Does he really make fun of liberals? Is there really humor at their expense?
Here's what seems to me a clue, from that passage that was about the reaction to "All in the Family":
<blockquote>professors Neil Vidmar and Milton Rokeach found that although the show's creator, Norman Lear, had intended to use the Archie Bunker character as a gentle way to poke fun of and discredit racist attitudes, audience members who held racist attitudes never quite got the joke — instead they sympathized with Archie Bunker and may have even found his folksy prejudices to justify their own.</blockquote>
Here, there's no supposed ambiguity about the intentions of the artist (Norman Lear) who, we are told, "had intended to use the Archie Bunker character as a gentle way to poke fun of and discredit racist attitudes..."
What happened was that the racists "never quite got the joke."
This, I think, is what's happening with Colbert's audience, and it says less about the message of the artist than about the mentality of the right-wing audience.
One need only watch FOX news, or listen to Rush Limbaugh, to realize that the message is so palpably loony and biased and propagandistic as to be virtually BEYOND PARODY. Things have gotten so extreme, in that part of the American consciousness, that people like Olbermann and Maddow can lampoon them simply by presenting clips accompanied by a few words of simple mockery.
But we know that for millions of people these messages are taken with complete seriousness. If they can take Limbaugh ugliness and FOX's unfair and unbalanced, sometimes simply made-up and often virtually self-contradictory messages as a valid window on the world, how WOULD they be able to recognize a parody like Colbert's.
Ludicrous is the intellectual coin of their realm.
This article presents the phenomenon in an even-handed way, claiming for example that this is an illustration of the general phenomenon of "confirmation bias." It is because of confirmation bias, it is said, that "When you look at social psychology and you see how people process information, people see what they want to see."
Well, we do not have a controlled experiment here, but I would predict that if we could have a conservative version of Colbert, one whose intention is to mock liberals and who does so by making the liberal's arguments ludicrous, we would not find that liberals responded to such a parody the way the conservatives are responding to Colbert. My guess is that they'd know full well that they're being mocked, and that they'd see the parodist as their adversary.
The two sides are not symmetrical. Liberals, for one example, do not rally behind their leaders with fierce loyalty, the way that the conservatives do. That's always an asymmetry.
But an additional asymmetry comes from the particular nature of our times, when the brokenness of the conservatives has been magnified and exploited by evil leadership.
The core brokenness, as I argue in the latter parts of "The Concept of Evil," is the war within the self, the need for a lie to oneself about one's true feelings, one's true nature, because what has been internalized from the harsh culture makes the parts of the self irreconcilable.
A lack of real self-consciousness is, therefore, an essential part of the adaptive strategy for such people with such a war within, and the internal lie makes them vulnerable to the lie imposed from without to exploit their internal war for the sake of waging an external war against the necessary enemy (be it the black, the Communist, the terrorists, the liberals, or whatever).