An Interview with Dave Rubin
One of the leaders of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web (IDW), Dave Rubin has risen to prominence over the last five years as the host of "The Rubin Report" talk show, in which he engages in long-form discussions with political and cultural thinkers from across the ideological spectrum.
In 2016, Rubin and his team announced that they were parting ways with Ora TV, which had previously produced "The Rubin Report," and began operating his show independently, relying on Patreon and other sources of revenue.
From Sam Harris to Jordan Peterson, Brigitte Gabriel to Bret Weinstein, Peter Thiel to Debra Soh, and even The Daily Wire’s own Ben Shapiro, Rubin’s roster of guests run the philosophical gamut. As of publication, "The Rubin Report" YouTube channel has 895,000 subscribers and over 190 million total views.
I recently had the opportunity interview Rubin. During our conversation, we spoke about political and cultural ideology, the challenges of producing "The Rubin Report," finding support in unexpected places, and much more.
The following is my exchange with Dave Rubin
by The Daily Wire and Frank Camp
DW: When did you first identify as a classical liberal?
RUBIN: I think I've always been liberal. That goes without saying. In 1988, during the Dukakis/Bush election, that's really when I got into politics. I was in seventh or eighth grade, and we were running a mock election. I was put on the campaign side for the Democrats, and it was so obvious to me that the Democrats and the liberals were the good guys – they cared about poor people; they cared about minorities – and that the evil Republicans only cared about money and war. To say it was obvious isn't even enough of a statement because it was like, these are the good guys, liberals, they're nice to everybody, then there are the cold, evil conservatives.
I would say that my whole life I was a liberal. My parents were both Democrats, most of my family was Democrat – and when I say liberal, I mean it in the best sense of liberalism, which is basically live and let live. My whole life, I only voted for Democrats. I voted for Obama twice, and all those senate elections I voted in were for Democrats.
Flash forward to when I was a political science major in college and doing standup in New York City, then I was working at The Young Turks (TYT) network, which is a pretty far-Left progressive network. I'm hesitant to even call them a network – they're just a YouTube channel with a bunch of people that sit at a desk and pretend to know what they're talking about.
When I got there, I started seeing some other version of what I though was liberal – because these people weren't liberal. Everyone who opposed them was a racist or a bigot or a homophobe, and their answer for everything was always more power to the state, higher taxes, the state should do everything, and that had nothing to do with liberalism to me. There were also a couple moments along the road where I realized how the Left was really abandoning liberalism for progressivism, which are completely different things.
Then it all culminated when that PragerU video came out in February of 2017. They titled it, "Why I Left the Left." I had never said I left the Left, because what I was really trying to do was bring liberalism back to the Left. I was talking to my side; I never said I left. But I don’t really have a problem with it, and by any real estimation, because I'm a liberal, I no longer consider myself part of the Left.
I think the classical liberals now have much more in common with libertarians especially – also conservatives, and anyone, if you basically believe in the individual, you basically believe in freedom.
DW: So there wasn’t really a radical transformation from you?
RUBIN: No, I've always been pretty open. I'm always down to have interesting conversations. I still do it to this day. Whether it's on my show or in my private life. I love disagreeing; I love ending a conversation where we agree to disagree; that's sort of the best thing.
I guess the best thing is if you can move somebody a little bit, or if they move you a little bit.
There was a sort of hysteria around progressivism that I was never comfortable with. This is why my friend Peter Boghossian calls it a secular religion, because the Left generally hates religion, and yet they've adopted a political stance that really is religious. It's a secular religion, except there's no redemption narrative, especially if you're a straight, white, Christian male, you better bow forever, otherwise they're going to turn all of their fire on you. So, you'll be the racist and the bigot and the homophobe.
The reason I get so much hate from these people is not because of my ideas – defending liberalism, and an openness and willingness not to demonize everybody, and that I'm willing to talk to other people – it's because I left them and I survived. There’s nothing they hate more than when someone who was one of them dares to call them out on it, and especially in my case. They can't have a gay person walking away because they're the ones that say they're for gays and for women and for black people – which all sounds great. It sounds great to say you're for all those things, but it's completely meaningless because to say you're "for gay people" implies that gay people all think the same thing. Unfortunately, there are a huge number of gay people now who have been tricked by this progressive dogma who do all think the same, but you have to care about the individual.
