commentary as conventional wisdom.

Liberals have a hard time understanding criticism of President Obama. To them, he’s dignified and largely infallible so they reject the notion that reasonable people could possibly be unhappy with the job he’s done. Thus, they conclude that racism must be a factor in those people’s grievances and that FOX News and conservative radio are somehow brainwashing the electorate away from reason and common sense.

A prime of example of this identity crisis was put on display last week when Regis Philbin interviewed David Letterman on CNN. Letterman, whose bitter, left-wing rants and lopsided castigation of prominent Republicans have become trademarks of his program in recent years, made it a point to declare that he was a registered ‘Independent’. He presented this information in order to dismiss the accusation that partisanship plays a role in who he targets for ridicule on his late night show.

The defense was laughable, and Letterman wasn’t even trying to make a joke. The vast majority of hyper-partisan, left-wing nut-jobs at MSNBC are most likely also registered as Independents. Does that mean they’re moderate or fair-minded? Of course not. Merely checking ‘Independent’ on a voter registration form doesn’t exonerate someone from being an ideologue. To insist otherwise would be pure buffoonery. All it means is that you’ll probably receive less political junk-mail and fewer campaign calls in the Fall.

Yet, Letterman probably does fancy himself as some nondiscriminatory, middle-of-the-road guy who’s just saying what he thinks everyone else is thinking. He suffers from a liberal identity crisis.

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews is suffering from the same ailment. Despite providing the country with countless hours of embarrassing fawning over President Obama, and making it his life-mission to excoriate everything conservative, he routinely insists that he’s a centrist, not a liberal.

Chris Matthews would probably have a defender in Dan Rather, who told Jon Stewart earlier this week that, contrary to popular belief, most journalists are not liberal. Rather took it a step further, going as far as to call the notion of liberal prevalence in the mainstream media “a sham.”

Rather’s assertion is a tough one to defend, considering that study after study has drawn the exact opposite conclusion, including one reported in 2010 by the Washington Examiner. The study revealed that President Obama and the Democratic party received 88 percent of the 2008 campaign contributions given by network news executives, on-air talents, producers, and reporters at ABC, CBS, and NBC. And my guess is that most of those contributors wouldn’t consider themselves to be “liberal” either.

Speaking of Jon Stewart, at least he admits that he’s a liberal. As Newsbusters recently unearthed, he even told Larry King back in 2000 that he’s more of a “socialist” than a Democrat. And no, he wasn’t joking. Yet, even in Stewart’s case, he seems to have fooled himself into believing that the left-leaning political tilt that exudes every night from his show on Comedy Central is representative of prevailing wisdom in our country. After all, he and Stephen Colbert organized their “Million Moderate March” in Washington DC less than two years ago as a way to denounce the ideological divide in our country.

Yes, Stewart and Colbert actually presented themselves as moderates.

Now, I’m the first person to admit that Jon Stewart is a comedic genius. I was a fan of his long before he was a household name. But he’s anything but a genius when it comes to how inclusive he believes his views to be. Let’s recap the timeline: In 2000, he was to the left of the Democratic party by his own admission. During the Bush era, he’d clearly swung even further left. Suddenly, in 2010, he was the embodiment of the American moderate?

And let’s look at Stewart’s views on the media. He believes that FOX News is bias. As a conservative, I understand why he says that. I would challenge him on some of the specific allegations he’s made over the years, but the reality is that FOX News leans right in its presentation. It does. I think most conservatives would concur.

What completely substantiates my point about the identity crisis of liberals, however, is that Stewart does NOT see liberal bias in the rest of the news media. Last year on FOX News Sunday, he told Chris Wallace that there is NOT political bias coming from the likes of ABC, CBS, NBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. The most he ceded to Wallace was that he thought MSNBC was just now “attempting” to go in the same direction that he believes FOX News has gone in.

MSNBC is just attempting to show a political slant?

Keep in mind that Stewart made this observation less than a year ago. He wasn’t speaking of the MSNBC from ten years ago. He was speaking of today’s MSNBC who long let Keith Olbermann spew left-wing, dishonest diatribes on a nightly basis. This is the MSNBC that featured the thrill up Chris Matthews’ leg, in his adoration for President Obama. This is the MSNBC that has given Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell, Al Sharpton, and Martin Bashir all hosting positions on their own shows. This is the MSNBC who reported on “white people” who were “showing up with guns” at a Tea Party rally in 2009, when in reality the only guy who brought a gun was an African American – a fact the network purposely edited out of the accompanying video.

Yet, Stewart wasn’t quite prepared to accuse MSNBC (or any of the mainstream media outlets, for that matter) of putting forth an ideological slant. To him, they’re more or less down the middle.

It’s all very sad, isn’t it?

