Charlie Kirk debated Hasan Piker at Politicon 2018, and Kirk's performance was nothing short of a right-wing talking-point extravaganza. He made faulty arguments on subjects like corruption, socialism, government programs, and the effect of Democratic policies. Here we're gonna take a close look at his arguments and I'll explain the many things that are wrong with them.
During one exchange, Kirk claimed that some of the worst-run cities in America are Democratic, and that that is the product of their policies:
"Charlie Kirk: Why is it that the most murderous, hopeless, and poorest cities in America are all run by Democrats? . . . Your very policies are put on trial in Philadelphia and Chicago and Oakland and Portland and Seattle and Milwaukee."
Hasan Piker: Yeah, you know, like Rahm Emmanual, the big socialist who said Chicago needed socialized medicine, and that's why there's gun violence. What kind of dumb argument is this?
Charlie Kirk: Chicago is already entertaining universal basic income, which you support.
Hasan Piker: You're saying they're premeditatively having a lot of violence because they're gonna implement universal basic income? Please make a good argument, one time.
Charlie Kirk: Well they also have the strictest gun laws in the country . . . Can you answer the question [about cities], though?
Hasan Piker: Because some Democrats are bad! What do you want me to say!
Charlie Kirk: Or maybe the ideas are bad, Hasan. Maybe the ideas don't work?"
First thing is first: Nice ugly-ass sneakers, dude. Those look like the kind of things that an out-of-shape dad would wear at his son's soccer game or something! Might as well put on some dirty, gray sweatpants to go with them, while you're at it! Charlie should do us all a favor and toss those sneakers back into whatever dumpster he fished them out of.
Alright, so this argument, about some of the worst-run cities being Democratic, is one that I also heard Fox News recently make. Their source for this claim was a WalletHub study which found that 8 of the 10 worst-run cities are Democratic. Here is the other crucial side of the equation that is completely left out by Kirk and Fox News and every other conservative who makes this argument: the majority of the best-run cities are also Democratic—6 of the top 10, according to that same study. And this is no surprise when you consider that cities generally tend to be Democratic—oftentimes even within deep red states!
So if we're going to blame Democratic policies for the condition of these worst-run cities, shouldn't we logically also be crediting Democratic policies for how good these best-run cities are doing? To only look at one side of this equation is extremely dishonest.
And here perhaps I'm just being kind of nit-picky, but he claimed that all of the worst cities in America are run by Democrats. This is just factually incorrect, as there are clearly examples of terribly-run cities with Republicans in charge.
It's also important to point out that present-day political leadership isn't necessarily responsible for the abject state of these cities; many other factors could also play a role. Maybe within cities, generally, there tend to be high rates of crime and poverty, with this perhaps having to do with the high cost of living, unemployment rates, close proximity of people, and so forth?
I can tell you that if I had to ride the subway every day and I was surrounded by people wearing ugly-ass Charlie Kirk shoes, I'd probably turn to a life of crime, as well!—and by that I mean I'd rob them of their shoes and throw them into a bottomless pit! I would just do things the old-fashioned way where you kick their ass and hang their shoes from a powerline, if not for the fact that they're such a god-damn eyesore! I wouldn't want to pollute my already depraved-enough Democratic city with such filth!
You also need to look at the history of these cities' political landscape: What if some of them had Republican rule for decades, and only recently switched to Democratic? What if the shitty conditions of those cities was largely brought about by the Republican policies, and the people got so fed up that they voted Democrat as a corrective to try to alleviate these problems?
I would also question how much of an impact city-wide policies even have. What if, in certain areas, it's the statewide or even the federal policies that are predominantly influential? What if a blue city in a red state is doing poorly, but if you actually did a close analysis, you'd find that the blue city is suffering because of the statewide Republican policies? Just to give one potential example, imagine a red state that declined the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare: perhaps the inability or difficulty in paying one's medical bills as a result of this pushes more people in blue cities into a life of crime?
