Ben Shapiro is editor-at-large of Breitbart.com and his new book, Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America, is dedicated to our dear late friend Andrew Breitbart, a tireless warrior against the liberal use and abuse of cultural institutions. Shapiro talks about his new book and his continuing work with National Review Online’s 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. But it’s more laughable that the HHS — the same department that recommended and now implements the Obamacare mandate forcing religious business-owners to either violate their religious precepts or fire employees — says that it is anti-bullying. That, in a nutshell, is the Left: They pretend they hate bullies, when in reality, they are the single greatest purveyors of bullying in American life.
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. Savage is the same fellow who screamed at young Christians who walked out on one of his anti-Biblical diatribes; tried to redefine Rick Santorum’s last name in the crassest of ways; and suggested that certain politicians be dragged behind trucks until dead.
Obama isn’t anti-bullying. He loves leftist bullies and their allies — see Savage, Al Sharpton, Richard Trumka, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the like. But he plays at being anti-bullying because it serves his political purpose. By acting like somebody punching back at bullies, he gets away with actual thug tactics.
The reversal is simple: Liberals like Obama claim that they are about protecting victim classes from bullies. Conservatives oppose liberals. Therefore, by definition, conservatives must be bullies. And bullies must be stopped, punished, squashed.
Obama’s nonsense about bullying — which is at an all-time low in the United States — is just another photo-op designed to tell the American people just what a stand-up guy he is, even as he victimizes those who oppose his policies by slandering them as morally benighted.
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 (he “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills”) with an exotic (“funny”) name. Obama has played exactly this same game with regard to the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling: acting as though Republicans have a pathological hatred of him personally, and therefore don’t want to come to an agreement to prevent America’s financial collapse. In reality, Republicans can’t work with him, since he’s too busy bullying them by telling the public that they are evil granny-killers who hate the poor.
In this way, Obama is the apex of the leftism: He acts the victim even as he demands more and more control over the lives of others.
LOPEZ: How is it remotely fair to say that the Obama administration “appropriated bullying to apply only to anything remotely conservative”?
SHAPIRO: Bullying doesn’t count if you’re a leftist. Tea Partiers are nasty thugs, even if they never engage in violence and clean up after themselves; meanwhile, Occupy Wall Streeters are victims of the 1 percent, even if they’re raping people and defecating in public. Religious people are bullies because they disapprove of gay marriage, even if it’s the pro-gay population blackballing people out of jobs in Hollywood if they contributed to the Proposition 8 effort.
Name a major Obama initiative. There is no doubt that any public support for that initiative was built on the back of Obama’s bullying. Obamacare was built by bullying insurance companies (“greedy”) and doctors and religious employers (“war on women”). The Lily Ledbetter Act was built by labeling anyone who disagreed with the act a sexist. The latest fiscal-cliff deal was built by Obama’s leveraging class warfare against a “selfish” Republican party supposedly only cares for the rich.
The Obama administration may be against a young kid bullying another young kid, but they’re not against it enough to expel the bully or allow the victim to fight back. At one point, elements of the Left stood up against actual bullying (see the civil-rights movement). Now they defend it, so long as it’s from their side of the aisle. That’s because they see conservative philosophy itself as thuggish and dated — and thus, virtually any tactics become acceptable to fight it.
LOPEZ: What do you have against Glee?
SHAPIRO: Aside from its being a terrible show, Glee is a despicable attempt by Hollywood to leverage the medium of children’s entertainment to push far-left social values. At least The West Wing was honest enough to play politics with a political show. Glee plays politics by using a High School Musical aesthetic to ram gay marriage down children’s throats.
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.
That doesn’t mean that incivility should be a first option. But when the Left is thuggish, we need to call them on it. There is no way to negotiate with a bully. The Left understands that, which is why they spend the majority of their time trying to label Republicans as bullies — that way, they’ll never have to negotiate with us. There are those on the other side of the aisle who legitimately wish to discuss what legislation will best achieve human happiness. We can have civil conversations with those people, because they don’t impugn our intentions.
