It wasn’t when the Republicans started sneering at the word. That was a mark of honor. I was happy to call myself a liberal during Reagan’s term.
It really started going rancid when Bill Maher adopted the label. “Liberal” now meant sexist hack and apologist for war and racism.
A week previously, Maher appeared on MSNBC’s flagship breakfast show, Morning Joe (9/12/19), where he claimed that the Democrats’ left-wing (i.e., Bernie Sanders) was a “cancer” destroying the party, warning that the left is “scarier and crazier than Trump,” and nominating a leftist as its presidential candidate would spell disaster in the next election. (Decrying the supposed unelectability of the left is a favorite pastime of elite pundits—FAIR.org, 2/26/19, 7/2/19, 8/21/19.)
Media almost unanimously present Maher as a “liberal” (e.g. Salon, 10/11/14, 9/21/19; USA Today, 7/8/18; New York Post, 6/29/19) or even a “progressive” (The Hill, 2/2/17) comedian. Yet any inspection of his political positions dispels this illusion. To be sure, he generally supported President Barack Obama and opposes Donald Trump (although he has been known to do the opposite of both). But he also has a long history of repeatedly taking reactionary positions on many subjects, especially war.
On his previous Comedy Central show Politically Incorrect, Maher praised the Vietnam War as “necessary,” arguing it helped end the Cold War. (The US officially began its involvement in Vietnam 36 years before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.) In 2013, he joked about killing antiwar activist Medea Benjamin after she interrupted Obama, and recanted his anti-Iraq War position, claiming, “Iraq is doing better than I thought it would be.” He praised George W. Bush for “creating a country” there.
Need I point out that he’s also an anti-vaccination atheist, and a libertarian? He uses his criticisms of Trump as a merkin to cover up his fundamental illiberalism. But this part is legitimately true:
Ultimately, Maher has built up an impressive following and continues to espouse snarky elitist hot takes weekly for HBO, earning an estimated $10 million per year doing so. Call him a racist, a bigot or an astute businessman; just don’t call him a liberal.
Although I can’t say that embracing the values of the 1990s through the Trump years to his own profit is exactly the mark of a principled person.