Beware of Ben Shapiro

Almost always multiple things can be true at once, for example: The New York Times is the greatest political newspaper on earth (IMO); but also the megaphone of the Obama/Merkel-led global political elite (read: anti-free market capitalism). Ben Shapiro, same thing: fantastic political commentator, as he is typically laser-focused on the facts of any situation; but also a highly skilled manipulator of facts when it comes to advancing his conservative ideology. Both are egregious, but I would like to focus on Shapiro today.

In a recent episode of The Ben Shapiro Show (episode 440, please see below), Shapiro makes the following five highly deceptive statements:

  1. “The top 1 percent are paying something like 50 percent of all federal income taxes in the nation.” (7:22)
  2. “You can’t give a tax cut to people who aren’t paying taxes.” (7:28)
  3. “The most damaging things President Obama did were not on policy, they were tearing Americans apart from one another. They were destroying American unity thru the use of his rhetoric. Thru the promulgation of his worldview.” (16:33)
  4. “It seems to me that many in the [Trump’s] base are more interested in Trump doing the NFL stuff than passing the tax cuts.” (21:14)
  5. “But when he said that ‘our leaders engaged in nation-building abroad, but failed to build up and replenish our nation at home.’ That statement right there is pure Rand Paul. And then he immediately proceeds to swivel and say that we need to be more involved in foreign policy.” (26:16)

Number 1. Both sides of the aisle use this apples-and-oranges comparison to advance their point. It is absurd on both sides, but I am picking on Shapiro today because from him it is particularly egregious given his whole “facts don’t care about your feelings” shtick. Bottom line: It is highly disingenuous to cite the share of taxes paid by a particular bracket without concurrently citing the share of income earned.

As I outlined back in April, once payroll taxes are taken into account the tax code is not nearly as out of whack as either side would lead you to believe: Those earning below $200,000 earned approximately 63 percent of total AGI in 2014, and paid 59 percent of total taxes; while those earning above $200,000 earned approximately 37 percent of AGI and paid 41 percent of total taxes.

So please, Ben Shapiro, stop the highly disingenuous manipulation of what you love most: facts.

Number 2. This statement is specific to the political Right, and it is patently insane. If you earn a single dollar in America, 15 percent goes to the federal government in the form of payroll taxes (employee + employer). The 15 percent all-in payroll tax rate phases out over $100,000, which makes it a highly regressive tax. But when you add up payroll and federal income, as outlined above, the tax code is largely fair.

Again, just stop, Ben Shapiro.

Number 3. Shapiro’s proverbial hammer is the “culture wars”. He worked for Andrew Breitbart who believed that politics was a culture first/policy second endeavor, so this makes sense. But functionally it is dead wrong. The third statement from the video was part of a broader monologue on how presidents are remembered more their contribution to the culture via their rhetoric than their policy. THIS IS INSANE. In Shapiro’s opinion, Reagan is best remembered for his “morning in America” optimism, “W” Bush for his being an “honorable guy who didn’t know how to defend himself,” and Obama for his intersectionality. Really amazing stuff from Shapiro. As James Carville famously said: “It’s the economy, stupid.” That is all that matters.

This is how Americans remember those presidents, zero questions asked:

  1. Reagan: tax cuts and the father of conservatism
  2. Bush: 9/11, and blowing out the deficit via the pointless Iraq war
  3. Obama: Affordable Care Act, saving the environment

Do Americans primarily remember Nixon for Watergate and Clinton for philandering? Of course, because those were monumental events. Will Americans remember Trump for the most jobs/growth/business-friendly administration in modern American history, or for his Twitter account? As I outlined in January, one of the risks to Trump is inappropriate use of Twitter – at his current rate, it is likely he is remembered something along the lines of 60/40 Twitter/policy, perhaps 70/30. We shall see. But the point is, it takes a history-defining event for the “soft side” of the presidency to overtake the policy legacy.

Number 4. A highly manipulative statement by Shapiro who was lauding the “NFL stuff” at the time as part of the necessary culture war Trump is waging on the politically correct. He reiterated at the time that all that matters if the culture, and that the “NFL stuff” was more important than policy. Now, when it suits his point he flips to the position that policy is all that matters. So which is it, Ben – culture or economy? If it is the culture, then Trump is doing a fantastic job hammering the politically correct; if it is policy, he is crushing it there as well.

Multiple things can be true at once: The Trump Administration is the most jobs/growth/business-friendly administration in modern American history, and is crushing it on policy implementation; Trump is doing a stellar job of exposing the hypocrisy of the Obama/Merkel-led global political elite; and Trump is a complete and utter embarrassment for holding public meetings where his cabinet praises him on camera, picking fights with non-political actors, and having the thinnest skin in the history of mankind, among others. All of that is true.

Are there folks in Trump’s base who prefer the “NFL stuff” over policy? Of course – just as there were in Obama’s base that cared about nothing more than he was a seemingly smooth operator. “It’s the economy, stupid” for the vast majority of the electorate. (Though a 2020 reelection run by Trump will certainly test, for perhaps the first time, two extremes: rock star policy implementation and completely embarrassing child-like behavior on Twitter. Popcorn ready.)

Number 5. Giving Shapiro the benefit of the doubt, I do not believe this statement is so much manipulation as it is policy ignorance. For some strange reason he equates foreign policy strength with nation-building. Nation-building is a clearly defined activity, demonstrated well by our atrocious attempts to impart democracy on Vietnam and Iraq. Building up our military in order to establish “peace by strength” is miles away from both the clearly defined activity of nation-building and Rand Paul’s insane isolationist worldview. To my very pleasant surprise, the Trump Administration has done a spectacular job striking this balance, and thru ignorance (or perhaps manipulation, since he has held this stance for awhile) Shapiro somehow fails to see the happy medium.

* * *

Now, on the off-chance Shapiro reads and comments on this post, this is what he will say: “Would you look at this guy with his no-name, poorly written blog? He is clearly not a conservative, and has no clue what he is talking about. I have done ‘good Trump, bad Trump’ all year, and have been very fair in pointing out his strengths and weaknesses.”

I would invite Shapiro to a long-form, face-to-face debate where we could hash things out in a constructive, orderly manner.

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