But there is no way to be civil — and indeed, it is a huge mistake to be civil — with those who label us and our intentions as morally evil. They are not interested in the best evidence-based policy. They are interested only in “change” that makes them feel good about themselves, which requires them to cast those of us who insist on evidence-based law as the villains. You can’t negotiate on gun control with people who say you don’t care about the dead children of Sandy Hook. And you shouldn’t. They’re bullies.
LOPEZ: Fact: There are liberals who are not bullies. Don’t you lose a chance to communicate with them, maybe win them over, when you engage in the generalizations?
SHAPIRO: The hope is that just as we on the right have marginalized many who discard reason for vitriol, they will too. Michael Moore still gets box seats at the Democratic National Convention. Al Sharpton still visits the White House. David Brock is still the administration’s chief media consort. Until the Left is forced by the American public to disassociate from its own bullies, it’s enabling them.
LOPEZ: You call out Bill Maher and Joy Behar and others for crass name-calling. But aren’t you engaging in more family-friendly name-calling in Bullies? “The Keebler Elf?”
SHAPIRO: Of course! That’s the point — until we stop treating bullies with respect, we can expect to get our lunch money stolen. I’m not attacking Alan Dershowitz with name-calling, because Dershowitz is a more intellectually honest liberal with whom you can at least have a discussion. But boors like Behar and Maher don’t receive the privilege of civility. Think of politics like the Geneva Conventions: If you agree to play by the rules, you’re treated by the rules. The minute you discard the uniform and decide to go rogue (and calling Sarah Palin a “c***” counts), you lose all right to civility. You can earn your way back in. But neither Maher nor Behar have done so.
As for George “The Keebler Elf” Stephanopoulos, he’s lost his right to civility because he’s a bald-faced liar. He portrays himself as an objective journalist, when he’s a mouthpiece for the Obama administration. Discarding the uniform of the other side and masquerading as an objective journalist earns you mockery and scorn, not civility and legitimacy.
LOPEZ: How does Barack Obama “coordinat[e] with his extragovernmental allies to launch devastating attacks on political enemies”?
SHAPIRO: The scam works like this. First, the Obama administration identifies a target. Then, they discover a flaw in the target. They can’t legislate against the target, of course. So instead, they go to their allies at organizations like Media Matters, which is staffed to the gills with friends of Obama — so much so that Media Matters has regular calls with the White House. They ask Media Matters to go on the offensive, and to coordinate with outside groups to astroturf secondary boycotts against those targets. This usually involves concerted letter-writing campaigns to advertisers who would prefer not to be embroiled in controversial political issues. Then the White House, as if by chance, weighs in to give the boycott weight. This forces the target to back down or be destroyed.
This has happened over and over again under this administration. When it came to the so-called war on women, the Obama administration launched a devastating publicity campaign, in coordination with its allies, against Komen for the Cure, an anti-breast-cancer organization that receives no government funding. Komen had committed the unpardonable sin of hiring Karen Handel, a former Republican candidate for Georgia governor, as its policy wonk — and it had, for reasons that had nothing to do with politics, decided to part ways with Planned Parenthood (Planned Parenthood is Komen’s least efficient grant recipient, since it does no mammograms). Obama and Planned Parenthood launched an all-out media assault on Komen that resulted in Handel’s leaving the organization and Komen’s reinstating its relationship with Planned Parenthood. And the Obama administration parlayed that assault on Komen into a polarizing campaign labeling those who backed Komen sexists who opposed women’s health.
It happened with George Zimmerman and the American Legislative Exchange Council. It happened, most obviously, with Rush Limbaugh and Sandra Fluke. Obama identifies a target; the media and Obama’s leftist allies seize on an unrelated incident and blow it up larger-than-life; they launch action against the target based on that unrelated incident.
