Joe Rogan is politically illiterate
Joe Rogan (Carmen Mandato Getty/AFP/File)

In 2016, podcaster and former “Fear Factor” host Joe Rogan endorsed longshot presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. When Sanders lost because of tepid support among Democrats of color, I figured Rogan would do the rational thing and support Hillary Clinton. Clinton and Sanders had voted together 93% of the time in the Senate. Even while he was in a heated primary against her, Sanders had said that, “on her worst day, Hillary Clinton will be an infinitely better candidate and president than the Republican candidate on his best day.”

Sanders campaigned aggressively for Clinton after he lost because “I disagree with Donald Trump on virtually all of his policy positions,” but Rogan effectively sat out the (to then) most important presidential election in his lifetime, wasting his very public voice on third party candidate Gary “What is Aleppo?” Johnson. Following the stereotypical Bernie Bro playbook, Rogan justified his decision by ignoring the enormous human stakes of the 2016 election while showing disdain for a woman far smarter and vastly more accomplished than he would ever be.

After Trump took office, he followed through on the neo-fascist agenda Sanders had warned about, ripped the nation in two, and soiled the presidency daily through his antics. Rogan could have admitted his error in judgment, but he chose to double down, continuing his blinkered attacks on Hillary Clinton while hosting a series of charlatans on his podcast.

Comedian Jimmy Dore denied Syria’s well-documented chemical weapons attacks on its own people and regurgitated bogus anti-Clinton talking points Russian intelligence had used in 2016 to splinter America’s left.

As Donald Trump was on his way to racking up over 30,000 lies in just one term, Rogan and professional troll (and Fox regular) Michael Malice significantly exaggerated Hillary Clinton’s garden-variety political dishonesty.

Rogan and Pat Miletich (a former MMA fighter posing as a serious thinker) minimized the seriousness of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and leveled accusations against the Clinton Foundation—while predictably failing to mention the foundation’s tens of millions of impoverished beneficiaries in the developing world, including the nine million women who received discount rate AIDS drugs.

While chatting with the dullard John Joseph (lead singer of the Cro-Mags), Rogan dredged up right-wing conspiracy theories about the Clintons having people murdered and trotted out the debunked theory that the DNC had robbed Bernie Sanders of the Democratic candidacy in 2016.

Lost in these conversations were the many concrete ways Donald Trump’s presidency was negatively impacting millions of Americans’ lives, and the undeniable fact that a Hillary Clinton presidency would have involved a radically more humane and sustainable policy decision tree (to say nothing of vastly more competent governance). Context and nuance took a back seat to heated speculation and shiny objects. Rogan and his guests were poster boys for the Dunning-Kruger effect; they had crawled down just enough Internet rabbit holes to fake their way through with cavalier confidence.

With the arrival of the coronavirus in 2020, Rogan had a chance to redeem himself. Surely, this moment of social chaos, mass death, and deadly Trump administration deception could give a skeptic like Rogan the opportunity to up his game—to be civic-minded, to be accurate, to at least aspire to be a poor man’s Marc Maron.

Rogan instead zigzagged wildly in the true spirit of the low-information voter.

Again he advocated for Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary. When Sanders lost the primary due to his lack of support among Black Democrats (just as he had in 2016), one would think Rogan would have supported Sanders’ choice, Joe Biden. Biden and Sanders had a governing partnership plan which was codified in a 110-page policy paper.

And the alternative was horrendous. Sanders campaigned for Biden in fear of what would happen if we “allow the most dangerous president in modern American history to get re-elected” and called sitting out the election “irresponsible.”

As he had done in 2016, Rogan made the political dilettante’s error of overlooking the qualifications of the candidates and the cumulative impact their decisions would have on actual human beings in favor of hot takes based largely on his visceral reactions. Rogan refused to endorse either major candidate in 2020, despite Trump’s colossal mismanagement of the pandemic.

What commentary Rogan did offer on the race that would decide the fate of American democracy often devolved into attacks on Biden’s cognition which failed to account for the degree to which Biden’s verbal misfires were the result of his stutter. Rogan at one point said he favored the obese Trump over the fit-as-a-fiddle Biden because “he doesn’t seem to be aging at all.”

Even after abandoning Joe Biden and American democracy, Rogan still had a chance to be a Science-forward independent.

But he blew that too, becoming a frequent purveyor of misinformation that undermined public health.

He suggested young, healthy people not get vaccinated.

He hosted a guest who claimed—without evidence—that the cattle de-wormer ivermectin could extinguish Covid-19. He hyped ivermectin based on anecdata after he got infected and convinced his caught-in-a-lie bro Aaron Rodgers to “recuperate” with this unproven miracle drug.

