Bully for You
Being a doctrinaire conservative in this day and age requires you to do a lot of cognitive gymnastics. Luckily, the captain of the right’s gymnastic team is Ben Shapiro, who has been an exceptional contortionist since his YAF days, when he simultaneously boasted of his unfashionable virginity and scolded everyone else about their allegedly unconventional sex lives. Ben is married now, and presumably has engaged in heterosexual intercourse, but it hasn’t made him any happier or more relaxed, as he makes his living harrumphing over the sins of liberalism. Hey, just because it’s easy doesn’t mean someone should do it.
Though not himself large, Ben has wrangled, by virtue of being a nuance-impervious loudmouth, the position of editor-at-large at Breitbart.com. (You may recall that this position was once held by Andrew Breitbart himself, until his heart self-detonated rather than listen to him bellow for one more second.) This job entails being a sort of all-purpose complainer, a queen bee fat on the jelly of foundation grants, forever sending out drones to gather the sweet nectar of gripe. Just like that one guy on your Facebook who can’t relate to anything unless it has a Star Wars reference in it, Ben has cranked out book after book of impotent whining about how liberals are ruining everything with their education and their pornography and their crazy rock and roll and their hair. A 79-year-old man in the body of a failed attorney, his books (which I only hesitate to call unreadable because even I have better things to do than read them) attract praise from the kind of people who write books exactly like them — that is to say, endless litanies of alleged liberal treachery and evildoing.
It might well be enough to say that by such works ye shall know them — just wander over to Amazon and look at the titles of the books written by people who have log-rolled the corpus of Ben Shapiro: Cowards. Radicals. Invasion. Unhinged. Persecution. Slander. Treason. Demonic. Unholy Alliance. The Great Destroyer. Hating Whitey. Deliver Us from Evil. Culture of Corruption. Well, it certainly sounds like they’re fighting the good, if imaginary, fight, doesn’t it? In keeping with this great tradition of the literature of name-calling, Ben’s latest extrusion is titled Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences Americans. On the face of it, this might seem like a curious thesis statement: if people like Ben and his fellow real Americans are being routinely silenced by the bullying of the left, how is it that their books routinely sell millions, that their radio shows frequently dominate the ratings, that their TV network is the proud peacock of basic cable, that their tricorn-sporting political movement is endlessly fretted over by media chatterboxes?
This, of course, is the great contradiction of the neo-New Right. They must be simultaneously ragged and right, persecuted and triumphant, the choice of the majority and a precarious threatened minority. Their America is both an exceptionalist juggernaut — the envy of the economic world and a military titan that can enforce the Ledeen Doctrine at will — and an internally weakened paper tiger that is at risk of total destruction by the machinations of a handful of Segway-riding enviro-snobs and post-structuralist academics. Their culture is one where trü-kvlt American values of machismo, independence, and not-abortion are shared by every decent person in the lower 48, but which are driven out of theaters and and set-top boxes by a tiny cabal of bezrodniy kosmopolit in Hollywood. Their politics never loses, but is always made to lose; it cannot fail, but is always failed. Reconciling history and current events in this way, where oppression, dictatorship, and the impeding of human rights are exclusively products of liberalism and the political right is both naturally, inevitably victorious and forever persecuted and silenced, is the great project of today’s movement conservative. They toil at their laptops with the vigor of a contrarian rock critic lamenting the lack of respect paid to Van Hagar, painting Americans, whites, males, heterosexuals, Christians, and the rich as both the natural masters of man and a criminally vilified underclass.
Because this kind of script-flipping is so easy, because it requires no rigor and little effort but only a suspension of disbelief on the part of your audience that they can be both the rightful inheritors of all that is good and an unjustly picked-on minority, it’s like vitamins to guys like Ben Shapiro. When you’re the heir to massive amounts of privilege but you spend all your time complaining about how everything isn’t just-so, you come off as an utter pussy; but there’s no money in copping to your good fortune, so Bullies is just the latest in a vast body of rightist literature trying to have it both ways. Since I lost my food stamps, I haven’t got 25 bucks to spare on the thing, but the fever of a flavor can be found in this ‘interview’, or ‘cross-promotional handsie’, with the National Review‘s wart-in-residence, Kathryn Jean Lopez:
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Is there a perverse irony in the fact that StopBullying.gov is a project of the Department of Health and Human Services?
BEN SHAPIRO: It’s laughable that this administration considers itself an anti-bullying administration at all, especially given its routine bullying of businesspeople, religious believers, and gun-owners, among others.
The transformation of a low-paid bureaucrat penning earnest pamphlets on behalf of teenagers being humiliated and beaten by their peers into a menacing figure is hilarious enough, but it attains the appropriate Shapirovian levels of absurdity when we are expected to believe that the people the HHS is engaged in “bullying” include the Catholic Church, multi-billion-dollar international corporations, and the downtrodden and helpless huddled masses known as “gun-owners”.