People like Letterman, Matthews, Rather, and Stewart are certainly representative of something, but it’s not the American moderate. They’re representative of the left’s inability to recognize who they, themselves, are. And when so many people refuse to self-examine their shared ideological beliefs, it’s tough to make the case that their ideology has any merit at all.

Author Bio:

John Daly couldn't have cared less about world events and politics until the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks changed his perspective. Since then, he's been deeply engaged in the news of the day with a particular interest in how that news is presented. Realizing the importance of the media in a free, democratic society, John has long felt compelled to identify media injustices when he sees them. With a B.S. in Business Administration (Computer Information Systems), and a 16 year background in software and web development, John has found that his real passion is for writing. He is the author of the Sean Coleman Thriller series, which is available through all major retailers. John lives in Northern Colorado with his wife and two children. Like John on Facebook. Follow John on Twitter.
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  • Wil

    >This is the MSNBC who reported on “white people” who were “showing up with guns” at a Tea Party rally in 2009, when in reality the only guy who brought a gun was an African American <

    It's amazing how much you people aren't aware of! 

  • Dave Koffer

    Great article!  This is who the radical, vile, left-wing extremists really are!

  • Dave O’Connor

    It’s as though Liberals get lost in thought because it’s unfamiliar territory.  They can feel but they can’t think. They hear, but don’t listen. And they can talk…..Oh Boy! Can they talk.

    • Shaune Kelly Scott

      “…lost in thought because it’s unfamiliar territory.” Brilliant, Dave!

  • Michael Bowler

    I am certain that the premise of this article is wrong. I’m not saying there is no liberal bias on all the above mentioned outlets, I’m saying they know with great certitude their relative position to the public as a whole. These people present themselves as moderate to create a belief among the general population that their views are the mainstream. It is a ruse, not lack of self awareness.

    The left has been engaged in this strategy for a very long time, they are well versed in the strategy and, most importantly, they are seriously playing for keeps. Meanwhile, conservatives are just finding their voices, moving swiftly to field responsible candidates that reflect their views but very amateurish at the game.

    While I do not advocate being deceptive to win support in the same way as the progressives are, I do think we should at least be aware they are being as deceptive as they are…and calling them on it when they provide excellent examples, the kind that even the more naive will recognize with a little encouragement.

    • Terry Walbert


      I agree that we shouldn’t assume that those on the left have integrity.  They want to have their agenda adopted, and for them all is fair.  This is what pseudo-conservatives such as G.W. Bush and John McCain never understood.

      • Michael Bowler

        I’m pretty sure GWB lies between the left and myself, ideologically, maybe slightly more left.

        I don’t consider GWB to be very conservative at all…and McCain is just one of them, run as an “R” to ensure they got one no matter the outcome of the election. McCain uses conservative rhetoric but when it matters, he votes with the progressives.

  • Terry Walbert

    Matthews, Letterman, Maddow, Schultz, et al. show that the unexamined life can get you on a third-rate cable news network but it won’t get you high ratings. 

    Check out TV by the Numbers at

    • John Daly

      Well, if you’re a comedian you can do alright. But if you’re trying to be taken seriously, it’s a tougher sell. 😉

      • Terrywalbert


        I finally figured out why I find the Matthews, Maddows, Schultzes, and Chris Hayes so annoying.  They remind me of hectoring, unpleasant teachers that I had or heard about while in school.  Maddow is particularly bad about pointing her finder at the audience while she talks.  The only one who has any semblance of personal appeal is Lawrence O’Donnell.   As for Al Sharpton (Sharp Tongue?), he is a third-rate Goebbels.

        On the contrary, Fox’s hosts such as O’Reilly and Van Sustran, remind me of the competent and pleasant teachers I had.  Hannity can get a little preachy as times, but he’s still a mensch and generally treats guests with opposing views fairly.

        • Wil

          O’Reilly and Van Susteren??Ha- One’s a pervert and the other is a Scientologist!


          • Terry Walbert


  • Wil

    Hey John & Goldberg, Hey Jonah, wanna know how one actually DOES “cheat in the war of ideas?”
    Artificially inflate their resume on their book jackets to make them appear to be more mainstream and intelligent than they actually are (e.g., LIE)
    Typical for a rightwinger…

    • John Daly

      You’re describing Barack Obama, right? You think he’s a right-winger now?

      • Dave O’Connor

        Just playing swing, I’d say.  It’s like Specter’s “Life Among the Cannibals…”
        Well, what do chameleons expect?
        If anyone thinks Chicago’s champion Three-Card-Monty dealer is going to show his real hand, well….I have a ‘international-contingency-operation’ they can buy into.

  • GlenFS

    Fox News is slanted right, but the alternative viewpoints are present too.  That doesn’t usually happen on the other networks.