And it's not like a city can just do whatever the fuck it wants in every single area; city policy is often restricted by state and federal guidelines. Can a city, just out of the blue—quite literally—adopt a single-payer healthcare system? I don't think it works that way. And individual cities may not even have the funding to do some of the things they want to do because of the complex nature of raising and allocating government funds across the country.
Kirk claims that the policies and the ideas are to blame, but things are clearly much more complicated than he leads us to believe. And if you look at how red states compare to blue states, you see that, in many key areas, red states underperform. And this is important because I would argue that, in many areas, statewide policies are more influential than citywide policies—although, yes, many of my points about confounding variables and so forth would also apply here.
I'm not going to go super in-depth on this point—although it's something I might address in more detail in a future project—but I'll just give two quick examples on education and crime. As we read on PoliticsThatWork.com,
"The top 15 states with the largest percentage of the population having bachelor's degrees are blue. Massachusetts tops the list with 38% of its population holding a bachelor's degree.
. . . The partisan gap is even more dramatic with regard to post graduate degrees (e.g., a master's degree, PhD, law degree, medical degree, MBA, etc.). The 16 states in which the largest percentage of the population has graduate degrees are all blue."
And as a Smart Politics analysis reveals,
". . . a Smart Politics analysis of partisan control of state legislatures finds the 27 states with Democratic-controlled legislatures with an average violent crime rate of 390 incidents per 100,000 residents. The average violent crime rate for the 14 states with Republican-controlled legislatures was 11.1 percent higher, at 433 incidents per 100,000 residents.
. . . For Democratic-controlled states, the property crime rate was 3,044 incidents per 100,000 residents compared to 3,351 incidents per 100,000 residents for Republican-controlled states – or a 10.1 percent higher rate under GOP legislative control."
There was a comment on this article written by user "being goode" which says the following:
"It is clear to me that the red states have citizens that take personal initiative and self reliance very seriously. They have a criminal element that is not afraid to go to work. As such they 'pull themselves up by their boot straps' and 'getter done'…."
That is some funny shit right there.
So not only is Kirk's argument one-sided and deceptive, not only does a full examination of the data actually undermine his position, but Kirk fails to take into consideration the complex reality of which levels of policy are responsible for the condition of a city. And if you run statewide comparisons, you see that blue states do better in several key areas.
Hasan definitely could've done a better job of pushing back against this point—but of course, it's always easy to Monday-morning quarterback. And with that said, Hasan did make a great point when he was like: "Oh, so they're premeditatively turning to violence in Chicago because they're considering implementing UBI?" Ah, yes, the scourge of psychic, politically-motivated criminals: I might just try to make a shitty TV show out of that, or something!
Another silly argument that Kirk made was about the inefficiency of government.
"Can you give me one piece of evidence where an American government program grew and it got more efficient and it did a better job at delivering value to the citizens? One!"
He makes this as if it's a gotcha point, but I would note that most people probably don't know much about the history of specific government programs and how exactly their performance has changed over time in comparison to their funding levels. So while many people might not be able to think of a good answer to this question on the spot, that doesn't mean that there aren't any good answers. Hasan's answer to his challenge was Medicare, which I think was a pretty good one.
And here's the thing about many government programs: You don't notice when they're working well. When you go to the grocery store and buy food that's not saturated with all kinds of harmful chemicals, you don't think anything of it; you don't think to give credit to the government agencies that are responsible for holding companies accountable in these areas; you just think: This is the way things are.
If you've been sufficiently brainwashed by Fox News propaganda, you might even thank the free market for your food not being mixed with a healthy portion of fecal matter! (Or I supposed I should say an unhealthy portion of fecal matter. I don't think there is such a thing as a healthy portion. "Try some delicious fecal matter today. It builds strong, healthy bones!" Hey, I get all the fecal matter I need from reading The Daily Wire!)
When you go for a swim in the lake or the river, you take for granted that you're not going to be swimming in putrid, toxic water; you don't take into consideration that the conditions of the waterway are the product of strict environmental regulation and government-mandated cleanup efforts. I would love to see your attempted free market solution to cleaning up a horribly polluted river. For those who recall, the Dave Rubin, libertarian solution, as he outlined on The Joe Rogan Experience, was basically to share your outrage on social media when they start dumping in the river.
