Rachel Maddow at a public event promoting Air America in 2008. Source: Wikipedia

EDGE2.0 – Rachel Maddow in 2006: 'I Am Definitely a Liberal'

Robert Nesti READ TIME: 15 MIN.

Editor's Note: EDGE2.0 is the sequel to EDGE1.0, which was a retrospective of this LGBTQ+ web publication's first decade. Now as we end or second and head into our third, we look back again at notable stories and events over EDGE's history.

In 2006, Rachel Maddow wasn't the media celebrity she is today. At the time she was hosting a morning radio show on Air America, the liberal talk show radio network. What made Maddow notable in the sea of that medium's blather was her incisive and lucid analysis of politics during the George W. Bush's second administration. Familiar are names from the time like Dick Cheney and Rick Santorum, as is her answer to the question, is America too polarized? What is surprising is to recall that Maddow got her start on television as a regular contributor to "Tucker," the MSNBC talk show that featured the former Fox talk show host who was to become Maddow's rival.

Looking for a fresh way to start your morning? It may be time to give Air America a chance, specifically the Rachel Maddow Show that airs on this liberal talk show network from 7 to 9am. (Locally she's heard on 1430AM / WXKS and1200AM / WKOX, or streamed from the Air America website.)

Maddow, who broadcasts from New York, offers a highly informed, unabashedly left wing, and at times cheeky look at the current political situation. Along with comic sidekick Kent Jones, Maddow rigorously exposes the big lies of the current administration, and does so with a warm enthusiasm that will prepare you for any water cooler debates that you encounter over your day.

The 33-year-old Maddow and her partner, Susan Mikula, split their time between their home outside of Northampton and a small apartment in New York, where her weekday workday begins at 2 am. She also recently completed a stint on Tucker Carlson's MSNBC show The Situation with Tucker Carlson, in which she could be seen debating the shaggy-haired, bow-tied conservative on a weekly basis. EDGE spoke to her recently about her radio show, her passion for politics, and her revisionist view of Vice President Dick Cheney.

TV personality Rachel Maddow (L) and The New Yorker staff writer Ariel Levy attend The 2009 New Yorker Festival: Rachel Maddow Interview at Stage 37 on October 17, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Joe Kohen/Getty Images for The New Yorker)

EDGE: What is like having to be at work so early in the morning?

Rachel Maddow: It blows. I've been doing it for more than a year, and you never get use to it. Even if you're a person who thinks of themselves as a night person, around 4 am you want to go to bed. That's when I'm having my news meeting and things are kicking into gear. It's a very strange, alienating lifestyle.

EDGE: Really? That doesn't show in your broadcast. You are so enthusiastic and aware of so many things - you are one of the brightest people in the media.

Rachel Maddow: That's nice for you to say. I'm not live in New York until 7 am, but I go in at 2 am because it takes an incredible amount of time to prep every show. The rule of thumb in talk radio is that you prep for one hour for every hour on the air, and we do five hours for two hours, which is obscene.

EDGE: It shows in the show. You cover so much, and have so much information at the tip of your fingertips ...

Rachel Maddow: We are trying to do a news show that is good enough that if people listen to us they don't miss NPR, they don't miss 1010 WIN, they don't miss whatever else they go to for news; but they also have more fun because they are listening to us.

EDGE: Which brings up the change in where people are getting their news. Your show is also often very funny - you have Kent Brown, who gives the show a Daily Show-style edge. The Daily Show is one of the outlets that has become a new source in the past few years, along with Fox News. Do you think where we are getting our news has changed?

Rachel Maddow: Kent Jones is a former Daily Show writer, and I'm incredibly lucky to have him. He's very funny and makes great jokes, and is very Daily Show-esque; but the funny thing is that he's not making things up. He's giving real information, so even the funny part of the show is informational and newsy. I think the popularity of Fox News, for all I disagree with them about, has made it okay to get information that you know is coming from a person with an opinion. I am definitely a liberal, I am someone coming from the left when I give my opinion; but I am also credible. I am a person who does my homework and gives real information. What the Daily Show has given us is a willingness for people to understand stuff better if it's explained to them in a way that's more entertaining. You get more engaged with things if you're laughing and entertained. It doesn't have to be made up to be real funny. The world is real funny right now. Bush in Germany talking about his 'wild boar barbeque' while the Middle East is blowing up is funny - it's terrifying, but it has a really funny edge to it.