To say you're "for women," it sounds good – I'm for women. Okay, I vote for women, but it means nothing because there are women who believe different things. When the Left say "We're for women," you have to ask, "Well, are you for Nikki Haley? You’re not for her, and she's an incredibly strong person who happens to be a conservative woman. You’re not for her; you’re not for Sarah Sanders." You’re "for women" that behave how you want them to behave. You're not for black people, because you're not for Candace Owens, you're not for Kanye West; you're for people who bow to you, and that's why this is an authoritarian movement. As someone who loves liberty, the only thing I think that can sustain us as a society is that individuals must all be treated the same. If you believe in that, then I’d say that there's nothing left on the Left for you.
DW: Have you received any push back from the gay community for your philosophical ideology, or for being willing to host people on your show who oppose that aspect of your life?
RUBIN: All I get from conservatives is love. Libertarians, conservatives, anyone on the right – I get emails from Christian conservatives in the middle of the country every day, saying they can't believe that they're listening to a liberal gay guy, and I've changed their opinions on some things, and all they've ever wanted is to be treated respectfully. I treat them respectfully, and in exchange, they treat me respectfully. I’ve truly only gotten love from all of the people that the Left will tell you are the bigots and the racists.
I do get some hate from the rainbow avatar gay crew on Twitter. I don't really know what they are. A pink anime horse with big eyes and a rainbow flag telling me its pronouns in its Twitter profile. Is that really a gay person? I have no idea.
What I can tell you is this – I meet tons of gay people. Gay people come up to me all the time on the street, at Whole Foods, when I'm on the road, and tell me, "Oh, I'm secretly one of you. I hate what's happened to the gay community." They've become so monolithic. If you look back thirty years ago where the gay community brought so much art and richness and diversity of thought, and was edgy and all of those things, and now it's traded that in for some normalcy. I'm not against normalcy; I want equality for everybody. As long as we have the exact same laws to live under that everyone else does, which is what we have, then we should be treated with the same respect or scorn as anybody else.
I would say they really just ignore you. You would think – look, they should be writing articles every day about how incredible it was to have Peter Thiel at the Republican National Convention and say, "I'm a proud gay man," and get a standing ovation. He should have been the gay of the year, or whatever they gave at The Advocate or Out. Not that those things even matter anymore. They're completely irrelevant.
If you cared about gay people – holy cow, here's a gay man who stood in front of all the Republicans and said, "I'm a proud gay man." And what do they do? They hate him. The Advocate wrote a piece about how Peter Thiel is not gay. He doesn't count as gay because his politics don't line up with Leftism. That's actually offensive. It's almost impossible to offend me, but that’s actually offensive.
I would say there's a huge amount of, for lack of a better word, closeted support for what I do amongst gay people because they're realizing that if you want to be yourself, and you want to be an individual, you can't do it the way they want because the second you say something they don't like, you're the enemy.
DW: What does your partner think about your perspective and ideology?
RUBIN: He wasn't really political before me, but there would be moments when we would be talking about things, especially when it came to economics, I would always joke with him years ago when we lived in New York – even before I was on TYT and I had a show on Sirius XM, the gay channel – he would talk about certain things, and I'd be like, "Oh, that sounds pretty conservative of you. I think you might be Republican." And it was a running joke between us.
I think now we mostly agree on these things. There are little things over which we disagree, on the margins, but that's totally fine. It's great actually. I would never want to be in a relationship with someone who I agreed with all the time. We kind of push and pull each other on these things. In terms of the big issues that I'm mostly talking about relative to freedom and what has happened with the Left and the new, interesting alliance forming on the Right – we’re on board with that completely.
He has plenty of friends that don't buy it, and I still have some friends that don't buy it. I'm not sure how many talk to me anymore. I think I have some friends left.