    John, I think you’re right about self-awareness and lack thereof on the left. I think it’s because we compare ourselves to pop culture and its megaphone volume and influence and we see ourselves as being different from that. Jon Stewart, Letterman…. look around and see a close fit. Good insight, John.

    • John Daly

      I agree. FOX News offers a liberal viewpoint along with pretty much every political story that they report on. The mainstream media often only presents the left’s side.

      • Wil

        Nonsense, I watch Fox News and on every program the so-called liberal is always out numbered and constantly talked over. If you disagree, you are lying or stupid! 

        • John Daly

           I don’t disagree that liberals are outnumbered on FOX. I said that FOX provides the liberal point of view, along with a conservative one, for pretty much every story.

          Now, Wil… I’m sure you’re every bit as agitated over the rest of the news networks whose liberal contingent always outnumbers and talks over the conservatives guests they occasionally feature, correct?

          After all, you’re always such an even-handed guy and all… right?

          • Dave O’Connor

            I hear an efort of balance in Fox.  But, they’ve been so demonized by the Mass Media and political powers, that even the ‘reasoned comments’ of any partisan element becomes questioned.
            And, I find their liberal voices are fairly reasonable and fairly treated in dialogues.

        • Vance P. Frickey

          Wil, Daly’s point is that the liberal is PRESENT on every story with two sides on Fox. Unlike the equivalent situation with non-liberals (or simply dissenting liberals like Juan Williams or Bob Schieffer) on the Daily Show, Chris Mathhews’ Hardball, ad nauseam.

  • Kathie Ampela

    I don’t care if anyone is a liberal thinker, I care when liberal thinkers control the message. Fox News may lean right but they offer the only counter viewpoint on television and that’s pretty damn scary.  Can you name one right leaning late night comedian? How about one conservative TV anchor?  If 20% of the population identifies themselves as liberals, how is it that liberals control the message of the culture? When Dan Rather goes on Jon Stewart and claims there’s no liberal slant in journalism only fair minded individuals who care about truth, it’s frightening. Bernie made a good point last night on BOR about this. Rather downplayed the importance of the Vietnam war during the 2004 campaign when the subject was John Kerry’s war record. He shortly thereafter presented forged documents on 60 Minutes to smear George W. Bush and tried to alter the outcome of the same election.  (Walter Cronkite misreported the Tet Offensive in 1968 and altered public opinion; that’s scary power. I'm 45; I grew up listening to the liberal interpretation of the Vietnam war; I never even knew there was another side to it until about 8 years ago when I started doing my own research. I accepted what was spoon fed to me. That’s scary power.)

    I don’t care about anyone’s “identity crisis,” it’s the power that such an “identity crisis” wields over public perception and public policy that everyone should care about.

    • Kathie Ampela

      I think it’s safe to say that Walter Cronkite probably suffered from the same identity crisis:

      • Terry Walbert

         Walter Cronkite was idealized because of his voice and manner.  I first began to see him differently when he interviewed Jimmy Carter’s mother at the 1976 Democratic convention.  Mrs. Carter mentioned that Jimmy’s father had been a follower of Tom Watson.  Cronkite said he didn’t know of Tom Watson, who was only the most prominent southern Populist and demagogue of the early 20th century.

        If you didn’t know about Watson, I’m not criticizing you.  But Cronkite should have had a better knowledge of American political history in the 20th century.  Since Carter was the first candidate from the Deep South to run for the presidency, I expected Walter to have done his homework.  But he was all smoke and mirrors, in short, a humbug.

        • Terry Walbert

           I mispoke.  Carter was the first candidate from the Deep South to run in the 20th century.

          • Dave O’Connor

            And, if I recall.  Carter had his “pastor” problem also. Wasn’t he removed for his rather racist slant?

          • Vance P. Frickey

            Don’t know about the DEEP South, but Woodrow Wilson hailed from Virginia. He was also the most doctrinaire racist to ever occupy the White House in the 20th century, running against Roosevelt and Taft partly on the ground that he’d undo the “damage” they did by requiring African-Americans be considered for Federal employment. Damn those Republicans, anyway, Wilson would have said.

    • Terry Walbert

       The Tet offensive was the worst of Cronkite’s boners.  He was ignorant of one of the first principles of military science.  A successful offensive can often be followed by a more devastating counter-offensive.  In this case, the counter-offensive resulted in the elimination of the Viet Cong as a serious factor in the fighting. 

      Cronkite portrayed it as a defeat for the US because he wanted the US to get out of Vietnam.

      • Dave O’Connor

        Cronkite handed a victory to General Giap.  And the latter has as much as said so, if not personally citing Cronkite.
        It was out of such episodes that the “Fourth Estate” became an organ of special interest politics.