Dave Rubin, a 'political chameleon'

With every cultural movement come its profiteers. A pundit or activist with enough guile can earn the devotion of politics junkies who are tuned in to a certain, ideological frequency. George Wallace gave up on racism once it became unfashionable, but he knew exactly what to say and how to act to pull in votes from fearful bigots who wanted a return to “law and order.” In 2018, there are many people of every political identity who resent political correctness, feminism and social justice. As such, there are many pundits who siphon money from people who think this way. Some of them are genuine and have solid reasoning for their arguments, and some of them are like Dave Rubin.

Rubin is a libertarian internet personality. He was once a contributor for the progressive YouTube show The Young Turks, but he split ways with them in order to pursue the development of his own show, The Rubin Report. On The Rubin Report, Rubin interviews noteworthy columnists, academics, YouTubers and journalists for about an hour a piece. Rubin’s detractors criticize him for simplistic questions and his unwillingness to challenge guests when they say something false or veer off on ludicrous tangents. As an example, when Milo Yiannopoulos told Rubin that the alt-right is not anti-Semitic because Jews actually do run the media, the banks and society as a whole, Rubin’s only response was “I don’t even know where to start with that, so just go on.” But throwing softball questions at Stefan Molyneux and Milo Yiannopoulos is not Rubin’s most dramatic failing as a social critic.  

He often itemizes beliefs of his that give him “liberal cred.” He supports gay marriage, abortion, the social safety net, prison reform and legalized marijuana. However, he also believes that “the modern left” has “no diversity of thought or tolerance of other opinions.” Therefore, Rubin thinks that the political right is more welcoming of unorthodox opinions.

Rubin is absolutely correct that a prominent subsection of the American left values inoffensiveness over personal freedom, and that too many progressives generalize all Trump supporters and conservatives as sexist or racist. But for a man who emphasizes that society must value the individual over the collective, Rubin has a habit of applying sloppy stereotypes to all progressives and leftists instead of dealing with them on a case-by-case basis. In one breath, Rubin declares that “all decent people must fight extremes” by “judging people as individuals and not as groups,” and in another he states, “It’s official. Leftism is a mental disorder.”

In July 2017, Rubin found himself in a somewhat fraught interview with the radio host David Pakman. The questions were pointed and difficult to dodge. Rubin had to be repeatedly pressed to name a specific policy of President Donald Trump’s that he did not like. The worst thing he could think of to say about President Trump throughout 12 minutes of discussion was that Trump used “a ton” of executive actions. Pakman asked Rubin why he had called liberalism a mental illness, and Rubin said he had never done so. He had called leftism and progressivism mental illnesses, but not liberalism. This distinction Rubin drew between liberalism and progressivism was meritless. While such a distinction does exist, Rubin does not believe in it. He has stated many times that the progressivism “has infected virtually all of the Left,” including “mainstream” liberals and the entire Democratic Party. Rubin’s definition of “liberal” applies to very few people who identify as liberal. Rubin does not believe that he should follow his own advice to judge people “as individuals and not as groups.”

It is worth backtracking for a moment to focus on Rubin’s complaint about President Trump’s executive actions. Someone who makes a living off of politics should be able to develop a more complex analysis of the current president of the United States. Moreover, any liberal worth his or her salt can think of a better criticism of the incumbent Republican president than “he uses a ton of executive actions.” There was that hastily-assembled bill which eliminated tax deductions for the middle class while cutting the corporate tax rate, eliminating the estate tax and cutting Medicare, Medicaid and education. There was the time that President Trump tried his hardest to help elect an ephebophilic goon who thought he was above the rule of law and openly pined for the days of slavery. As if that were not alarming enough, President Trump is successfully packing American courts with conservative partisans who are unqualified for their jobs. There are quite a few criticisms to be made of President Trump, but Rubin is compelled by none of them. He is an incompetent liberal on top of being an incompetent interviewer.

