When it comes to political Quazes, I prefer people I disagree with.
Hell, what’s the fun of having a New York-born liberal? Or someone who thinks Barack Obama has been a strong president? They think what I think, which means—in thinking about how they think—I know how they think.
I don’t know how Guy Benson thinks. First, he’s a contributor to Fox News (a place I don’t like) and a political editor of Townhall.com (a site I don’t often read). Second, he’s an openly gay Republican who doesn’t see any real issue with being an openly gay Republican. Third, he’s a fan of neither Obama nor Hillary. Fourth, um … that’s about it. Which is a lot—and also makes Benson a perfect (And cool. And unique. And generous.) Quaz. You can follow him on Twitter here and purchase his book, “End of Discussion,” here.
Guy Benson, no need to fret over taxes or immigration or Muslims. You’re the 236th Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Guy, I hate being clichéd here, but I’m gonna be clichéd here. You’re an openly gay Republican. Which is confusing to a lot of people—including myself. Why? Because for so long, your party has been pretty hostile when it comes to gay rights, gay marriage, even civil unions. You’re younger than I am, but it wasn’t all that long ago when Pat Robertson addressed the Republican Convention and basically damned gays to hell. I realize there are 800,000 issues in the world, but I have to ask: How are you comfortable largely supporting a party that has long seemed to marginalize gays as sinful second-rate citizens?
GUY BENSON: As I see things, the existence of proud, unapologetic gay conservatives really shouldn’t be particularly confusing at all. Here’s how I put it to Buzzfeed a few months ago:
“A free-thinking, free citizen of a free country is not obliged to be confined to a bedazzled ideological straitjacket because that’s how they ‘ought’ to think and ‘ought’ to vote and ‘ought’ to rank their priorities … Part of liberty and tolerance and coexistence is understanding that, ‘Hey, I might have something in common with this person over here, and they have every right under the sun to disagree with me on this whole panoply of public policy questions over here.’ And if their views on those things lead them to another conclusion about how they exercise their right to vote, to jump to the conclusion that that is borne of some secret, deep-seated self-loathing is just lazy and boring. And false.”
I realize you didn’t employ the “self-loathing” smear, but it’s something that I’ve heard more than once, and I think it’s deeply unfair to the millions (yes, millions) of right-leaning LGBT people in this country. Look, I care about the country. I think policy matters. I want the best for America—as virtually all of us do, even if we differ on the best course to pursue. Overall, on the issues that matter most to me, I’ve concluded that the Republican Party represents my priorities and views far better than the Democratic Party does (though I do lean more to the left on some issues). I’m not a one-issue voter.
I’d also point out Democratic Party also embraced a platform that treated gays as “second rate citizens,” to borrow your term, until approximately four minutes ago. And Barack Obama’s cynical “evolution” on the issue was a pretty revolting spectacle, really. He was for gay marriage as a liberal candidate in a liberal district in Illinois, then became “opposed to” gay marriage as he geared up for a statewide run in 2004, before switching back to his original position years later. He invoked the Matthew Shepard murder as an influential factor in changing his mind … back to a position he’d previously held. Every turn on this journey coincided with his political interests at the time, so pardon me for not bursting into tears of gratitude for his alleged leadership on these issues.
Two more points: First, if liberals are hoping to shape a progressive/libertarian consensus on gay rights moving forward, isn’t it beneficial to have voices at both ends of the spectrum advancing those arguments? Second, an observation from my own personal experience. The vast majority of ugliness and venom I’ve received since coming out publicly has come from the Left—especially the gay Left. Because I’m the “wrong sort of gay,” or whatever. It’s amazing what kind of slurs the Tolerance Brigades will hurl over what they perceive as identity treason. Conservatives, with notable exceptions, have been overwhelmingly kind and welcoming. I recognize that I owe a great deal to the gay rights activists who’ve labored to pave this road over many generations. I’d venture a guess that most of them would probably disagree with many of my political views—and that’s completely fine. But thanks to them, I’m living in a new paradigm, and I don’t feel compelled to exercise my equality and liberation by marching in lockstep like a single-issue robot with a party and ideology that doesn’t represent me as a human being. I can’t remember who said this, so I’m stealing it without full attribution: Since when is the rainbow just one color? I don’t feel remotely obligated to pledge fealty or allegiance to the “blue” team.