To answer Charlie Kirk's challenge directly, there are several government programs that have done a better job as their funding and size has increased. In an article entitled "The Forgotten Achievements of Government," Douglas J. Amy provides several examples.
One successful program is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration:
"In 1970, the year before the creation of OSHA, 22,000,000 people were injured on the job and 14,000 died from job-related injuries. Since then, OSHA has helped to cut occupational injury and illness rates by 40 percent. Even more important, between 1980 and 2002, workplace deaths fell from 7.5 per 100,000 workers to 4.0."
Pfft, sounds to me like OSHA is just getting in the way of my freedom to have my arm chopped off by dangerous and poorly-maintained equipment!
Other successful examples are the National Institutes for Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
"A variety of programs run by the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state and local Public Health departments have greatly improved the health of most Americans. For example, the scourges of polio, cholera, and smallpox have been effectively eradicated from this country – a huge achievement. And vaccination programs have reduced by 95% our risks of contracting potentially debilitating diseases like hepatitis B, measles, mumps, tetanus, rubella, and diphtheria. Federal funds spent on buying and distributing these vaccines have saved countless lives."
Another successful government program—at least, before Scott Pruitt and his cronies started handcuffing it—is the Environmental Protection Agency. Here is just a sampling of some of the EPA's greatest accomplishments, taken from their website:
"1973: EPA begins the ban that will phase out all use of lead in gasoline, resulting in a 98% reduction in lead levels in the air. The phase-out protects millions of children from serious, permanent learning disabilities by helping to reduce blood lead levels by 75%.
1978: EPA and other federal agencies ban the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as a propellant in most aerosol cans. CFCs destroy the earth's ozone layer, which protects life on earth from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun.
1980: EPA develops a nationwide program for toxic waste site cleanups under the new Superfund law
1994: EPA announces a new set of pollution-control standards to reduce by 90% the toxic air pollutants from chemical plants by 1997."
Protecting our ozone layer from being completely destroyed? Sounds to me like a clear example of government overreach! What is this, George Orwell's 1984?
I'm sure you could find examples of things that these agencies did wrong, areas where they could've done better, examples of wasteful projects, but at the end of the day, these programs have been a net benefit to society.
If we sharply reduced the funding to these government programs, obviously that would make it much more difficult to do their jobs, and that means that they would accomplish less. That means more toxic chemicals in the environment, more fecal bacteria mixed in with your food, and more preventable on-the-job accidents, just to give a few examples. Increasing funding to government programs like this—within reasonable limits, of course—makes the world and our country a better place.
Kirk also appeared to just completely fabricate statistics at various points in the debate. For example, he claims the following about Cuba:
"[Cuba?] Where their life expectancy is 15 years less than the United States?"
A quick Google search reveals that the average life expectancy in Cuba is 80 years, compared to 79 years in the United States. So rather than their life expectancy being 15 years less than ours, it's actually 1 year more.
At another point in the debate, he appears to just make up another statistic:
"Even though 85% of all jobs in this country are created by small businesses."
SmallBusiness.com writes that "62% of all private sector jobs created since the great recession [were] created by small businesses." And the U.S. Small Business Administration reports that 49% of private sector employment comes from small businesses. The U.S. Small Business Administration—sounds like a pretty god-damn reliable source when it comes to small businesses! Where is Charlie Kirk getting his non-facts from on these points? The U.S. Slightly-Less-Small Business Administration?
Now, I don't even have a dog in this fight on either question; I don't have anything to gain or lose by him being right or wrong on these points. Just get your fuckin' facts right, man.
At another point in the debate, Kirk made the argument that because you don't trust our currently-corrupt government, it doesn't make sense to make it bigger.
"Charlie Kirk: I don't trust the government, therefore, why make the government bigger? Hasan says he doesn't trust the government, and he wants to make government bigger!