Rubin cannot decide which type of political pundit he is. When he talks about his “liberal cred,” he wants to be a disaffected Democrat. When he tells people that he is a “classical liberal,” he wants to be an enlightened centrist who cannot be classified with most political labels. And when he is offered speaking engagements by conservative organizations, he acts like an apostate from the left who, because he was once a progressive, understands better than most why progressivism must be defeated. Rubin is definitely gravitating toward the last of these three personalities. He denies that he is a “secret conservative,” but it is hard not to notice his rightward leanings in the video “Why I Left the Left,” which Rubin starred in and which was released on YouTube by Dennis Prager, a conservative author and radio host.

The purpose of every single video of Dennis Prager’s is to convince viewers of the truth of a specific right-wing idea. According to these videos, fascism is a left-wing ideology, the alt-right is just as racist as the modern left, murder is not wrong if God does not exist and the United States military actually won the Vietnam War. If Dave Rubin really were a liberal, he would not go out of his way to lend credence to the historical inaccuracy and demagoguery that characterize Dennis Prager’s videos.

One must also consider Rubin’s involvement with Turning Point USA, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the growth of conservative ideas in high schools and on college campuses. In April 2017, Rubin was one of three panelists who appeared at a University of Arizona event hosted by TPUSA and in December, Rubin gave a 30-minute speech at TPUSA’s annual Student Action Summit in West Palm Beach. Unsurprisingly, there are allegations that Turning Point USA is not the most scrupulous political cooperative. A piece in the New Yorker claimed that TPUSA “skirted campaign-finance laws that bar charitable organizations from participating in political activity” by “funneling money into student elections in violation of the spending caps and transparency requirements set by those schools.”

So, TPUSA ostensibly believes in pluralism, but actually stuffs the coffers of right-wing candidates for positions in student government at American universities. Working with TPUSA reveals what Dave Rubin intends to accomplish as a political commentator and none of his goals are particularly liberal. But what else can be expected from a man who was named one of Breitbart’s top-six LGBT icons of 2017?

Every once in a while, a writer for an online magazine like Mother Jones refers to Dave Rubin as “right-wing” or “far-right,” and he usually responds by demanding a retraction. Rubin must be incredibly cocky to act the way he does while asking not to be called a conservative. He shows up at the podium for Charlie Kirk and Turning Point USA, beside Dennis Prager on his couch for a Fireside Chat and on stage, having some friendly rapport with Milo Yiannopoulos at a Horowitz Freedom Center awards ceremony. Despite saying that he is committed to fostering an open discussion of political issues, Rubin almost never invites a guest on his show who will take the opposing side in a debate about feminism or social justice. When Dave Rubin took the Political Compass Test, his results suggested that he was a right-leaning libertarian. He would like everyone to believe that the people who think he is right-wing are all conspiracy-minded leftists, but Candace Owens, another speaker at the Student Action Summit in Palm Beach, paused for a moment during her paean to President Trump to ask Dave Rubin to “admit that he is a conservative.”

Rubin often mentions that he once considered himself a progressive even though he now thinks progressivism is a mental illness. What will Rubin’s rhetoric sound like five or six years from now? Chances are that it will have changed dramatically. At the end of the 2016 election season, Rubin told his viewers that if Trump became president, he would be the “first to hold [President Trump’s] feet to the fire.” When confronted later about why he had failed to ever criticize the President, Rubin claimed he had to focus on “postmodernism and the Left” because they were far more dangerous. Despite having called himself an atheist for years, Rubin now claims he was “pinned into being an atheist” to satisfy his peers.

First, he argued against conservatism on The Young Turks. Now, he’s in bed with a right-wing organization designed to subvert democratic elections on college campuses. First, he called himself “the last liberal.” Now, he says that leftism as a whole is a lost cause. First, he promised to hold President Trump accountable. Now, he thinks Trump is not significant enough to criticize. First, he was an atheist. Then, he decided there were things in the universe that he “can’t quite explain.” Dave Rubin’s behavior is typical of political chameleons, the people who embrace the position that is most advantageous at the time, then toss it aside once it is no longer useful.

Alex Klein is a staff columnist for the Daily Campus and can be reached via email at alex.klein@uconn.edu.