The most recent example is the National Rifle Association. Sandy Hook Elementary has nothing to do with the NRA. Legislation already on the books in Connecticut would have prevented the Sandy Hook massacre, if there had been anyone there to enforce it. Connecticut is one of the most heavily gun-controlled states in the nation. Besides, the NRA is an interest group that receives zero government funding. Nobody has been calling for boycotts or action against the ACLU for advocating the rights of violent-video-game owners, even though people on both sides of the aisle think that violent video games may have played a role. Nonetheless, the NRA is the target. The media suggest that the NRA must change its positions — an absurd suggestion, given that interest groups are not government agencies. Democrats have control of the Senate and the presidency. If they want to press for law, they ought to be doing it. Instead, they target the NRA for destruction, because they’re bullies. And they label anyone who disagrees with them a moral monster who doesn’t give a damn about the dead kids at Sandy Hook.
LOPEZ: “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.”
SHAPIRO: Who in their right mind would believe that the American people would allow unelected judges to determine that unborn children may be murdered in the womb based on sheer sophistry? It’s pure madness. But Americans are willing to accept that madness because they’ve been told that to oppose it means that they hate women. The real victims in abortion are not women — the real victims are the unborn children who die every day. But the Left has shifted the debate, quite successfully, to suggest that you are a bully if you defend those unborn children.
Even assuming the Left’s case that unborn children aren’t children at all but rather balls of cells until they enter the magical birth canal, you would think that Americans might want to vote on it. But they don’t, because the Left has also bullied Americans into accepting the tyrannical rule of judges as the rule of law. Because, after all, if you don’t think the Supreme Court should read its moral opinions into the Constitution, what about Brown v. Board? (They never ask about Plessy v. Ferguson, Buck v. Bell, or Dred Scott, of course.)
LOPEZ: How does Hollywood bully and how do we counter that?
SHAPIRO: Hollywood bullies in two ways: it prevents conservatives from working, and it uses its entertainment power to demonize its political opposition. The power of narrative is the power to bias characters, turning them good or evil as the situation warrants. Hollywood uses its open bullying — blacklisting — in order to pursue that second sort of bullying with alacrity. It’s no wonder that virtually every corporate leader on television is evil (unless he works for a pioneering liberal law firm). It’s no wonder that every religious person is an ignoramus (unless he gives up his religious principles in order to embrace liberal social values).
To counter that, we need to infiltrate Hollywood. That means we need people who aren’t openly conservative to come to Tinseltown and insert their messaging in programming. We also need conservatives to recognize that culture is upstream of politics, and that we need to invest money in culture if we want to win back Americans to conservatism. The logic is simple: If we spend hundreds of hours each year learning that the rich are greedy and nasty, and then there’s a fiscal-cliff debate in which the president labels Republicans tools of the greedy and nasty rich, Americans are predisposed to buy the bullying. The way to fight back is to change that narrative.
LOPEZ: Why are you still worried about the Left’s hatred of Sarah Palin?
SHAPIRO: The Left’s hatred of Sarah Palin is shocking because it’s completely bare of argument. Leftists hate her simply because she is. And what she is is a Republican woman. Because the Left recognizes that it loses men by large margins in elections, it must maintain its stranglehold on women. It does so by painting conservatives as men who don’t care about women (hence the absurdly insulting “war on women”). So when there’s an attractive conservative woman in the forefront of American politics, the Left goes berserk.
The Left hates Sarah Palin because they are attempting to finish conservatives by turning conservative women into female Uncle Toms. They want to make it unthinkable for women to be conservative. So they turn them into villains worthy of bullying.
LOPEZ: Tell me about the bullying of moms?
SHAPIRO: To be a stay-at-home mom nowadays means that you are a sell-out, according to the Left. The Left dislikes stay-at-home moms because they are disproportionately conservative. They also give the lie to the liberal notion that in order for a woman to be happy, she must have a career outside the home. And so liberals target such mothers, portraying them as lazy do-nothing types who live off their Sugar Daddies — even though stay-at-homemoms are disproportionately poor and minority. Think of Hilary Rosen’s take on Ann Romney (a woman who had “never worked a day in her life”) or Hillary Clinton’s take on her own marriage (she “could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession”). Betty Friedan started all this nonsense by stating that staying at home and being a mother was equivalent to the Holocaust.
LOPEZ: And boys?
