What Happened to Dave Rubin?
Dave Rubin has an interesting story. He started on The Young Turks, an alternative media source to the major, corporate outlets like CNN or MSNBC. It was a populist source, but around 2013 it became increasingly partisan and biased. The lack of self-restraint in reporting and conduct stood out to me like a sore thumb. Rubin had been working with them at this time, as a self-avowed progressive, but it was in this period that he began to have differences with them, apparently due to this shift (as he has since claimed).
This culminated in his departure from the show and the formation of his own program, The Rubin Report. This is the point where many people became familiar with Rubin. A lot of fans from TYT carried over and formed his initial audience. As the show came to understand itself, it took on the role of long-form, sit-down interview, in the vein of Larry King (an early guest of Rubin’s and personal hero).
They were neutrally done and seemed to draw on a broader range of guests at first. As 2016 developed, the kind of far-left ideology that came to define TYT also became apparent in much of the broader world. Woke ideology, as it is sometimes called, reared its ugly head. Rubin’s content during the 2016 election was interesting. Whatever reservations he recently had had, they were clearly more pronounced now. Rubin would deride “Social Justice Warriors,” but he talked as though he still had some skin in the game of progressivism, calling the far-left “regressives.”
His interview approach was also quite valuable. His show was the first place that I had seen the likes of Milo Yiannapoulos in long-form. It was, more critically, the first place I had seen act in a calm manner, free to share his thoughts without being in some kind of battle mode. It got me to see better what about him I could take seriously or not than what was normally found on YouTube edits. This was true for several personalities.
From late 2016 to 2018, Rubin was a leading interviewer for contrarian thinkers. It was content as binge-worthy as a Netflix hit. Most of his guests had something interesting to say, and Rubin’s line of questions was rather neutral. This led to his show being a focal point for the formation of the Intellectual Dark Web, a community I am happy to moderate on Reddit and organize elsewhere. Amazing discussions among the likes of Eric Weinstein, Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro happened on The Rubin Report, and thankfully they can’t un-happen.
Unfortunately, by the end of this this period, Rubin seemed to change. He no longer had any hint of his previous progressivism. Rather than refer to the far-left as “regressives,” he began to conflate them with progressives altogether. His aversion to the extremes of Social Justice also seemed to pull him away from anything positive he used to support as a progressive, such the New Deal-type policies supported by Bernie Sanders and his campaign.
His content, consequently, also changed. His YouTube channel is now filled with right-wing talking points. Videos obsess with minor things said by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and have provocative, demeaning titles. His show is no longer about deep discussion or interesting samples of heterodox thinking. Rather, he has chosen a mainstream narrative to support (that of the corporate right), while still posing as an outsider in media. If a guest ever had problems with Republicans, Rubin began to chime in that the Democrats are also bad (but never vice versa). His tweets are rarely diplomatic and show a clear preference for a side. The interviewer is gone, and the pundit is laid bare.
This is a summary of what appears to be the story of Dave Rubin in the 2010s. It is a weird recollection for a former fan, such as myself, to write. Comments I have seen by others in the IDW community online seem to share this sense of weirdness. It leads one to wonder what happened to him.
For one, I suspect there is an element of sincere disagreement with TYT. After all, I noticed their own shift farther to the left around the time Rubin decided to go his own way. Having said that, this seems insufficient to explain why he would do a full 180 on nearly every serious, political position. I mean, why would liberals with bad dye jobs and confounding social views make support for workers through a minimum wage hike or a universal healthcare system disappear? Did Thomas Sowell really convince him in just a couple conversations, or is something else at work?
I suspect Rubin is something of a fad follower. Before woke ideology got crazy in 2013, being a liberal under the first black president was pretty trendy. Let’s face it; Rubin would hardly be the only person like that, and plenty of such people nodding their heads as they read this might be that same kind of person. In the wake of the Great Recession and the slap on the wrist Wall St got, the Bernie types had an appealing claim to being populist heroes (and I think they still do).
Sure enough, though, that fad ran out, and with the outsider candidacy of Donald Trump, a new fad took its place, one that was “based and redpilled.” Even if you don’t like Trump, there was something awfully entertaining about the foil he posed to the Democratic elite. After voting Gary Johnson in 2016, it seems like the fad finally took hold with Rubin in 2020, when he voted for Trump. It is disappointing, to be sure.
What do we take away from this? Well, I think Rubin is a cautionary tale, both for leftists and for people who have to put up with leftists. It is a lesson about how a potential ally and magnifier for solid, populist positions was lost due to the tendency of the left to alienate, cancel, shun, and mock anyone who has minor differences from their orthodoxy. On the other hand, it is a tale of how Rubin squandered his own bi-partisan credibility by letting that get to him too much and being lured into the economic opportunities that the other narrative offered him, while taking on negative attitudes toward the redeemable left. This he has done, ironically, with the same lack of nuance and absence of good faith that he has come to despise in the left.
If he wanted to be a new Larry King, people were steadily interested in that, but he changed his product. It’s an operation that media donors are willing to fund, but it’s not something the people are willing to buy.