DW: Is it difficult to live in both worlds? Is it difficult to make or keep progressive friends, and have you lost friends over what you do?
RUBIN: Oh yeah, I've lost many friends – not really by my choosing. I had former friends who were public figures that will go after me in public, that will call me racist, bigot, all of those things. And I'll say to them privately, "Can you point to any evidence of that ever?" Of course they can’t, but they can always move the goal post. If you're for low taxes, you're a bigot because that means you don't like poor people; and if you don't like poor people, that mostly means you don't like black people, which is insane and actually bigoted on their part because there are plenty of poor white people.
Yes, I've lost plenty of friends. It still happens. I know there are more friends of mine from college that aren't thrilled with what I'm doing, but I'm living my life, not theirs, so that's fine with me.
I personally wouldn't choose to lose a friendship over politics. I've bent over backwards to try to ameliorate situations where I could see people getting really hysterical. What’s interesting is that these are the people who claim to be the tolerant ones – and that's the incredible part – they will be screaming about their tolerance as they tell you how horrible you are. Meanwhile, I get invited to conservative and libertarian college speaking gigs all over the country, and I go up there and I talk about being gay married, pro-choice, against the death penalty, for euthanasia (dignity with death), for reforming the prison system, all these things – and generally these are not conservative talking points – and I get standing ovations from the people that are supposedly intolerant. It's actually incredible. It's a complete 180 flip on the way things are actually presented, which I think is partly by design.
DW: You’ve interviewed quite a few people. Are you ever concerned by your association with individuals like Dinesh D'Souza or Mike Cernovich, who have said controversial things?
RUBIN: I’ve answered this question a lot. Larry King, who’s my friend and mentor, in his heyday on CNN Primetime, he'd have the cast of "Friends" on Monday, he'd have Desmond Tutu on Tuesday, on Wednesday, he'd have a white supremacist, on Thursday, he'd have a guy with an animal, and on Friday, he'd have Magic Johnson. The idea that he either agreed with all of these people, or endorsed their ideas, is crazy. Somehow, these days, if you talk to someone or you're seen somewhere with someone, it means you endorse all of their ideas.
There could be moments in specific interviews where maybe I didn't ask the right followup, or I just dropped the ball on something, or someone may have said a statistic that was false and I didn't know in that moment – those are all legitimate possibilities. I actually like criticism, I'm not above criticism, in terms of talking to some of these people.
When I had Cernovich on, it was because I kept seeing on Twitter that there was all this support for Trump, yet I didn't see any of it in mainstream media. I thought, "I’ve got to find somebody that can talk about this." I can't find anybody, and he happened to be, I think, the one guy that had a published book that I could find. Certain things happened after, like Pizzagate or whatever else, but I can't be responsible for what people do after I interview them.
But if you watch my interview with him, I don't think there's anything untoward in there. If anything, by talking to a guy like him, who is a Trump guy, or having Scott Adams on, who is a Trump guy, or at least explaining the Trump thing, it was why I wasn't surprised with the election results. I was on Joe Rogan the day before or day of the election, and I pretty much thought Trump could win, even though everybody else was saying Hillary had a 97% chance, or whatever FiveThirtyEight was saying. You have to be willing to talk to some people.
I don't regret talking to Dinesh D'Souza, certainly. And it's funny, this question is generally only asked of people on the Right. On the Left, you can talk to anybody.
I mean, Linda Sarsour is running the Women’s March. She is a true anti-Semitic radical, and they know it. Even though there's been a little pushback against her lately, the reason there isn't more pushback is because they all know – they've all used the tactics of calling everyone with whom they disagree a bigot, racist, homophobe, and trying to get them fired – they know that if they call her out too harshly, those tactics will be used against them, which is exactly what Sarsour is doing of course.
So, we just see more and more of this. It's like Jemele Hill, formally of ESPN, who's now a contributor at The Atlantic. She Tweeted out that Jordan Peterson is a white supremacist. I mean, I've been on tour with the guy for the last six months. His whole message is about the individual, about how to fight radicalism on the far-Left and far-Right – and black people, white people, Asian people, gay people, all show up to his talk. It couldn't be further from the truth, but on the Left, you can say whatever you want and there are no repercussions. On the Right, it's a different story.
