A man dying in the prime of his life, even as he was ascending to the summit of his vocation, is something that rarely occurs in this country. Even my paternal grandfather, and his son, i.e. my own father, whose lives were tragically cut short by bad genes-as well some unwise personal decisions-lived long enough to see their children graduate from college, and in some cases, bear children. That was not the case, unfortunately, with respect to Andrew Breitbart, someone who was kind enough to inscribe my copy of Righteous Indignation-his stirring memoir cum polemical call to arms-and provide me with some useful advice on the art of political warfare during our sole meeting, which was chronicled on this website last year.
In addition to the remarkable photojournalist Tim Hetherington, he was the second person in his early forties I’ve met in the past year whose life has ended abruptly. And while it would be callous to say you ‘expect’ anyone that vibrant to die at such a premature age, I would be lying if I told you that the tragic killing of a photographer who routinely worked in war zones such as Iraq and Libya stunned me. Andrew’s passing, on the other hand, was inexplicable when juxtaposed against the frenetic, dynamic-albeit slightly jet-lagged-individual I met last April.
Like Tim Hetherington, however, Andrew Breitbart was a remarkable individual who left a mark upon our culture that’s impossible to quantify at this close remove. While most media obituaries have focused upon the instrumental role he played in exposing-figuratively speaking-disgraced ex-congressman Anthony Weiner, illustrated by this Radar headline, Andrew’s accomplishments in his brief time on earth eclipse the downfall of any one venal, supercilious politician. Yet the Weiner scandal, and Andrew’s ultimate vindication, epitomize the essence Breitbart’s mission.
What began with a seemingly prurient allegation against an arrogant Democratic member of Congress beloved by the D.C. and New York press corps rapidly turned into a media witch hunt against a conservative icon who embodied everything that the drive-by media viewed with disdain. His impromptu press conference is a tour de force defense against media and government libel and manipulation, which will long outlive the petulant screeds penned by his most small-minded, ideologically hidebound critics.
So too will his struggle to defang the left’s most potent, and regrettably, effective, weapon against conservative ideas. Namely, racial stigmatization. Uncovering the Pigford scandal-an extensive scheme to defraud American taxpayers couched in terms of racial reparations and social justice-is probably the most impressive feat of Breitbart’s meteoric career as a muckraking journalist-activist, although you’ll struggle to find mention of this achievement in any obituary published by mainstream media organs. Instead, you’ll read a steady stream of misrepresentations about what is one of the most frivolous class action lawsuits-and pusillanimous abdications by Congress-in recent memory. Luckily, Andrew was his most capable defender on this score.
As heartbreaking as the loss of Andrew Breitbart is-not least to his widow and their four children-we must not forget that his ideas and spirit will persist. James O’Keefe, the young man who singlehandedly dealt a body blow to the institutional left’s keystone organization, continues to crusade for accountability among taxpayer-bankrolled political arms of the Democratic Party. As does Lila Rose, who has done to Planned Parenthood what her colleague did to ACORN, i.e. expose the underlying corruption of an organization shielded by its benefactors in Congress and allies in the media.
Both owe a debt of gratitude to Breitbart, as do all Americans whose eyes were opened by investigations credentialed journalists were unwilling to initiate due to timidity and ideological affinity for Breitbart’s targets. The complaisant relationship the press had with organizations and individuals it was ostensibly charged with covering was a recurring theme of his Andrew’s work, and highlighting the vast gulf between how the fourth estate views itself and what it actually does will ultimately be one of his most enduring legacies. The grassroots, investigative journalism that Breitbart encouraged is thriving-just look at who uncovered this administration’s coverup of Fast and Furious-even as media dinosaurs totter and topple.
That is the real bequest of Andrew Breitbart. He inspired-or should inspire-people to get off their asses and take charge of their country. To shake off the listless torpor our nation’s rulers and gatekeepers have conditioned us into complacently accepting and to effect real, lasting change in our communities. Not the sort driven by Harvard Law School or the Columbia School of Journalism, but change designed to expand the sphere of individual choice and autonomous decision-making. To reject the pretensions of power by those with no moral authority and to expand the freedom to do what you want to, regardless of how bien pensant it might seem at the National Press Club or in Hollywood production meetings.
That’s why the best way you could honor the memory of Andrew Breitbart is to emulate him. Go out there and do what Breitbart has done. A great way to start is by buying Righteous Indignation, which in addition to being a very entertaining autobiography is a wonderful how-to manual for grassroots political activists and citizen-journalists. Go and see Hating Breitbart when it’s released later this year, and discover what made this man tick. You’ll probably discover that it’s the same things which drive you, i.e. family, loved ones, and an abiding love for this country. Even if our passions take a different form, or our temperament is slightly more even-keeled, we all have some animating force that drives us. The job in this life is to cultivate and exploit that passion while we’re here, and whatever his shortcomings that is something that Andrew Breitbart always did, and it’s an example we should all try to follow in the short time we’ve been allotted.