SHAPIRO: Boys have to be bullied into submission by the Left because they are evidence of sexual difference, which gives the lie to most of the Left’s social agenda (if boys and girls are inherently different, same-sex marriage is automatically not equivalent to traditional marriage, and differences in employment statistics may be due at least in part to non-discriminatory factors). The Left doesn’t want boys to be boys, because that would imply that girls will generally be girls. So boys and girls should both be androgynous. That requires compulsion, since by nature, boys and girls are different, both biologically and psychologically.
LOPEZ: How is Barack Obama a secularist bully if he invokes God?
SHAPIRO: Plenty of secularist bullies invoke God. They do so to bolster their secularist agenda. They pretend to be religious without actually believing in any of the hallmarks of religion: personal responsibility, unchanging morality, the dual nature of mankind. They talk about God, then blast the Bible as a long string of errors. They attend church infrequently, then blast religious people who don’t want to violate religious precepts (e.g. no providing contraception) in favor of leftist goals (e.g. universal provision of contraception). They say “God” so that they aren’t immediately dismissed; then they work to dismantle the notion of a Biblical God as any basis for social morality.
President Obama repeatedly says that America is “not a Christian nation.” What he means by that is that Christians should sit down and shut up about their moral values, since their religion helps define their morals. That perspective is mirrored by folks across the Left, who label any religious Americans who vote based on religious morality “an American Taliban.”
LOPEZ: What’s the good news?
SHAPIRO: The good news is that the bullies have been at it for 100 years, and we’re still here. We have been cowed into silence by their name-calling, by their labeling, by their grandstanding. While conservatives think individually, the Left thinks institutionally — they’ve taken over virtually all the major institutions in American life, from Hollywood to the public schools to the media to government. And we’re still here.
Imagine how successful we could be if we stopped running from our positions every time somebody shouted “racist,” and instead punched back against these bullies.
LOPEZ: You write that “America is on the verge of moral and economic bankruptcy, racial chaos, and loss of confidence in herself.” That confidence thing is a big one, isn’t it?
SHAPIRO: It’s the biggest thing. An America without confidence in her beliefs and values is a worthless America, a tool of foreign interests and “change agents” who see us as a ripe experimentation ground for untested or failed philosophies. If we don’t have confidence in what makes us great, what is worth preserving?
Progressives believe that there’s very little to America worth preserving ideologically, and they’ve convinced many Americans that to oppose their agenda is ignorant and immoral. If we don’t begin to have confidence in ourselves again — if we don’t tell those who call us names to shove it, and that they’re the real bullies and thugs — there won’t be much left for us to save.
LOPEZ: I still haven’t watched that Hating Breitbart movie, I miss him too much. Why is it important to read the rotten things people say and confront them? What was so special about what he did and how can it inspire us today? Even those who might not be temperamentally disposed to throw punches?
SHAPIRO: First off, Hating Breitbart is wonderful and everyone should see it. Andrew was fond of retweeting the hate — showing everyone what the Left believed when it was open about it. It’s important to read the hate and confront it because the Left has been able to get away with a despicable double standard: They can be as vile as they want because we’re the villains of the piece. The truth is that their vileness shows that they’re the real villains.
Andrew had three true lessons: Don’t believe the media narrative, walk toward the fire, and have fun doing it. The media will lie to you, promote the leftist agenda, and label you evil if you oppose them. They’ll do that no matter how civil or nice you are. So embrace it. Fire back on them. Don’t be cowed by their name-calling and thug tactics. When you realize how empowering it is to fight back against these bullies — to not care when they call you racist for something you know isn’t racist, for example — they can’t touch you. The only tool the Left has in its arsenal is emotion. When you don’t let their anger cow you, they have nothing left. They’re all bluster.
For those who aren’t inclined to throw punches, Andrew taught that you didn’t have to: You just had to stand tall and be willing to take punches. There are two ways to win a fight by knockout: Punch somebody hard enough to knock them out, or rope-a-dope them by letting them punch themselves out. The conservative movement needs to do both. And if you’re not up for punching, don’t shy away from the fight — just let them take their shots, and know that those of us who want to punch back will fight back, even as you play defense.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.