Breitbart.com Editor at Large Ben Shapiro is very upset by the way liberals bully conservatives. When Michael Sam came out as gay before the NFL draft, Shapiro found the nearest camera to declare that no cultural watershed had occurred at all, and that calling homophobes by their proper name was a terrible form of bullying. His website, TruthRevolt.org, is dedicated to the rough, personal destruction of liberals and the media because they are so darn mean to conservatives. So when we were asked to read his new primer, How to Debate Leftists and Destroy Them: 11 Rules for Winning the Argument, we pretty much expected to find a bunch of whining and vicious psychological projection in its 37 pages. We were not disappointed.
Shapiro is convinced that Mitt Romney lost the presidency because he was not mean enough, and writes glowingly of his ridiculous gun debate with Piers Morgan after the Sandy Hook massacre as an example of how to properly destroy an opponent. He says that liberals are taught to bully conservatives from the cradle, with the encouragement of schools and colleges, because they are mean and dirty and downright evil people. Of course, this excuses whatever means are necessary to destroy them, and there can be no detente or middle ground. To Shapiro, a debate is just a war by another name. We were keenly interested in his Rule #3: Frame Your Opponent.
I have argued that the left’s entire playbook consists of a single play: characterizing the opposition. It’s incredibly effective. And the only way to get beyond character arguments is to frame your opponent – make it toxic for your opponent to slur you. Then, hopefully, you can move the debate to more substantive territory. This is the vital first step. It is the only first step.
It is the reason that the right consistently loses the black and Hispanic vote – not because the right’s policies are so abhorrent to blacks and Hispanics, but because blacks and Hispanics have been told for generations that conservatives hate them. There is no way to convince someone that you don’t hate him or her. You can convince him or her, however, that your opposition is a liar and a hater. When a leftist calls a conservative racist, the conservative tendency is to defend yourself by explaining why you aren’t racist. This is a losing battle. In fact, you’ve lost the argument the minute you engage in it. The proper response to a charge of racism is not, “I’m not a racist. Never have been. I have black friends, black bosses, black employees.” You’ve already given away the store by dignifying the charge with a response. The proper response to a charge that you beat your wife is not to explain that you don’t beat your wife and are in fact an ardent feminist: it’s to point out that throwing around accusations without evidence makes your opponent a piece of garbage. The truth is that your opponent, who labels you a racist without evidence, is the actual racist: it is he who waters down the term racism until it is meaningless by labeling any argument with which he disagrees racist.
No rational conversation is possible with someone who insists you are not worthy of debate. In fact, if your opponent thinks you’re not worthy of debating, he isn’t worthy of debating. If your opponent wants to enter a world in which we can have rational conversations about the costs and benefits of particular policies, you’re happy to do that. If not, the conversation is over. There will be no conversation in which you call me a racist, and I explain why I’m not a racist. That’s a conversation for idiots.
This technique has many applications. For example, when Shapiro calls for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Israel, you are not allowed to accuse him of advocating genocide because he uses the word “transfer” instead of ethnic cleansing. Never mind that the entire world considers it genocide — if you use that word, you are bullying him. If you want a reasoned debate on Israel with Ben Shapiro, you will just have to accept his point of view as valid and argue that
genocide transfer would or would not be an effective policy. You are not allowed to call it immoral, even though it certainly is, because you are the immoral one for watering down the word “genocide.”
After reading the above passage, we tried a thought experiment. Is it possible to frame Ben Shapiro at the outset of debate without referring to race or a specific sexuality? We imagined ourselves sitting across a campus stage from Shapiro, given just one minute to deliver our opening in front of ten thousand college students:
Ladies and gentlemen, my opponent in this debate wants you to refrain from masturbation. In his book Porn Generation, Mr. Shapiro treats sex with yourself as the moral equivalent of promiscuous sex with lots of people. Yet when Eric Boehlert of Media Matters teased the Breitbart.com editors on Twitter for failing to vet Mitt Romney’s business dealings at Bain Capital, Shapiro responded with a masturbation joke about George Soros. Clearly, he regards masturbation as something only liberals do, and since he regards modern social immorality as the source of all liberalism, Mr. Shapiro is against masturbation because he thinks it makes you liberal. Whatever else you may think of the debate this evening, bear in mind that Mr. Shapiro is very, very concerned that you should save your precious bodily fluids for the Lord and increase the probability that you will vote for conservatives.
More than two years after his mentor’s death, Ben Shapiro is perhaps the best remaining representative of Andrew Breitbart’s own personal style. He is ridiculous, but demands to be treated seriously while he denounces his opponents as ridiculous. Shapiro will not be bullied away from his bullying.