Rachel Maddow attends Variety & Rolling Stone Truth Seekers Summit at Second on August 02, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

EDGE: Do you think the way to counter Fox News is not to get mad, but to get even?

Rachel Maddow: Yes. No one is making anyone watch them. They are winning the cable news ratings by a lot because they figured out a way to make people watch them. People like the idea that they can get their news from a place with a definite opinion. They failed for a lot of years, but Rupert Murdoch was willing to throw millions of dollars their way before his idea became marketable and they made those high ratings. So, we should take advantage of that opinionated news niche that they've carved out. They represent a minority opinion in this country, but people watch them because they are entertaining. I think we are both entertaining and people agree with us. So, we are at an advantage. We just need to let people find out about us.

EDGE: We seem very divided as a nation these days. Has the country become too polarized?

Rachel Maddow: The country has always been polarized. Senators in the 1800s use to come to blows on the floor of the Senate and have duels. George Washington fretted about the rise of the political parties - he thought that they would destroy America. We've always been at each other's throats; the question is whether or not we're true to what makes this country, this country. The one real problem is the willingness of those on the Right to walk away from the Constitution. That's the big threat. I feel like Constitutional loyalists - left, right, and center - are upset about that, and see it as an extreme position. I think that extremism threatens America more than polarization.

EDGE: One of the most disturbing aspects of the Bush presidency is his attempt to change the balance of power. Do you see this as a threat to democracy?

Rachel Maddow: Yes. The president is now asserting power to overrule the courts and the Congress. That is not American. In terms of balance between the right and the left - that's a fight. The Republicans will win sometime, the Democrats will win sometimes; that's something I'm much less worried about than this changing of the structure of the government, changing what it means to be president. That's bigger than right and left, that's a coup d'etat. That's threatening the Republic, [it's] not just people I disagree with.

EDGE: What's refreshing about your outlook is that you take the bigger picture on issues. You have more global approach to looking at things.

Rachel Maddow: Everyone picks issues that move them, and I pick issues that portray the bigger issue stuff. I'm 33, and I remember those little civic jingles that use to run on Saturday mornings. ("I'm just a bill/and I'm sitting here on Capitol Hill.") When I see those, I get misty. I'm a total wuss for civics. And the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Supreme Court. When I walk by the Supreme Court, I choke up. I have this super-geek-factor-total-nerdy love affair with the patriotic symbols of American government, because what we have is really amazing, so the stuff that moves me is not necessarily the attack on gay marriage (though that moves me too). The stuff that moves me more profoundly is when the president says he doesn't have to follow the laws that Congress makes. Wait a minute, now you're messing with my Constitution. That hits me close to the bone. I recognize that I'm a total civics geek - I'm a big nerd for this stuff. That drives my passion and the things I get interested in, and what makes me the most angry about the current state of politics.

Television and radio personality Rachel Maddow (R) speaks with supporters of Republican candidate Joe Miller prior to his debate with write-in candidate Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Democratic candidate Scott McAdams hosted by The Alaska World Affairs

EDGE: How do you keep your sense of humor?

Rachel Maddow: I see the absurdity in a lot of what people I disagree with tend to do. It's absurd that Rick Santorum has a gay spokesperson. Rick Santorum himself is not hilarious; Rick Santorum is a nightmare. But the fact that he has gay spokesperson is hilarious. I feel that this spokesperson is pitiful. I feel kind of sad for him, but I also laugh at him. Did you ever hear Santorum? He's the man who says that what you do to show your love of somebody, or what you do when you have sex, is the equivalent of a person abusing a dog. Why would a gay person work for this guy? That he goes to work every day and smiles and try to put the best face on is absurd. I feel sad for him as a person, but politically that's absolutely absurd.

EDGE: David Brock was like that at one point -

Rachel Maddow: Yes, but David Brock did the right thing. He moved from right to left, then wrote a tell-all book about what was wrong about where it had been. If all right-wingers would do that, I would be happy.

