JOHN WOOD, JR., THE MILLENNIAL REPUBLICAN
We live in a time of pernicious political fragmentation. Though our democracy was always subject to the excesses of partisanship it is not hard to argue that it was easier for Americans to arrive at points of common understanding in times gone by than it is today. We remember the likes of Walter Cronkite and the golden age of American media – though shaded by myth and nostalgia – as a time when the pursuit of truth and objectivity still undergirded American journalism and informed political dialogue. Today, there are no journalistic greats admired by all Americans. The most respected figures in media – those who have not been deposed in the wake of sex scandals – from Anderson Cooper to Tucker Carlson are all seen by some enormous percentage of the American people as being not seekers of truth but partisan agents for their chosen side. We no longer have Walter Kronkites or Edward R. Murrows. But we do have Dave Rubin
Dave Rubin is not quite yet a household name in American political life. What he is however is a singular pundit occupying a pivotal place in our fractured media landscape.
A former standup comedian with a degree in political science, Rubin initially launched The Rubin Report in 2013 under the banner of The Young Turks progressive media network. Finding himself turned off by the Turks’ treatment of philosopher Sam Harris after his encounter with actor Ben Affleck on Real Time with Bill Mahrer Dave would eventually take The Rubin Report to Larry King’s Ora TV, ultimately relaunching it as an independent program centered on one-on-one interviews with a diverse roster of public thinkers. It has thrived on YouTube and Patreon ever since.
Rubin’s Larry King-esque conversational interviewing style and comfortably modern studio set-up makes for a program that is easy to watch. But unlike King, Rubin does have an active agenda. In re-launching his show Rubin launched a one man campaign in favor of logic, reason, free speech and conversation, but also against what he feels to be the anti-intellectual forces animating the progressive movement. It was Rubin after all who initially popularized the phrase ‘regressive left.’ While styling himself as a ‘classical liberal’ Rubin has consistently bemoaned the culture of thought policing and abridgment of free speech that not only he but many in America see as characterizing the activities of social justice advocates and campus liberals across the nation:
Whatever name you use for this well meaning yet painfully misguided set of ideas is largely irrelevant. We needed this phrase to identify this backwards ideology which puts groups before people, and sometimes you need a label to get people to understand an idea…
…the only thing which can replace the regressive descent of the left is a return to true liberalism: a liberalism which defends free speech and expression, a liberalism that is for liberty and rights of the individual and most importantly a liberalism that is one for human liberty.
I now believe that this regressive ideology is the biggest threat to freedom and western civilization that exists today.
The Rubin Report has become one of the major gateways to what mathematician Eric Weinstein has termed the ‘intellectual dark web’ which one might think of as zones of discourse online where ideas that run counter to the social agenda of the academic mainstream (in the humanities and social sciences) are flourishing. The anti-identity politics and anti-political correctness cultural-intellectual movement that has congealed in this space is one whose leading lights are made up substantially of thinkers and personalities whose basic worldviews mark them as conventionally left (or at least not conventionally right). This includes academics like Sam Harris and Jonathan Haidt, popular personalities like podcast host Joe Rogan, as well as professors and leaders like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Brett Weinstein (brother of Eric) and Jordan Peterson who have been targeted in their personal lives for stands they have taken on campus for speech and scientific consistency in the face of a progressive movement that sometimes does not value either.
Dave Rubin debuted his show as an independent program with an interview with Sam Harris. This cadre of erstwhile liberal and liberal leaning figures represents the views and experience of a much larger audience that on the whole has been very supportive of Rubin. But there is a much wider range of people still that reject identity politics and value free speech and that range just so happens to include conservatives, libertarians and the entirety of the political right.
It is in this that the Rubin Revolution shows itself to be a revolution indeed. For by highlighting and having gracious and interesting conversations with not just renegade liberals like himself, but also with conservatives like Glenn Beck, Dennis Prager and Ben Shapiro The Rubin Report has established itself as a bridge between two sides of a broadly different continuum of philosophy and personality. He has begun to unite these sides in support of two deeply shared views: a belief in freedom of speech and opposition to the progressive ideology that would seem to oppose it.
Dave Rubin has literally brought together individuals from each side of divide to have profound conversations about vital issues. One can recall conservative Jewish radio host Dennis Prager and science journalist Michael Shermer finding common ground on the subject of supporting the freedom of Muslims while opposing the doctrines of strict Islam (“we’re not Islamophobes,” Shermer said, “we’re evilphobes.” “My man,” Prager responds, with Rubin looking on approvingly.) Presumably this is the kind of open-minded conversation that our democratic society requires. As it declines the state of our society seems to confirm the need for it.
Rubin has brokered this conversation. But in the course of doing so he has seemed to many on the moderately liberal side of his audience to have entertained inflammatory personalities on the right (individuals such as Milo Yiannoupolis and David Horowitz) with too much collegiality and too little challenging of their opinions.
There is legitimacy to this critique. There is also legitimacy to the answer Rubin offered in response to this line of criticism to liberal podcast host Dave Pakman, saying that “I believe that the best way to interview somebody is to really be able to hear what they think and the way you do that is you listen.”
One doesn’t always get the tenacious cross-examination of a person’s perspectives on The Rubin Report that you might expect to find elsewhere. But Rubin’s program has a different appeal, and it accomplishes something valuable: providing a space where thinkers across a wide spectrum can convey the breadth of their perspective in an atmosphere of friendliness and congeniality.
A more valuable criticism of Rubin however might be aimed at the danger one senses he is in at times of succumbing to something of the very reflexive partisanship he bemoans visa-vi the progressive left.
It is not to say that Rubin needs agree with that perspective. But part of what has made Dave Rubin refreshing is that he takes an approach to politics that values understanding and the making of friends over arrogance and the making of enemies. Still, in conversations with individuals like the ones he has had with Lindsey Shepherd (of the Wilfred Laurier scandal), Dilbert comic strip creator Scott Adams and others Rubin has spilled into bewildered tangents wondering how it is that social justice impassioned university professors or anti-Trump activists can possibly think the way they think about issues. One used to hear Rubin say that such people were at least well meaning, but over time this author at least has not noticed even this modest concession being made towards the intentions of this general class of Rubin’s opponents.
Yet there is still an argument and a set of experiences that is worth understanding when looking at the progressive worldview. There is at least a vicious history of oppression and inequality underscoring the experience of many groups of people that continues to frame some of our views of America. There are subtle and not so subtle institutional mechanisms at play in our government, economy and broader social culture that impact certain people adversely in ways that often seem to fall along lines of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Or at least, stronger arguments can made for the existence of such gears of societal inequity than you might expect to be case from watching the Rubin Report.
It may be that the grievances social justice culture and left wing activists claim against mainstream American political and social culture are greatly exaggerated. It is certainly true that society must look with the wariest of eyes at any movement that would seek to abridge freedom of speech in any meaningful way, as one can argue that elements of the left seek to do. But Dave Rubin has created a unique political and intellectual cultural and coalition by being willing to empathize with the views of people not just of a traditional liberal perspective but also with those coming from the right. Is there not a chance he could help elevate our dialogue further if he could extend this empathy even to his foes far out on the left?
In an era of division Dave Rubin has been very good for our political culture. If he remembers to never stop trying to build understanding—even with the hard left—then he can truly be great.