J.P.: You and I had a brief Twitter exchange recently that I’d like to expand on. I’ve been Googling around about your views, takes—and it seems like, 99.6 percent of the time, you dump on liberals, Obama, Hillary, etc. And I wonder (and I don’t mean this exclusively for you, because it’s a national thing), why should we take people’s viewpoints seriously if they refuse to compliment the other side, or bash their own? I mean, I watch Sean Hannity at the gym sometimes, and it’s complete slamming of the left, praising of the right. A-l-w-a-y-s. Same with Al Sharpton at MSNBC. Why can’t we have people who are completely unbiased, unslanted and simply take it all case by case?
G.B.: Well, if you read my book (shameless plug: “End of Discussion,” co-authored with my dear friend Mary Katharine Ham), you’ll notice that we’re not big fans of dogmatic, intellectually-dishonest ideologues who scrupulously avoid introspection. When deserved, we target “our side,” and even ourselves individually, for criticism. I’ve moved to the left on a number of issues over the years, having been convinced that liberals had the better argument. I wrote a whole piece a few weeks ago debunking a bogus attack on Hillary Clinton because (a) it was the right thing to do, and (b) conservatives shouldn’t waste our time with anti-Hillary nonsense when there’s so much legitimate material to work with. You ask why we can’t have people who are completely unbiased and un-slanted. Well, we do. To the extent that anyone can subordinate any instinctive worldview, that is. There are many journalists who work extremely hard to be even-handed and tell the truth. CNN’s Jake Tapper is one of them. ABC’s Jonathan Karl is another. I approach my work from a clear vantage point; I advertise it freely, and people can evaluate my work accordingly. As a news consumer, I’d much rather have someone disclose their biases than pretend not to have them while subtly or overtly advancing an agenda.
J.P.: After 9.11 happened, Republicans and conservatives absolutely pummeled the Dixie Chicks for openly ripping the sitting United States president in the wake of a terrorist attack. We are now in the wake of a terrorist attack—significantly smaller, but still an attack. And it seems like the GOP candidates, and their supporters, can’t stop slamming Barack Obama for everything and anything. I’m truly troubled by this, because I think we have a pretty profound history (FDR during WWII as the best example) of trying to show unity in times of crisis—whether we agree with a leader’s political leanings or not. I’m guessing you disagree. Yes? No? And why?
G.B.: Get back to me when Obama stops smearing his domestic opponents as ‘ISIS recruiters’ from abroad—which is exactly he did in the wake of the Paris attacks, amid bipartisan criticism of his ISIS and refugee policies. And Democrats called President Bush a “loser,” a war criminal, and worse, so I’m rather unmoved by the Left’s pearl-clutching on this front. That said, I wish our political climate weren’t as toxic as it’s become.
J.P.: So I know you’re 30, know you attended Northwestern journalism school, know you’ve done some sports—but how’d you get here? Like, when did you become interested in politics? In media? And what’s the goal?
G.B.: Politics first blipped on my radar as a sixth grader, during the 1996 presidential election. We were asked to pick a campaign to “work for,” as part of a project. One of the local papers had an infographic that summarized various issue positions held by the major candidates, so I went through and circled the stances that made the most sense to me, then tallied them up. Winner: Bob Dole. Pure excitement. I proceeded to treat politics as if it were a spectator sport for a number of years, rooting for one team over the other. That mentality changed early on in my junior year of high school, when 9/11 happened. My hometown lost 12 people that day. I remember being overcome with the conviction that politics really matter. During college, I called sports games for the same campus radio station on which I hosted a right vs. left-style weekly talk show. Ultimately, my first job offer was on the political side, and that’s the route I’ve taken ever since. It was the right decision. I feel like I’m devoting my career to trying to influence our politics and our country for the better. Sports remains a wonderful, welcome, needed distraction for me. Go ‘Cats, by the way.