EDGE: You use an audio clip of Rush Limbaugh saying, "Has anybody ever heard of Rachel Maddow?" on your show. How did that come about?

Rachel Maddow: I was on Joe Scarborough's show on MSNBC, and he was trying to get me to condemn a Democrat who had compared what was going on in prisoner abuse with the "just following orders" defense that Nazis gave during the Second World War. I said, yes, I agree that Democrats shouldn't make comparisons with Nazis when they're talking about American politics, but I wasn't just going to condemn Democrats for that; Republicans do it all the time. Rush Limbaugh still calls feminist "femi-Nazis," and I used that as an example – and he took me to task on his radio show.

EDGE: What would you say to him if you could speak to him, or would you speak to him? That is, has the debate become so toxic that are there some people you just can't be civil with?

Rachel Maddow: I would feel that I would have a hard time being civil to Donald Rumsfeld and Anthony Scalia. I pick them out because they have such disdain for things I care about. In Scalia's case, it's the Constitution and the protection of civil rights; in Rumsfeld, I think he's destroying the military. The people that participate in the military are volunteers, and you have to be circumspect about how you use them, not just toss them about like rice at a wedding party. They have been so uncivil and nasty in the way they cavalierly undermined the stuff I care about that their incivility would make it hard for me to be anything but sarcastic and nasty to them. I don't think I could interview them. Someone like Dick Cheney, or Condie Rice, or George Bush, or Rush Limbaugh I could interview ...

EDGE: You could talk to Cheney?

Rachel Maddow: Sure. The big thing about Cheney is that - I don't find Cheney scary. He has a scary agenda, but people don't give him credit for how incompetent he is. Everything the guy has touched as turned to merde. The guy has an incredible record of incompetence. When he was the CEO of Halliburton, his big decision was to buy Dresser Industries. As soon as they bought them, Dresser Industries became a multi-billion dollar liability due their asbestos claims. Everyone thinks of him as a mastermind, but he just a guy with bad ideas and bad execution of them. Everything he is doing in this White House power-grab and the expansion of Executive power has been done so poorly, so ham-handed. He surrounds himself with such ignorant sycophants that it's all going to be overturned even before he gets out of office. Dick Cheney gets far too much credit than he deserves.

Television host Rachel Maddow arrives for a lunch hosted in honor of Prime Minister David Cameron at the State Department on March 14, 2012 in Washington, DC. Cameron is on an official visit to Washington, where President Obama will host him at a State Di

EDGE: You mean the President actually picked someone as incompetent as himself to be his vice president?

Rachel Maddow: Yes, and Cheney gets far too much credit for being in control. I think his legacy is going to be the exact opposite of what he is doing. He is trying to turn the presidency back into a monarchy, but he's doing it so stupidly and so transparently that he's turning conservatives away from him, not to mention liberals and Democrats. His legacy is going to be a reversal of what he's trying to do. He wasn't sly enough. He's not slick enough.

EDGE: If you had one question to ask President Bush, what would it be?

Rachel Maddow: What was the most important thing you learned from being a male cheerleader at Yale? No one talks about him being a cheerleader at Yale, but I think it was crucial in his training to be President.

EDGE: Do you think the Valerie Plame Wilson civil lawsuit has a chance?

Rachel Maddow: I do. What's really important is that if this lawsuit is allowed to go ahead, they have so much more leeway to ask questions and ferret around what they need to know than Patrick Fitzgerald did. And the Republicans, because they are idiots, set a precedent with the Paula Jones case that people can sue the President of the United States. (Remember, that was the case that made Ann Coulter famous.) They won't be constrained. They can go after Cheney, Bush, Karl Rove. It's going to be a big deal.

EDGE: So we will learn who the sources are?

Rachel Maddow: Yes. I don't think it will be a surprise. I mean, it's not that many people it can be. It's entirely possible that Cheney or Bush could be one of the sources. The question is, how much will be disclosed in the course of this lawsuit that will make them do things that are more desperate? This isn't just sex with an intern, this is outing a spy. This is national security stuff. This is treason. This is stuff about the health of the country. This isn't the Paula Jones case; it's not the Monica Lewinsky case. If this lawsuit goes ahead, it will put them in a real desperate situation, and that's when people show their true colors.

