Dave Rubin has an internet talk-show, “The Rubin Report” where he claims to champion “liberalism.” The premise of his persona is that he’s a principled member of the political Left who calls out the excessive and hypocrisy of his own side. That would be totally admirable if he did that. He does not. Unfortunately, Dave is confused. He does not understand what words mean.
Dave calls himself alternatively a “classical liberal,” a “liberal,” “on the Left,” and a “classic liberal.” He doesn’t appear to actually know the definitions of those terms in actual political discourse. Dave seems to only champion the aspects of “liberalism” that align with the political Right, while never “calling out” the aspects of the political Right that conflict with liberalism. Here’s an example:
Allow me to explain what Dave doesn’t grasp.
One word can mean more than one thing
Liberal is a word with multiple meanings. That’s annoying, but it’s true. There isn’t a “real” meaning to liberal. If everyone started calling conservatism “tomato,” eventually it would stick and “tomato” would be the word for conservative or Right-wing. Simply pointing out that one definition of “liberal” was “original” means basically nothing. People who say liberal thinking it means “X” are using it to mean “X,” even if you think they should believe “Y.”
Liberal has three main definitions in political discourse.
- “Liberal” as a political consensus— Meaning supportive of the liberal political consensus in U.S./Western politics. Thus, a “liberal” supports free speech, the rule of law, free elections, free press, individual civil liberties and Constitutional government. This definition is exactly what the famous political scientist Louis Hartz referred to as the American “Lockean liberal consensus” in his landmark book, The Liberal Tradition in America. This category encompasses almost all Americans, Left or Right. And, the same goes for most Western European politicians. The opposition is thus not the American Left or Right, but rather political forms like authoritarianism, communism and feudalism.
- Liberal as a “classical liberal” — Meaning supportive of a brand of Lockean liberalism which prioritizes economic rights and limited government regulation of the economy. This sort of philosophy was dominant in the United States in the Gilded Age. For example, during that era the Supreme Court barred minimum wage laws and other worker protections under an expansive view of right to contract. The dominance of “Classical Liberalism” receded as progressive or “New Deal Liberalism” came to see a more expansive need for government in a world of cities, large corporations and factories, rather than small independent farmers. Neither faction is necessarily the “true” manifestation of liberals. They’re simply two factions with differing political beliefs who are confusingly referred to with the same general category.
- Liberal as “American center-Left”/ New Deal Liberal — Meaning identified with the American political center-Left and the policies of Presidents like FDR and the American Democratic Party. This has become the most common meaning the phrase in popular discourse. When most Americans say “liberal” they mean “Left-leaning” as opposed to “conservative” and “Right-leaning.”
Thus, it can be complicated to use the word “liberal” without being very precise with your language. George W. Bush supported the US liberal form of government with free speech and rule of law. Thus, he was a Type 1 Liberal. But, Bush wasn’t a libertarian or total free-market devotee, IE not a Type 2 Liberal. And clearly as a conservative Republican, Bush was not a Type 3 Liberal. Here’s a simple chart.
But, Dave doesn’t simply misunderstand these basic definitions. He dishonestly conflates the “Type 3 Left-Liberals” with apologists for illiberalism, who Maajid Nawaz has termed “The Regressive Left.” In short, “The Regressive Left” was originally applied to Left-wingers who became apologists for “Regressive” or “Illiberal” political movements. George Galloway, for example, is a Leftist who defends many of the worst Middle Eastern regimes who commit horrifying abuses of human rights.
By the same token, there are apologists for illiberalism on the Right. One of them is the President-Elect Donald Trump. Trump defended Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad, brushing aside their incredible brutality. He has gone to even greater length to defend Putin, almost gleefully spouting Kremlin propaganda. Trump is similarly friendly with the incipient illiberal-Right in America, commonly known as the “alt-right.” Trump has repeatedly failed to disassociate himself from his massive Neo-Nazis and white nationalist following. Arguably, Trump himself is an “illiberal.” Trump has spoken out against the 1st Amendment and he has fashioned himself a sort of Right-wing authoritarian as opposed to a conservative. Trump does not respect the rule of law, the Constitution or the free-market, the basic tenets of the American liberal consensus.
Has Dave Rubin called out Trump for his dangerous, illiberal stances? No. In fact, when Trump won the election Dave said, “this is a win for us.” When Dave has criticized Trump, it’s been extremely tepid and tempered by the irrational caveat that Trump might suddenly become a centrist liberal once in office.
Dave isn’t even a strong “Classical Liberal.” Dave cites free-market orthodoxy to trash Left-wingers like Bernie Sanders. He never points out Donald Trump’s apostasies against the free-market, whether it’s trade-protectionism or immigration restriction. It seems to me that Dave Rubin’s “Classical Liberalism” is merely a veneer used to cultivate a Right-wing fan base who idolize Donald Trump and abhor feminism and multiculturalism.
I would have no problem if Dave Rubin simply stated his political orientation and made sincere arguments. There are smart conservatives who make valid points. But, when Dave claims he’s “cleaning up his side,” the political Left, he’s lying. I worry this tactic could actually work on impressionable young centrists and liberals.
Because it is true that there are some awful people on the Left. People like Julian Assange who sides with Putin out of hatred for the United States. People like the most extreme Black Lives Matter activists who want to disband the police. People like Jill Stein supporters who preferred Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton. And, there is a type of mealy-mouthed unwillingness to take on Islamism even from real liberals which rightfully upsets people.
But, Dave’s sort of unbalanced focus on kooky far-Left college kids and the political correctness of the center certainly led some misguided young liberals into the arms of Donald Trump. That’s the ironic thing. Dave claims to be against the illiberalism of the Left, but his answer is simply to capitulate and submit to the illiberalism of the Right, while pretending true liberalism is simply complete free-market fundamentalism. It’s confused and it’s dishonest.