J.P.: The right is all over Hillary Clinton and Benghazi—as are you. Let’s say, hypothetically, Ted Cruz is president, and secretary of state Marco Rubio has the same type of scandal. Are you and the right equally interested, determined to dig the truth? Or is this, in part, a political thing, or a Clinton thing? Because, having watched the hearings, it seems that way.
G.B.: I think it depends on the nature of the scandal, of course. As someone who leans to the right, I’d probably be more forgiving of a Republican administration. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. But I genuinely make an effort to be fair and intellectually honest. If you read my work, it’s not like the GOP emerges unscathed every day. One of the best things about our imperfect, adversarial political system is that the opposition always has an incentive to hold powerful people’s feet to the fire. That’s healthy in a free society. Sure, sometimes the oversight is partisan in nature. But a partisan investigation doesn’t necessarily mean that the partisans are wrong. The parties compete and present their cases (sometimes with the media’s thumb on the scale, I’d argue), and then it’s up to the American people (most of whom aren’t super-political weirdos like me) to determine who’s got a point, and who’s full of it.
J.P.: You co-authored a book this year, “End of Discussion,” with Mary Katharine Ham. This is probably a bit too inside baseball for many, but—fuck it. It’s my blog. The question: How did you go about co-authoring a book? Did you split chapters? Passages? Did one of you write more, one edit more? Was it a struggle to find a cohesive voice? I know it’s out of nowhere, but this shit fascinates me.
G.B.: Mary Katharine and I have freakishly similar world views and writing styles, so achieving “voice” continuity wasn’t much of an issue. We have close friends and family members who read the book and couldn’t tell who wrote what. The way we went about tackling the writing process was collaborating very closely on the opening and concluding chapters, then splitting the eight “issue” chapters, half and half. After we’d written our individual chapters, we swapped, to edit, tweak and augment. We think it worked out pretty well, but that’s for readers to decide. It’s a fun, occasionally funny, book that definitely comes from a political perspective, but is intentionally accessible to people who don’t agree with us. We’d ask that you keep an open mind and give us a chance!
J.P.: You’re clearly a smart, informed guy. Do you recognize man-influenced climate change as a problem? As a major problem? Why or why not?
G.B.: I believe that a large majority of the scientific community sees anthropogenic climate change as a real problem. As a Christian, I also believe that we are stewards of this planet. So I’m not someone who dismisses this issue as a “hoax,” or whatever. And conservatives have to breathe the same air and drink the same water as everyone else. I do think that a piece that ran in The Economist in 2013 calls into question some of the alarmism connected to this issue, including the fact that measurable warming has essentially stopped for the last 15 years or so, even as CO2 emissions have climbed considerably. Doom-saying projections have not been borne out by actual data. I also reject many of the so-called “solutions” being proposed as government-empowering, unrealistic, economically-ruinous policies that—based on their advocates’ own data—won’t actually fix the problem. Steven Hayward wrote an excellent post about this a few years back. I’ll also say that the “hide the decline” scandal at East Anglia University really undermined my confidence in some climate scientists’ self-stylized posture as impartial, data-driven empiricists. Their internal machinations make them look more like agenda-driven activists, determined to stamp out critics at all costs.
J.P.: In one of your Townhall columns you wrote, “The pro-Bush line is that W transformed his presidency and kept America safe after the stunning trauma of 9/11, which occurred less than a year into his eight-year tenure. True.” OK, so I don’t see it. We’re attacked on 9.11. The Bush White House responds by going into Iraq—a country that had zero to do with this, opening the region to all sorts of awfulness (including the ISIS you and yours now bash Obama for not handling well). So, Guy, while I suppose Bush “kept” us safe in that there were no other attacks, did he really keep America safe? Am I missing something here?