DW: In terms of individuals with whom you would like to engage versus individuals who you would prefer not to have on your show, is it difficult to find the line?
RUBIN: Yeah, it's something that I've thought about before. There have been one or two guests where I wasn't sure whether I should talk to them. I would say, if someone's ideas as so patently absurd – if your ideas are about true white supremacy, that you believe the United States should be a white nationalist country – that is so counter to the Constitution and everything that the American experiment is about, I would have no need to talk about that. There would be no need to go there at all. It's hard to draw those lines. Eventually, the more lines that you draw, the closer they get to you. I'm leery of drawing those lines, so I just do what I think is right, but along the way, I'll probably make some mistakes. I would always try to err, though, on the mistake side of talking to somebody rather than not talking to them.
DW: Engage rather than disengaged, because it might have some kind of effect?
RUBIN: Yeah. That said, there’s this certain set of nobody YouTubers who just attack me all day long, lie about me, and selectively edit video clips about me. If you relentlessly personally attack me and all that, I'm not putting you on the show because then you just incentivize bad behavior, which I don't want to do.
DW: Does there have to be some level of kind of established profile?
RUBIN: Well, I would say a certain level of that, but it's also about a certain level of behavior. If your whole mechanism is that you just want to drag and drag and get me into some fight where I have to constantly defend myself about things I didn't say and my motives, which you impugn, I don't want to play that game. If the biggest person on earth is doing that to me tomorrow, I don't know that I would respond to them.
DW: I know you had a moment in which your mind was changed on systemic racism with Larry Elder. Have you had any similar moments on other hot button issues, like abortion?
RUBIN: The Larry Elder one real quick – I always describe that as sort of my best and worst moment at the same time. It was my worst moment because I was in an intellectual battle and I didn't have the armor and the weapons that I needed to fight it, and Larry did, and he beat me. We were at Ora TV at the time, and we had a pretty big staff, and I went into the control room and the producers and everyone in there was like, "We’ve got to cut that. We can't air that." And I was like, "No, we have to air it." That was real, that was tangible, and it was a learning experience and a learning moment. (It is here) So I'm very proud of the fact that we did keep that in. So, I'm oddly proud of that moment, which is kind of funny.
I would say in terms of other moments – look, I get to learn every week on the show. I really do. That's incredibly cool. I think what people appreciate about what I'm doing is they're seeing my adventure. I'm sitting with some of the greatest, most relevant minds in the world. I get to learn each week, and there are certain ones that really affected me.
I had Randy Barnett on, who’s a constitutional law professor from Georgetown, and we really got into the difference between classical liberalism and libertarianism. He was talking about states’ rights and why it's on you to use your "foot vote." If you don't like what's happening to you locally, then move somewhere else, and take your talents and skills and the economic worth you bring to your community somewhere else. That really helped crystallize my view around why I didn't want to force the baker to bake the gay wedding cake, because freedom is kind of messy, but I'd rather have the experiment in a country where you can go to different places, where there are different laws, rather than have the federal government do central planning for everything, which I think doesn't lead to freedom, and leads to less choice.
And by the way, I've gotten a lot of gay people who have messaged me about that, saying they don't want to force bakers to bake cakes either, which is kind of funny because they're all afraid to say it publicly.
I've debated abortion with Ben Shapiro, and I still describe myself as begrudgingly pro-choice. I find it an increasingly difficult position to defend, but it's still where I'm at now.
I've had Ben Shapiro in my house telling me he wouldn't attend my gay anniversary party, and I'm still able to be friends with him in a way the lefties I disagree with couldn't handle, because there's an agreement that we want to live in the same society, and we want to be able to disagree on some things.