Hasan Piker: Make the government accountable! . . .
Charlie Kirk: We agree that lobbyists have too much access to this government. You wanna make that government bigger, stronger, more powerful; I wanna make that government smaller, more accountable to the citizens. That's a huge difference between conservatives and progressives!
Hasan Piker: . . . More government doesn't necessarily always mean more bad government. It's not like I'm advocating for corruption here. Actually, as a matter of fact, if you wanna talk about corruption, let's talk about lobbying! . . . Let's talk about how money is speech, like how we fund politicians. Let's talk about the fact that politicians spend 70% of their time raising funds for their next campaign! I don't like that system."
This is the exact same moronic point that Dave Rubin made when he embarrassed himself in his interview on The David Pakman Show. I don't know if they're getting their crappy information from the same source or what, but you'll have to ask Dave "The Snowflake" Rubin yourself, because this free-speech crusader blocked me on Twitter for criticizing him! What a huge win in the battle of ideas! Now I'm no refined classical liberal here, so pardon my ignorance, but how can a person even have a battle of ideas if they're inside of a safe-space?
So the argument is that calling for bigger government doesn't make sense if you believe that the government is corrupt. Here's the thing, though: People on the left aren't just calling for a bigger government; they're also calling for us to purge the corruption from the system!
The most left-wing politicians and political commentators in America are also the people who are most loudly calling for us to change our campaign finance system! Kirk frames it as if all they want to do is increase government while leaving the system as openly corruptible as it currently is, but these very people also favor policies that will get rid of this political corruption—and this isn't something that's buried in some footnote on page 170 of their books, but their anti-corruption viewpoints are at the forefront of their political ideologies.
There is not a single topic that a politician like Bernie Sanders talks more about—and even the most casual observer of politics would know this, so how can a political junkie like Charlie Kirk make this argument with a straight face and act as if he doesn't know what's wrong with it?
Kirk says: "We agree that lobbyists have too much access to this government." Great, so why not do what people on the left are calling for and reduce their access to government, then? Is this really your approach, to just pathetically throw your hands up and accept defeat? To concede that our government will forever be corrupt and not do anything to try to change these circumstances?
Come on, Charlie, I thought you were the fighter here! I thought you were the guy with principle and backbone? I mean, Christ, you were about ready to start swingin' on Cenk Uygur there at the end of the debate, but when it comes to the institution of government itself, you're that eager to throw in the towel and just give up?
It's like saying: "Well, I would love to air condition my apartment, but the thing is broken, so it looks like I'm just gonna have to move to a cooler climate." What? No, how about you just fix the damn thing and your problem is solved!
There's another exchange in the debate where Hasan points to the Nordic countries as examples where business can coexist with social safety nets in a way that leads to a thriving society. Charlie Kirk ultimately responds by throwing us a brilliant curveball; I'm kidding, he brings up Venezuela—as if anybody points to that country as a role model for us!
"Hasan Piker: It's very nice of you to immediately launch this accusation that I don't care for small businesses, or small businesses will never exist under a social democracy. Kind of similar to small businesses in Nordic countries with robust economies, but with also powerful and protective social welfare programs and socialized safety nets. This exists everywhere around the world. All of the comparable, Western democratic nations have been able to institute socialist principles, and that's precisely why their people are a lot happier. . . .
Charlie Kirk: Norway, Sweden, and Finland, according to the World Economic Freedom Index, are ranked higher than the United States of America. That is not socialist. They have lower taxes . . .
Hasan Piker: But that means you can have socialism, and yet still have successful businesses in your country. Thank you for proving my point for me! I love this!
Charlie Kirk: No, it's the exact opposite! You know what socialist is? Bernie Sanders wants an 80% tax rate on the rich . . .
Is Cuba not socialist? Is North Korea not socialist? Was Vietnam not socialist? Was Zimbabwe not socialist? You can laugh all you want, Hasan, but 100 million people died under socialism the last 100 years, and you have the gumption to contribute! So you can keep laughing to the victims families from Cuba, from Venezuela, from Korea, from Vietnam, from Mao's China, from Stalin's Russia. The number one killer of citizens, from innocent civilians, the last 100 years, has been the very idea that you shamelessly wear on your sleeve every single day. Marxism has killed more people than any other ideology over the last 100 years."
