Well known conservative figure Ben Shapiro was recently interviewed on the BBC by Andrew Neil, a fellow conservative. The interview has generated much talk online, with many on the political left mocking Shapiro for his poor showing. In this and a future post (since the interview is sixteen minutes long) I want to look at the exchange, focusing on the political substance, and dissect what he said, and then address a larger point about what the interview exposes about the modern right wing.
The Interview, Part One: Introduction
Neil opened the exchange by asking Shapiro about his popularity, noting correctly that millions of people follow him on social media. He asked ‘what are you tapping into?’ Shapiro’s response, said in his usual mile a minute style, was as follows
‘Well I think there are a couple of things. One, there is actually a hunger for different ideas; the monolithic nature of the United States’ media is pretty evident in terms of its politics. People tend to agree on essentially the liberal points of view, and increasingly a radical leftist point of view in the media, and obviously I speak in response to that. At the same time, I try to provide an honest take on the issues of the day, and that means that I’m not beholden to the Republican Party for example. It means that I’m going to speak out when I think that a principle has been violated, no matter who is doing the violation’
The idea that the US media is ‘monolithic’ in its’ liberal points of view’ and is going ‘increasingly…radical leftist’ is laughable. The media in the United States is controlled by corporations who, while they may be liberal on social issues (hey, gays and blacks are consumers too), they are deeply conservative on economic issues and are out for themselves. What an absurd claim. Second, the idea that Shapiro provides an ‘honest take’ and is beholden to principle over party is also a crock. Shapiro is fond of calling anyone who criticises Israel, for any reason, an anti-semite. That is not principled, Mr. Shapiro. That is, in fact, the direct opposite. A principle, such as free speech, stands until you disagree with what is being said. Spare me.
The Interview, Part Two: GOP as the ‘Party of Trump?’
Neil asked Shapiro if the Republican Party is now the party of Trump. Shapiro’s response was, intentionally or otherwise, telling. He said
I think that the Republican party is the party of whomever is the President, technically speaking; but, in terms of who are the thought leaders inside the conservative movement, who are the people who are driving a lot of the discussion inside the conservative movement, I don’t think that’s correct at all. I think most Republicans see President Trump as a vehicle for their policy preferences, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they agree with all his personal foibles’
The GOP is the party of whomever the President is, provided that President is a Republican. He does not say that, but it is clear in light of their hatred for Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton. Now to the point: that last clause is decisive: most Republicans (by which he means the establishment and the elites) see Trump as a means to get their tax cuts and deregulation implemented but they object to the mean tweets. They object to the removal of the mask. The issue is not Trump’s policies, they agree with those (as Shapiro seems to). The issue is the fact that he is not polite and civil. An actual true statement, Mr. Shapiro, even if it was unintentional.
The Interview, Part Three: GOP out of Ideas?
Neil asked Shapiro if the conservative movement in the United States was ‘out of ideas’, stating accurately that ‘all the new policies; the medicare4all, $15 minimum wage…seem to be coming from the left’
Shapiro’s response was long, but the essential section is
[There is debate among conservatives over] what is the appropriate action to take in regard to the medical system? Should global warming be considered a real threat, or should global warming be considered as something that technology will solve?
What is the appropriate action to take concerning the health system? There is no debate on the right about this issue: your policy is clear. Get rid of the Affordable Care Act.
Also, two things on the issue of conservatives debating climate science. First, there is no debate among the people who matter (scientists). So, conservative opinions are not relevant. Second, if global warming is something that ‘technology will solve’, what does that actually mean? You will notice another of Mr. Shapiro’s debate tactics here: an utter lack of specifics so he cannot be pinned down. To end this section, if he means green technology then support the Green New Deal.
The Interview, Part Four: New Abortion Laws and Shapiro Cracks
It is worth quoting Andrew Neil’s next question to Shapiro in full. Neil says
Some of the ideas that are popular on your side of politics would seem to take us back to the Dark Ages. Georgia: new abortion laws, which you are much in favour of. A woman who miscarries could get thirty years [gaol]. A Georgia woman who travels to another state for an abortion procedure could get ten years. These are extreme hard policies
Neil’s question cites specific penalties to be enacted under this barbaric and draconian law. The question is not antagonistic in any way to Shapiro. It is critical of the policy, true, but that is what the media is supposed to do: subject government action and policy to scrutiny.
Shapiro’s ‘response’ and the exchange that followed is worth quoting in full
Shapiro: Well, ok a couple of things. One: I’m not sure – I mean quite frankly – are you an objective journalist or are you an opinion journalist?
Neil: I’m a journalist that asks questions
Shapiro: Ok, so you’re a supposedly objective journalist who calls policies with which you disagree ‘barbaric’ and suggesting only one side of the political aisle has ideas so I just want to point out…I just wish you would be honest in your own biases
Neil: I know that broadcasting in America is now so polarised that on one programme you only have the left and on one programme you only have the right. My job is to question those who have strong views and put an alternative to them
The exchange goes on, but you get the idea: Shapiro, seemingly unable (or unwilling) to defend his position (which he could have done – he had the floor), attacks the journalist. Much of what Neil said in that exchange was true: the new abortion laws in the United States are barbaric, the right wing is bereft of ideas. The fact that Mr. Shapiro does not like being confronted by an actual adversarial journalist does not change the fact that Neil did a good job interviewing him. Mr Shapiro is used to being in a right-wing echo-chamber where he is coddled and asked softball questions with barely an opposing view in sight. He is clearly out of his comfort zone here.
More of this pseudo-intellectual next time
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