I would say the learning – if you watch any of the shows that I've done with Eric Weinstein or Jordan Peterson, or even just a week or so ago with Bret Weinstein on evolutionary biology – these guys are unpacking incredibly complex ideas, and at some level, I think I'm part of the audience in that these guys are going to say a lot of high-level stuff that a lot of people aren't going to get, but if I can pick the right moments to have them explain something a little bit further, or change a statement so it's a little more understandable, you don't have to get every single thing that they're saying every single moment. I'm along on the adventure with the audience, and I think people see that and appreciate that.
DW: What made you want to create a show like The Rubin Report?
RUBIN: I could not believe that there was no long-form interview show anymore. Larry King left CNN and then they replaced him with Piers Morgan, who was absolutely atrocious and just the same sort of combative thing that everybody was hating. I don't think it's a coincidence, by the way, that CNN has basically crumbled since Larry left, because he was one of the few people who people liked and trusted.
Obviously, he had his critics. People said he used to do softball interviews. I see my critics say, "Dave's too much like Larry King." I'm like, "Oh my God, that's the best thing anyone could ever say about me. I'm too much like the best interviewer of all time? Oh, gosh!" I would say, basically, I wanted things to feel a little bit smarter; I wanted people to be able to talk about things in a longer format than nonsensical five-minute CNN boxes where pundits who haven’t accomplished anything are just yelling at each other. They're not experts. I wanted to create a place where people could expand on ideas and learn a little bit, and I think if there had been five other shows doing it, I wouldn’t have jumped in.
That said, when I was with The Young Turks, we were doing a panel show, and it was just sort of pop culture, and clickbait stuff that they taught us how to do, but when I shifted to the interview show, I spoke with Sam Harris for a one-on-one interview to clean up a lot of the things that his detractors were saying, including my former employees. We did that interview, and I felt like it was so real, so important, and so relevant. I walked back after and I said to my guys, "That's what I want to do from now on." And that's what we did.
DW: What worries you most about the state of politics and culture at this moment, and what do you believe can be done to change that in a meaningful way?
RUBIN: I think the tenor is being just raised and raised to the point where the hysteria on both sides is not sustainable forever. You can't run on outrage forever; you can't run on reacting to outrage forever; and what I'm afraid of is that one day, things will get much worse, and we're going to look back at 2018 and go, "Whoa, those were the good days. We weren't out on the streets killing each other. We had disagreements, but it was okay." I think part of the problem here is that everything has become political. In a weird way, I'm much less interested in politics now than I have ever been. I'm much more interested in what's happening to our culture because that's where this war is being fought – on social media and everything else.
The funny thing is, if you come from a classically liberal position or a libertarian position, or even a conservative position, and you believe in the individual and in liberty, in a way, you shouldn’t be that involved in politics other than making sure that the political machine isn't infringing on your rights.
This is sort of the asymmetry of the war right now, because the Left believes that the state gives us rights. I don't believe the state gives us rights. I would say that you're born with certain rights (what conservatives would say are God-given rights), but the Left believes that the state controls everything, so they've sort of replaced religion with state. I say that as someone who’s not particularly religious, but they want to control things, and you can't control things. Humans don't want to be controlled. That’s also part of their hysteria.
If we don't figure out a way to talk about some of these important issues, I'm worried that a lot of good people will either self-select out of the system and will not be involved at all – which is not good, and I think that's already happening – or people will go to both of the extremes even more, and I think we see that happening.
I do think we’re turning the tide on some of this stuff. I think the few voices of reason are doing well. I don't know if it's enough, but I have nothing better to do.
DW: Given that you used to do standup comedy, and are a comedian, what is your perspective on the state of comedy in 2018 going into 2019?
RUBIN: Oh God, it's a freaking disaster. That's the only reason I'm going back in. I did standup for about twelve years in New York, and I had successes and failures. I used to stand out on street corners sometimes for two hours a night to get stage time no matter what the weather was like, no matter how freezing cold it was. I'd be wearing double socks and sometimes double pants to go do standup. So, I lived that life, I did the roadwork, I did all that stuff, and then when I got to L.A., I had my gig at TYT and then what I have now. I just sort of got away from it, but in the last six months or so, I've started to get back in because the Left has just destroyed comedy. All of these comedians that I used to really like, I mean, all they do is rant and rave about Trump all day and call everybody racist. It's boring and hysterical, and so now, we've sold out basically every show that I've done so far.