Bringing up these oppressive regimes is page 1 of the 2018 Republican playbook. I genuinely am starting to believe that whenever a person registers as a Republican, they get a little card in the mail to put in their wallet that says "When in doubt, Venezuela." This is like they're go-to point, and they actually think it's a good one! I'm actually considering moving to Venezuela just so I don't have to hear this shitty argument anymore!
Notice the progression of this exchange here. Hasan starts out by pointing to the Nordic countries as examples of a good blend of socialism and capitalism, where business can coexist with a strong welfare state. He's like "Hey, look at how good things are in Norway and Denmark and Sweden."
What does Charlie Kirk do? Instead of having a conversation about how the Nordic model compares to the United States, he's like "Hmm, some of these policies are socialist. What are the worst regimes I can think of that are associated with that term?"
We could just as easily use the same illogical tactic with Charlie. Imagine that he gives an example of a great business that provides real value to the world; I respond by saying: "Yeah? You know what else was a business? Enron." And then I just smugly stand there as if I've made a good point. Or I could even take a page out of Charlie's book and engage in a scathing diatribe against that company and sanctimoniously grieve about how much suffering they've caused to so many thousands of Americans.
Needless to say, when Charlie talks about the ideal business model, he probably doesn't have in mind characteristics like engaging in deliberate fraud, lying to your customers, and so forth—and it would be foolish of me to equate business with the worst examples of business. Why can't he apply the same principle of charity to his political opponents? When we talk about our ideal political system, clearly we don't have in mind as our utopia oppressive regimes like North Korea or Stalinist Russia.
"Hey, I think it would be a good idea if we provided healthcare to our citizens."
"Oh yeah? Sounds like something Joseph Stalin would say—right before he tortures you to death!"
I can't believe anybody plays this game in a serious political conversation, and I can't believe anybody in the audience falls for this crude sleight-of-hand. Charlie might have a point if the people on the left that he was debating came right out and said "We should seek to emulate the systems of Venezuela, North Korea, and Stalinist Russia." If that's what they were saying, yeah, go ahead and condemn these regimes. But clearly that's not what they're doing because they give you precise examples of exactly the countries that they think we should be emulating—countries like Norway, Denmark and Sweden.
So Charlie Kirk is attacking a strawman when he thunderously denounces these oppressive regimes—as if that takes any courage or intelligence to do—because from what I can tell, none of his political opponents give those countries as examples that we should imitate; in fact, every single one of them points out the painfully obvious fact that those systems were complete nightmares.
Wanting universal healthcare and publicly-financed college education doesn't mean that we also want the sadistic North Korean prison camps—and the two obviously don't go hand-in-hand, as many countries around the world make absolutely clear.
So as we can see, Charlie Kirk got a lot wrong in his recent debate against Hasan Piker—and what we explored here was just the tip of the iceberg. He claims that impoverished, crime-riddled cities demonstrate the folly of Democratic policies—yet he ignores the fact that the majority of the best-run cities are also Democratic. He implies that no government program provides value commensurate with its growing budget—and this is just demonstrably false, as OSHA, the EPA and the CDC demonstrate.
Charlie made overtly false claims about Cuban life expectancy and small businesses. He made the absurd argument that calling for more government programs doesn't make sense considering the existence of political corruption—an argument that doesn't acknowledge efforts on the left to eliminate this corruption. Finally, he brings up the boogeyman of Venezuela and a smattering of history's most oppressive regimes in response to the simple point that the Nordic model is one that does well.
Charlie Kirk may have come to this debate with a lot of statistics and talking points memorized and ready to be spewed out at a rapid-fire pace, but when you take a look at the actual quality of his arguments, you find that sounding like you know what you're talking about isn't the same as actually knowing what you're talking about.