G.B.: Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen wrote a solid piece recently enumerating the myriad ways in which President Bush kept the country safe after 9/11. I notice that you jumped right to Iraq on this subject. You skipped Afghanistan, revamped detention and interrogation policies, new programs to disrupt terrorist financing networks, and a massive upgrade of technological and human intelligence. Many plots were discovered and foiled. Lives were saved. Preventing another large-scale attack on the US homeland was quite a feat, and those who’ve worked tirelessly on behalf of our safety deserve our thanks. Now, looking back, I do think the Iraq war was a mistake. Key elements of our intelligence assessment turned out to be wrong. Saddam, a heinous monster, could at least be counted on a buffer against the heinous, monstrous Iranian regime. Were there reasons to take him out? Sure. Was it worth countless billions and thousands of American lives? I don’t think so. Barack Obama was right about that. He was wrong about almost everything else, from the efficacy of the surge, to the politically-motivated abandonment of Iraq without a status of forces agreement, to the “jayvee” nature of the ISIS threat that which cropped up in the power vacuum he recklessly helped create. (Disclosure: I was an intern at the Bush White House in 2007).
J.P.: ESPN’s Bob Ley did a Quaz, and he referred to the pull of “red-light fever”—meaning being on TV, getting some celebrity status, being recognized in an airport terminal, autographing a scrap of paper. You’ve now been on the tube quite a bit. Does it do anything for you? Do you enjoy the medium? Do you feel like there’s an art to it?
G.B.: I’ve been on the air in some capacity since age 14, so I obviously love it. And I’m extremely grateful for my on-air platforms at Fox News and Salem radio. Everyone—everyone—in this business has an ego to some extent, but for me, it’s not about being “famous” or making huge money … although I wouldn’t turn down a raise, just in case certain (attractive and wise!) executives happen to be reading this. It’s about applying my passions and God-given talents for good, while doing something that gets me out of bed every morning. I feel very blessed. Prominence obviously helps amplify one’s message, so I don’t feel guilty about working to grow my profile. The key is to not lose your grounding, bearings, or values along the way. I have friends and family who will help see to it that I don’t.
J.P.: So as far as I can tell, the GOP should just make Marco Rubio it’s nominee right now. He’s smart, young, handsome, has a major job, speaks well, doesn’t completely cause moderate Democrats to run the other way. Am I missing something? Because he strikes me as the guy most likely to beat Hillary—by far.
G.B.: Nice try, you’re not going to trick me into tipping my hand. Part of my job is to cover the GOP primary for the next seven months or so, and I want to be fair to the various candidates, even though I’m paid for my opinions. Caveat: My work product makes it abundantly clear that I am not a Donald Trump fan. I think he lacks the temperament, requisite knowledge and core principles to be someone I could support for president. As a genuinely undecided voter in this process, I will agree that Sen. Rubio is a gifted communicator who brings a lot to the table, particularly as it pertains to offering the electorate a stark contrast to Hillary Clinton. I’ll leave it at that. May the best man or woman prevail.
J.P.: What are we supposed to do about healthcare? I know the right abhors Obamacare, and perhaps with good reason. Costs are rising, etc. But what about all the people now covered? What about those with pre-existing conditions? Does a Republican president come in and simply say, “Back to the old way?” Do you have an idea or two for a solution?
