Dave Rubin, the YouTube talk show host with over a million subscribers, an audience that rivals many cable news shows, is probably best known as the "Why I Left the Left" guy.
That was the title of a video he did for the conservative site PragerU, which has been viewed more than 13 million times on YouTube and which Rubin says was the original title of his new debut book, since renamed "Don't Burn This Book: Thinking for Yourself in an Age of Unreason."
Now a self-described "freethinking classical liberal" or "old-school liberal," he's become the right's favorite ex-leftist, an identity he uses to warn right-leaning audiences that the left will come to destroy all the freedoms they hold dear. He knows, he says, because he was one of them.
His publisher writes that "in a time of madness" the book will give "you the tools you need to think for yourself."
A representative passage reads: "I want you to walk into a bar and order a full-bodied opinion. I want you to get absolutely wasted on facts until 3:00am, and then, when you're just about ready to pass out, I want you to get another glass of reality and chug it."
With that level of humor and sophistication, "Don't Burn This Book" seems to signal that there's nowhere for Rubin to go from here, because for all his relentless use of the word "ideas," he doesn't appear to have many.
In the book, Rubin proudly repeats a story he's told many times before, about how he changed his entire worldview on racism after it was clear he was hopelessly unprepared for an interview with a black conservative radio host. He calls it "the best and worst moment" of his career.
Rubin, a former comedian, was only a few months removed from hosting his eponymous show for the progressive The Young Turks online network. He described the original version of the show as "a comedy panel talk showlike 'The View' meets 'SportsCenter.'" For a political network, the show wasn't particularly political.
Now hosting a new iteration of his show featuring long-form interviews with iconoclastic guests, in 2016 Rubin interviewed Larry Elder, a veteran conservative talk radio pugilist.
Elder challenged Rubin's use of the phrase "systemic racism" by rattling off a series of contextless statistics about black-on-black crime and anecdotes about misreported incidents of police brutality.
Rubin, visibly flummoxed, folded.
Elder in just a few minutes had completely changed Rubin's thinking about racism in America, namely that he now believes there basically is none, except that which comes from the woke left.
But Rubin's newfound "freethinking" would not include challenging his new viewpoints by, for instance, hosting a Black Lives Matter activist or an expert on police brutality to express ideas that ran counter to Elder's.
His mind had been changed, and no further discussion favorable to those bad "regressive" ideas he once held was necessary.
Through interviews on his show, Rubin linked up with the "Intellectual Dark Web," a loosely affiliated group of online personalities generally bound together by a mutual loathing of left-wing censorship and "woke" identity politics. Then, as Jordan Peterson's hype man on an international tour, he was able to reach a massive audience of mostly young people.
Now he's a regular on various Fox News shows, and his YouTube show is re-broadcast on Blaze Media's BlazeTV network, part of the brand popularized by Glenn Beck. He also does regular paid appearances with Turning Point USA, the pro-Trump student group with close ties to the administration.
Though he's very careful to never fully endorse President Donald Trump, he won't articulate any meaningful criticism of him. In fact, Rubin recently gushed about briefly meeting President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago and hosted the president's son, Don Jr., for a backslapping appearance on his show.
Rubin's interviewing style is to rely on "civility," which in practice serves as a platform for the guest to present their arguments unchallenged. But that idea seems to apply only for one side.
In a 2019 interview with then-Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, Rubin scolded her for making what he called "a "slippery slope" argument in comparing the Holocaust to slavery.
Guests like far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos (who said Jews control the banks and media), Stefan Molyneux (who said blacks have smaller brains than whites), and Lauren Southern (who defended Richard Spencer's "white nationalism" as distinct from "white supremacism" and whom Rubin later called "fearless") were met with no pushback at all when making egregious statements on "The Rubin Report."
If you're at all familiar with Rubin's show or Twitter feed, "Don't Burn This Book" is unlikely to contain any surprises. Despite its provocative title, it's hard to imagine anyone being so angered by a book loaded with the same milquetoast arguments that he's been hammering for years.
He again posits that "classical liberalism" essentially libertarianism in US political terms is the true form of "liberalism," which he says has been bastardized by progressives or anyone affiliated with the Democratic Party.
In a chapter titled, "Learn How to Spot Fake News," he again refers to non-right-wing news outlets as being hopelessly inundated with left-wing "activists" and repeatedly puts the word "journalists" in scare quotes. True to form, he levels no criticism whatsoever for institutional bias or even the occasional inaccuracy at right-leaning outlets like Fox News.
Though he says he hates identity politics, Rubin never misses an opportunity to remind the reader that he's a married gay man as evidence of his "liberal" bona fides.
Rubin touts his paid appearances at conservative events as proof of their open-mindedness and tolerance, especially compared to the rigidly dogmatic left.
And even when presented with an easy lay-up of an opportunity to take issue with Trump, he demurs. Writing about Trump's border wall, something generally opposed by libertarians, Rubin refuses to take a stand, literally writing that he's not advocating for it but also doesn't oppose it. He adds with comedic flourish, "you could say I'm sitting on the fence waka! waka!"
He makes gobsmackingly reductive arguments. Among them, the Nazis were actually of the left because the word "socialist" is in the National Socialist Party name and Hitler was an "art-loving vegetarian." He argues that the disastrous and immoral US military intervention into Vietnam was good because "our contribution secured much-needed freedoms."
Rubin the "old-school liberal" even deploys the old Republican saw about the "Democrat Party" being the party of slavery 160 years ago, as if neither party had undergone substantial philosophical and demographic shifts in the century-and-a-half since.
"Don't Burn This Book" contains one of Rubin's most oft-repeated lines about discussing "ideas, not people." The point, if I surmise correctly, is that one should not attack one's opponent with ad hominems, but engage their ideas.
He rarely lives up to this stated principle, or any of them.
His Twitter feed is loaded with name-calling and personal attacks on his political adversaries and the "mainstream media." Rubin saves particular venom for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who he has called "an extraordinary idiot" and "a genuinely terrible person," and outlets like Vox, The Daily Beast, and HuffPost, which he refers to as "Pox," "The Daily Barf," and "HuffPoop."
Relatedly, he's a self-described "free speech absolutist" who like Trump supports "mass lawsuits" against media organizations for libel. His book contains not even a passing mention of the many government-imposed conservative assaults on free speech.
He hates identity politics and the left, but presents himself as the "gay liberal" when flattering conservative audiences. He's the former progressive and comic who now makes jokes about "HuffPoop." He's a brave freethinker, who keeps himself hermetically-sealed from potentially contentious interviews and debates.
And he's branded himself as a paragon of "civility," despite not being particularly civil to people with ideas that offend him.
Dave Rubin has one tune to play: "Why I Left the Left." Given the opportunity to explore new ideas across more than 200 pages, it's clear he hasn't learned any new chords.
If you never criticize Trump or the right, but relentlessly shriek about "mainstream media," the "Democrat Party," and "social justice warriors" as threats to Western civilization, it's hard to convincingly make the case that you're not just a basic tribalist conservative media personality.
There's only so long you can trade on a former political identity as the main credential for a new one, without offering any new ideas.
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