He mistakenly likened mRNA vaccines to gene therapy.

He said he wasn’t getting vaccinated after catching Covid-19, though vaccination would have improved and extended his immunity.

He claimed lockdowns “make things worse,” though data showed lockdowns lowered infections and deaths.

He hosted a vaccine scientist who said that millions of Americans were being convinced to get vaccinated due to “mass-formation hypnosis” and a cardiologist who claimed that the pandemic was “planned.”

Rogan’s misinformation campaign careened along giddily until Neil Young and Joni Mitchell boycotted Spotify earlier this year. The public controversy, and concerns that other musicians might pull their music (and more to the point, their revenue) forced Spotify to act. Spotify’s CYA maneuver was to create an advisory board to review any Covid-19-related content on Rogan’s podcast.

His $200 million contract at stake, Rogan went along with the advisory board and issued a scripted mea culpa on Instagram which included the admission that, “I do all the scheduling myself, and I don’t always get it right.”

Despite being hobbled by stricter standards around pandemic information, Rogan continues to spread his political illiteracy far and wide.

Though Joe Biden has rolled up formidable accomplishments with a threadbare congressional majority—the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill, the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, a record number of (diverse) judges, big strides for LGBTQ rights, the lowest unemployment since 1969, and healthcare coverage extended to 4.6 million Americans—Rogan continues to reduce the Biden presidency down to high school taunts about Biden’s cognition, claiming the president is “basically a shell.”

Ironically, Rogan is doing exactly what he accused others of doing recently when he was outed for having used the N-word more than 20 times on his show: making sweeping statements about a public figure based on unflattering montages posted by political opponents.

Sweeping statements which are dubious at best.

During his NATO expansion press conference just days ago, Biden stumbled a few times, but he kept his place and kept moving, in the process putting on a foreign policy clinic. He inventoried individual NATO ally’s GDP commitments to defense spending and reiterated NATO’s commitment to Article 5. He discussed America’s force posture in Europe, rotational deployments in the Baltics, advanced multiple rocket systems, and counter-battery radars. He explained actions taken by the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Development and a bunch of other things that are as foreign to Rogan as valid sourcing.

But ageist attacks on the man who got by far the most votes for president ever, the man who oh-by-the-way saved American democracy, aren’t the low point for Rogan.

On his podcast recently, in addition to saying we had a “dead man” as president, Rogan praised Florida governor Ron DeSantis for his (lackadaisical) Covid-19 response, saying DeSantis would make a “good president.”

In just two years, Rogan has gone from endorsing (for the second time) a Democratic Socialist who backs Medicare for All, strong labor unions, steep tax increases on the rich, free community college, subsidized childcare, a woman’s right to choose, LGBTQ rights, voting rights, and aggressive measures to regulate greenhouse gases to supporting a Republican with an extremist agenda.

Given the chance, a President DeSantis would slash Medicare spending, do everything in his power to destroy unions, shower the wealthy with huge tax windfalls, do nothing to help working Americans afford college or childcare, and appoint theocratic judges certain to further erode women’s rights, the rights of LGBTQ Americans, the right to vote, and any federal laws designed to protect our air and water or combat climate change.

Down deep, Rogan knows many of his political opinions are fraudulent. In February of 2020, after the Sanders campaign caught flack for trumpeting his support, Rogan told guest Mark Normand, “Here’s a really important point. I'm a fucking moron. If you're basing who you're going to vote [for president] based on…what I like? I'm not, I’m not that balls-deep into this stuff, I’m just not. I’m not the guy….I don’t know what’s required to be a good president, I really don’t. And I don’t understand what’s required to make sure the economy functions correctly, and also I don’t understand what’s required to make the military function correctly. It’s just guesswork.”

Rogan is free to indulge in guesswork because he is completely divorced from the harsh economic realities of most Americans. While 58% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck, Rogan makes $60 million annually and lives in an 11,000-square-foot, $14.4 million French country estate on Lake Austin.

He has precisely no skin in the game. Politics is just a parlor game for Rogan.

Quaint notions like intellectual credibility and social responsibility are for suckers when you’re laughing all the way to the bank.

Unfortunately for American democracy (and public discourse), Rogan’s 11 million listeners aren’t in on the joke.

Dan Benbow has been an online political features writer since 2003. His work has appeared at RawStory, the Miami Herald, the Progressive, MSN.com, Truthout, Salon, Buzzflash, AlterNet, BeyondChron, AddictingInfo, GetUnderground/Kotori Magazine, and his boutique blog, Truth and Beauty. He can be reached at benbowauthor@gmail.com and followed @danbenbow on Twitter.