G.B.: Policy wonks like Avik Roy and James Capretta have done some really terrific work on this subject, and I do believe that opposition to Obamacare (I’ve been strongly opposed from the beginning and feel vindicated by subsequent events) requires those in power to present viable alternatives. Those alternatives exist, several in the form of actual legislation. But one of the GOP’s biggest shortcomings since 2010, in my view, is its failure to unify around a plan and present it to the American people. Harshly critiquing Obamacare is valid. The law’s advocates and supporters deserve every bit of criticism they receive, based on the parade of broken promises alone. And Democrats have paid a steep, richly-earned political price for the costly, dishonestly-sold misnomer of a monstrosity that they rammed into law, over the public’s wishes (I apologize if my position on this law is too ambiguous). But if repeal is in the offing, there needs to be a thoughtful replacement plan that takes care of people, including those with pre-existing conditions. Some 2016 candidates have laid out their visions on this score. They all should.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH GUY BENSON:
• I don’t mean this insultingly at all—but you don’t meet many people named Guy. What were your parents thinking?: It’s a family name — long line of Guys on my dad’s side. I give my parents an A+ in the naming department, with all three kids. Guy Pelham, James Alexander and Olivia Grace.
• Five all-time favorite political figures: I believe I’m legally obligated to list Ronald Reagan five times here. #Reaganing
• Rank in order (favorite to least): George Will, Darnell Autry, Pope Francis, Sheriff David Clarke, Dwight Howard, Glenn Beck, Law & Order, Lyndon Johnson, “Princess Bride,” Lucas Duda, Thor, Entourage, Us Weekly: Law & Order (the original is the best), George Will, Thor (Brad, that is), Darnell Autry, Pope Francis, Princess Bride, Sheriff David Clarke, Glenn Beck. Dwight Howard, Lucas Duda, Entourage, Us Weekly, LBJ.
• Three memories from your senior prom: 1. My date, Jisoo, was the Prom Queen. She’s a badass and we’re still friends; 2. I was expecting to be really nervous but ended up having a total blast. The whole class sang and danced to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ toward the end; 3. We piled into a limo and headed ‘down the shore’ (a Jersey term) post-prom for the weekend, per tradition. The weather was terrible the whole time, so we watched ‘Family Guy’ and the NHL finals (go Devils). Certain products may have been consumed by some. (Bonus side note: enjoyment rankings of the various stages of my educational career: College (great), high school (great), elementary school (good) … and then middle school).
• Barack Obama calls and wants to know if you wanna grab some dinner. Do you go and have a good time?: Oh yeah, of course I’d go, and we’d have a terrific time. We share a favorite beer (312) and TV show (The Wire), and we’re both college hoops fans. Plus there’s a Chicago connection. I’d like to think that I can find common ground with almost anyone, even a bad president—plus, I respect the office no matter what.
• Best joke you know: A friend of mine tells a long, filthy joke that ends with the punchline, “because I’m the bus driver!” He horrifies strangers with it in bars sometimes.
• You did some Cape Cod League play by play. Three memories, please: I did. Four summers for the Chatham A’s alongside my best friend from home, Dan, who’s pursuing the dream as a pro sportscaster. 1. Game 1 the 2005 division playoff series. Chatham beat Orleans in extras in an absolutely thrilling ballgame. The A’s (a team packed with future MLB talent, from Evan Longoria to Andrew Miller to Chris Coghlan to Jeff Frazier) went on to lose the best-of-three series; 2. “The sprinkler game,” in which the sprinklers went off mid-game, both on the field and up by our broadcast location, wreaking all sorts of havoc. Not sure I’ve ever laughed harder on the air; 3. Our 10-year anniversary broadcast: Dan and I, long since “retired” from the A’s broadcasting booth, returned for a one-off game to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the play-by-play program we pioneered. The broadcast went off without a hitch—lots of reminiscing, but we called the game professionally and thoroughly. It was like riding a bike. So much fun. I really miss it sometimes.
• Why’d you stop doing the podcast?: Between writing, TV, other media, and a robust travel schedule, I just couldn’t find the time to do the show properly. So after nearly eight years on the air in Chicago (and five in DC), I recently suspended the show indefinitely. Radio is a special medium. I love it. But I didn’t want to do a half-assed job on account of being spread too thin.
• What does Sean Hannity’s set smell like?: It smells like freedom.
• One question you would ask Macaulay Culkin were he here right now: Gonna end on a super lame note: I’ve got nothing. Literally nothing.