EDGE: Aren't you nostalgic for a little stain on a dress?

Rachel Maddow: I know. Exactly. Remember when our biggest worry was, did the President lie about sex?

EDGE: Ann Coulter is pretty loathsome, but she manages to control the debate in her own insane way. Should there be a counterpart for her on the left?

Rachel Maddow: Do you want one?

EDGE: No, not someone as rabid; but my point is that there's no leftist counterweight to her.

Rachel Maddow: Air America should get more credit for being that than we do. I'm not like that, but Randi Rhodes and Sam Seder are out there. Mike Malloy, in particular, is very good. They hit as hard as anyone on the Right, but do it with a little more truth. I would like to be as successful as Rush Limbaugh, but I wouldn't want to live with his conscience. We don't want to be tools of the Republican Party, and we're not tools of the Democrats.

EDGE: What do you think of Keith Olbermann and the Countdown phenomena?

Rachel Maddow: I have such respect for Keith Olbermann. I think his show is amazing. The thing about Olbermann's show is that there isn't anyone left of center on network and cable news. There isn't. George Stephanopoulos does a Sunday show. Okay; but it has been pretty much right-wing dominated as these networks try to ape Fox News and what they've done for ratings. For Olbermann to be left of center and to do as well as he is, is amazing. He's sandwiched between shows aimed at right-wing viewers, and he's been blowing them out of the water, so more power to him. I wish the other networks would look at what Keith is doing and take a chance on another left-wing host. I would love to do a cable show, but they've been very cautious about approaching those on the left for whatever reason.

EDGE: You recently finished a stint on another MSNBC show, The Situation with Tucker Carlson. What was that like?

Rachel Maddow: I had a one-year contract, which expired, and I actually extended it a bit; but he's now at a time slot when I'm asleep, and he also moved to Washington - he was previously in New York. He wanted an out conservative on the show, and I give him credit for that. He's also a very considerate, polite person who was a nice person to work with. He's really good to his staff. He's not a screamer. He's a personally nice guy. That was a really good experience for me, and I'm happy to have had it.

EDGE: The Massachusetts legislature put back a vote on a referendum to ban gay marriage until after the fall election. What do you think of this, and the entire debate?

Rachel Maddow: The funny thing is that there are 8,000 people married, and the whole argument against gay marriage - and I could come up with better arguments - is that the sky was going to fall. Teenagers would stop dating each other, and marriage would end, and people would start having sex with their pets. It was this Armageddon scenario. But what's happened in Massachusetts has eliminated that argument. The sun still rises in the East and sets in the West. People are still getting married and children are being born. There haven't been any negative repercussions at all, and it's hard to sell the scare scenario to people who have seen it happen. I wasn't surprised to see the Legislature decided to let the current law ride through after the election. It doesn't mean the anti-gay marriage forces are going to relent, but I think it's going to be more of a challenge for them to be successful.

EDGE: You are in a long-term relationship. How do maintain that with your schedule, and do you have much of a social life?

Rachel Maddow: What's a social life? My partner, Susan Mikula, is an artist, and the fact that she is an artist makes her flexible in her schedule, which means she isn't day sleeping like I am. The weekends are really, really precious to us. We travel between our house in Massachusetts and a tiny apartment in the city. We are making it work. We would prefer to have a more normal schedule, but having the TV job on MSNBC and having this morning show on Air America, I wouldn't give it up. We are able to make it work for our relationship. I feel it is like this golden opportunity to broadcast these shows, and I'm so grateful for it that she's really supportive, so it's all okay. As for a social life: nada. I haven't seen a movie that I haven't had to see for my show in two years.

EDGE: How are you doing with the ratings?

Rachel Maddow: The ratings have been a nice surprise. I'm surprised to get ratings as good as I'm getting, and they're going up and up; something I'm doing is connecting with people, and I'm really grateful. Air America doesn't have huge resources to put up billboards and do a lot of promotion, but even without that, my ratings are super-competitive. The thing that I can most control is the "time spent listening," which is the amount of time that people keep listening when they tune into you; and mine is the highest in the market, so I couldn't be happier about that.

by Robert Nesti , EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].

This story is part of our special report: "EDGE 20th Anniversary". Want to read more? Here's the full list.

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