LOPEZ: Why are you so worked up about Barack Obama hating child bullies? It’s not actually true that “All Americans, virtually without exception, hate bullies,” is it, when there are, in fact, bullies? The point of your book…?
SHAPIRO: President Obama has made an enormous deal over the past four years about child bullying. He’s declared it a crisis, and spent vast sums of capital pushing the notion that every American has to stand up against bullying. But in talking about that effort, Obama praised none other than Dan Savage, who runs the It Gets Better Project — and also bullies the hell out of everyone who disagrees with him on gay marriage.
I’m not sure what Lopez is getting at in her question. She seems to be implying that if Americans hated bullies, there would be no bullies, and the whole thing comes across as a kind of weird defense of bullying, but that can’t be right. Anyway, it’s Ben’s answer that really gets to the heart of the matter. By implying that efforts to promote equal rights for gays is actually a way of bullying people who want to be able to keep bullying gays, not only does he get to cast bigots, homophobes and religious fanatics as victims, but he gets to completely ignore the role of the right in hundreds of years of bullying homosexuals, which is, after all, what our current political climate is a response to. It’s the most perfect kind of co-option: promulgate oppression, and when the oppressed push back, claim that not only are you the one being oppressed, but that you’ve been the oppressed one all along.
Ben delivers another gorgeously shameless iteration of this argument later on, when he condemns Hollywood “blacklisting” — only he’s not talking about the actual blacklisting of leftists in the 1950s by the political right, but the entirely imaginary blacklisting of conservatives in Hollywood today.
LOPEZ: Why would you say something like: “No wonder Obama looks like he’s lost weight. He’s been lugging that gigantic cross around for the last four years.”
SHAPIRO: President Obama wins elections because he portrays himself as a victim of a racist, ignorant, bigoted group of Americans (bitter clingers) who oppose him simply because he is a black man…acting as though Republicans have a pathological hatred of him personally.
Goodness knows where Obama might get the idea that some Americans oppose him simply because he is a black man, or that Republicans have a pathological hatred of him.
LOPEZ: “A century of civility has brought us a century of liberalism. We’re not the thugs. They are.” How do civil people avoid looking like bullies as they debate and challenge and expose?
SHAPIRO: I think the first problem is that we insist on being civil. The Left has been uncivil for a century, and they’re winning. We have the moral high ground, and nothing else.
Yes, all the right has is the moral high ground, an entrenched political base, massive amounts of power in Washington, an unprecedented degree of lobbying force, an entire ideologically-driven media system, and billions and billions of dollars. And nothing else. Ben’s ‘century of civility’, lest we not be clear on it, would be the one in which sexism, institutional racism, imperialism, voter suppression, rampant disenfranchisement, unquestioned police power, monopolies and trusts, open warfare against the working class, virtually no social safety net or public health programs, and a total abdication of corporate citizenship were the order of the day, but hey, at least the haute bourgeoisie were polite about it.
Elsewhere in the interminable 7-page suckfest, Ben pulls off a lovely piece of blind-and-dumb criticism, implying that Roe v. Wade was not the result of serious consideration of the law of the land, but rather a magical spell cast by liberals: “Domestically, the Left has been able to bully Americans into accepting abortion-on-demand as somehow mandated by emanations, penumbras, and Casper the Friendly Ghost in the Constitution.” After all, if he — the CEO of Ben Shapiro Legal Consulting! — cannot suss the trick, how could you? He also engages in some pugnacious phony-tough-guy posing of the sort the right so loves (he won’t be bullied by these phantom somethings, oh, no, not Ben Shapiro!), and, in a sort of glorious moment of transcendence, cites George Zimmerman — who is, after all, known for having shot an unarmed teenager to death for the crime of walking-while-Negro — as a paragon of the sort of person who is bullied by liberals; the man who murders under cover of night transformed into the ultimate victim, the paranoid style justified at last.
Ben Shapiro has come a long way since he first appeared, in those now innocent-by-default days of the Clinton Administration, as a teenage anti-rebel, proudly waving his virginity as an oriflamme, posing as the perfect outsider while attending Harvard Law School. His dedication to pandering has led him to the point where he can observe the weak, the outcast, and the poor demanding to be treated like human beings, and twist it to serve his own bogus sense of victimhood, and not be laughed out of town on a rail because of it. But he is still the rich kid high school president, with his straight A’s, his new car, his well-thumbed copy of Atlas Shrugged, and his guaranteed job at the old man’s firm, ranting and raving in his valedictory speech about how everyone hates him for his greatness.