Berkeley must be disappointed. On Thursday night, astonishing numbers of armed police officers stood guard, at an estimated cost of $600,000. "No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA!" chanted 1,000 protesters, along with, "Nazi scum get off our streets!" However, it seems faintly embarrassing to admit that all of this was over a speech by Ben Shapiro, the popular conservative commentator.
That's because Shapiro ultimately revealed himself to be ... a conservative. A rather animated and engaging one, to be sure, but still just your regular right-winger, the sort of person with whom an encounter does not usually demand taking to the streets or signing up for counseling.
Sign opposite Zellerbach Hall in anticipation of @benshapiro event tonight. Cal has begun to set up the security perimeter as well. pic.twitter.com/COo0QSIZdg— Berkeleyside (@berkeleyside) September 14, 2017
The much-awaited speech contained no defenses of white supremacy or the alt-right. It turns out that Shapiro, an orthodox Jew and the No. 1 journalistic target of anti-semitism on the Internet, is no Nazi after all. Nor did he make a case for fascism. Instead, Shapiro argued that all people should have the right to speak their minds, free from state interference. He denounced as bullies those who would use physical intimidation or the coercive powers of the state to silence others.
He's right, of course, and he made his case well. In the question-and-answer period, however, some students thought they could draw the fascism out of him.
Does Shapiro want to throw women who get abortions in jail en masse? No, he doesn't. Like most pro-lifers, he would punish the abortionists who lead women astray. Is he dismissive of racism? No, he isn't. He wants to fight racism but is skeptical of some of the more nebulous claims of institutional racism out there in the ether, holding people back. Shapiro argued that the best way to get ahead, no matter what race you are, is to work hard, follow the law, and get married.
The radicals at Berkeley may want to call him "bourgeois," but fascist? Nazi? The thought is laughable.
In the end, Shapiro underwhelmed Berkeley because he wasn't a monster. He said, more or less, what he usually says on college campuses:
Free speech=good. Violence=bad. Family values=good. Racism=bad. American Dream=good. Obsession with racism=counterproductive.
Some of Shapiro's points may be glib, but I think he is effective. As you can see from my summary, he at minimum has his head screwed on right. But even if you disagree, it's nothing to get too excited about.
Watch one of Shapiro's speeches on YouTube. They are available free of charge and absent the threat of violence from antifa wannabes who don't even know who they are protesting. "Let the man speak," I would tell campus activists everywhere, "and you might learn something." Or you might not. But then there's no reason to worry: It will be just like the rest of college.
Elliot Sterling Kaufman (@esterlingk) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential Blog. He is a student at Stanford University.
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