I usually do about an hour, and I mess with the crowd a lot, and it's sort of like a town hall and a Q&A and a free for all. It’s very different than a traditional standup show. And then I usually bring on a member of the IDW (Intellectual Dark Web) as a surprise guest after, and it's just been great. I brought Peterson up in Utah; I brought Bret and Eric Weinstein up two weeks ago; I brought Shermer up in San Jose last week. It's a standup show that you've never seen before. I don't take it that seriously, and I'm just having fun with the audience. And we're doing some seriously politically incorrect stuff about all of the issues that we're talking about right now.
The funny thing is, I used to care, live, and breath that life. And now it's like I actually don't care about it that much, which maybe in a weird way is making me better or something.
DW: Who are some of your favorite thinkers?
RUBIN: I would say that everybody should read "On Liberty" by John Stuart Mill. It’s a simple read about the nature of the individual and what liberty is all about. I think it’s a good layout of classical liberal ideas, and it's very thin; you can get a very thin copy that you can travel with, which I often do. I would say the thinkers that I believe are most interesting right now – I put Peterson at the top of the list. I think he's the most comprehensive public intellectual that we have probably on earth, and it's truly an honor to be able to be on this tour with him. I'm seeing this guy change people's lives and really fight for what he believes in. He's the real deal.
I would say, obviously, the crew of the IDW, I think that most of these people are great thinkers, and are trying to heal some of the wounds that we're talking about here, so I would obviously include the Weinstein brothers, and Sam Harris, Ben Shapiro – but Shapiro does it more from a straight-up political place than some of the other guys – but I've seen him be willing to disagree, and I've seen him modify some positions. He's done it on my show with me.
DW: If you could give only one piece of advice to people in the progressive community, what would it be?
RUBIN: I would say, stop impugning motives. Stop believing that you're automatically right, and that your opponent is automatically wrong. And stop believing that because your opponent is wrong, it means that they are the worst things in the world. It is possible that someone who is just as good as you, just as decent as you, believes different things than you believe. Not only is it possible, it's probable, and it's the inevitability of life. You have to understand that it’s your responsibility as an American or just as a decent human being to live in a society with people you disagree with. If you think that everyone who disagrees with you is a Nazi, then you're probably the one that has the problem, not them.
DW: What’s the one piece of advice you'd give to conservatives or libertarians?
RUBIN: I would say to conservatives, there are a lot of liberals who are rethinking conservative positions and rethinking bonding with conservatives. Just be open and be willing to disagree, too. Don't worry about "owning the libtard" at every corner; just show them that you're better than what they've come from. I see this very consistently. I would say, just keep trying to be a little bit better than your opponent, and it's actually not that hard, because they're pretty awful.
DW: Is there something that we haven't touched on that you would want our readership at The Daily Wire to know?
RUBIN: I would say more than anything else, I think what we need is for people to be brave. We live in the freest country in the history of the world. For your international readers – if you live in the west, you live in incredible freedom that your ancestors could have only dreamed of. If you live in a free society and you're afraid to say what you think because a mob is going to destroy you, guess what? You’re actually feeding the mob. You're showing them that their tactics are right. Not only that, you're showing them that their tactics work, and then they'll only get stronger, and you'll only get weaker.
The only reason that people care about what I'm doing, or what Peterson's doing, or Ben, or any of these guys, is because we're staking out some unpopular positions, and we're open to discussing them.
We're not superheroes. We're just humans who are willing to do this. I don't know why I'm willing to do it. I can't explain it, but we need more of you guys. If you think it's bad now and you're afraid to say what you think in the United States of America in 2018, do you think it's going to be magically better when you have kids? What world are you bringing your kids into? It will be significantly worse, and it will be your fault. I would say stand up for what you believe in while you're here because there are plenty of people who will stand up to silence you.