Monday night I had the honor of attending a tribute to the late Andrew Breitbart held in Hell’s Kitchen. I’m not sure what I was expecting from the evening, but what happened is something that can’t quite be put into words, although I’ll try my best. Over the course of three hours, over a hundred people filtered into a cramped, slightly raucous Manhattan bar that-as one of my friends remarked at the time-Andrew himself might have enjoyed. After all, he spent more than a few pages of Righteous Indignation cataloguing the extracurricular activities he engaged in while matriculating at a university in the heart of the nation’s party capital, New Orleans.
This was not a party, of course, nor could it have been given the circumstances. Yet, you couldn’t help but feel the joy-however subdued-present in that room filled with friends, followers and comrades-in-arms of the man who revolutionized how grassroots activism and citizen journalism were practiced in this country. No one was more dedicated to altering the status quo of society, a state he termed default leftism, or educating the public about their power to illuminate (deliberately) hidden truths than Andrew Breitbart. He was driven by a passion for truth and justice; not justice as conceived of by society’s levelers, nor truth filtered through the prism of an historically marginalized gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation extolled by critical studies departments in order to diminish our national heritage, but common sense, bourgeois, patriotic, universal values that were instilled in him as a child and which were shared by millions of Americans who feel disenfranchised by what they see on the nightly news and read in their daily newspapers.
This passion was leavened by a richly sardonic vein of humor familiar to anyone who read his work or heard him speak. That’s why the witless postmortem attacks on Andrew-which, as Mickey Kaus points out, have nothing to do with his combative persona-need to be put into their proper context. Breitbart was an individual who reveled in the contempt of the institutional left, and embraced the slanderous broadsides of his most febrile stalkers for what they were, i.e. proof that he was doing his job! The hatred he attracted was, in a perverse sense, a compliment. It was a testament to Andrew Breitbart’s skill at exposing the malefactors in government, the mainstream media, and bottom-feeding political factions like ACORN that earned him this bile. That is why one of the most rabid, obscure left wing talkers is positively overjoyed at his death. If Andrew could see some of the reactions to his passing by his avowed enemies he would impishly grin-and probably retweet some of the more bilious attacks-while being discomfited by the startlingly civil reaction by Media Matters for America, his notorious bete noire.
The gathering in Manhattan commemorating his legacy was necessary, but it was also edifying in the sense that it illustrated how broad Breitbart’s reach was, how unifying his message was-notwithstanding the libelous attacks upon his character-and why his death is such a profound loss, not just for his widow, his four children, and his father-in-law Orson Bean, but for all of us. In that small, cramped bar there were white, black, and Asian friends and admirers of Andrew’s that were there to pay tribute to the man who brought them together. Mormons, Catholics, Jews and people of no particular religious affiliation mingled amiably while focusing on our commonalities, not their religious or philosophical differences. Neoconservatives, libertarians and anarcho-capitalists, as well as everyone from brilliant policy wonks to the self-described “morons” who form the online community known as Ace of Spades interacted with each other and debated various issues without a hint of reproach or acrimony.
This sort of ecumenism is something that would never have come about had Andrew Breitbart not been willing to join the cultural maelstrom that many traditional conservatives have either ignored or consciously abandoned. He not only engaged in a war with the left-successfully refuting nostrums that it long ago stopped defending on empirical grounds-he defeated the left on its own territory, inspiring new generations of conservative, patriotic activists who are using the model he devised. Breitbart refused to cede the moral high ground to people whose fundamental philosophy was immoral. He was a happy warrior, but a warrior all the same, a dichotomy epitomized by his orgy of truth-telling at the Netroots convention, a forum that provided him with the opportunity to not only expose the hypocrisy of his ideologically blinkered detractors, but also to engage in a surprisingly substantive debate with one of the “progressives” willing to listen to his point of view. For all the talk of Breitbart being a provocateur, he probably engaged in more robust, legitimate debate with those who disagreed with him than any of his perennial critics, who continue to misrepresent what he stood for, even in death. That’s because he believed that the best means of changing this country for the better was through open and honest intellectual combat. The theatrical trappings Andrew Breitbart assumed were merely intended to emphasize fundamentally sound principles he sincerely believed in.
That’s why honoring him this week was so important. Karol Markowicz-who, along with David Bernstein and Robert George, did a fantastic job of successfully orchestrating what was by necessity a last-minute event-spoke for many of us when she gave an impromptu speech that touched upon both the tremendous personal tragedy represented by this evening, but also the tremendous loss Andrew Breitbart’s absence represents for both the immediate and distant future of the conservative movement. She vocalized the thoughts of many of those gathered in that bar room-most of whom are either in the same age cohort or slightly younger than Andrew was when he left us-by reflecting upon the fleeting nature of life, as well as the necessity of capitalizing upon our short time here, a concept no one was more aware of than Andrew himself.
Pamela Geller, of Atlas Shrugs, picked up on that theme as she spoke to the crowd, emphasizing the necessity of continuing the fight that Breitbart began, and of not letting America’s critics monopolize the public sphere simply because one of conservatism’s most resonant voices has been prematurely silenced. Pamela demanded that we all be Breitbart, as she pointed to the suddenly iconic gravatar that has come to symbolize the movement he spearheaded during his tragically brief life. She recounted how Andrew came to her defense even when other conservatives abandoned her out of self-serving “prudence” and fear of the potential repercussions to their own careers. Then she brought the discussion back to the present, invoking the unyielding guerilla campaign by the left to silence Rush Limbaugh, the most widely-heard and popular conservative voice of the past two decades. She averred that Rush “wasn’t controversial,” but that it was Katie Couric and the drive-by media-which form the consensus of elite, Beltway opinion-which should be viewed as controversial and beyond the pale.
It should be noted that this crusade doesn’t merely involve a relentless campaign to mau mau sponsors and syndicators of Rush’s program-which, though perfectly legal, serves as a rough indicator of the left’s tolerance of dissent-but a concerted effort to use extraconstitutional arms of the government to suppress his First Amendment rights.
Pamela made the trenchant observation that Andrew would have been the first to defend Rush from the Gramscian left, which not only wants to compel you to pay for their “choice,” but wants to prevent anyone who disagrees with this policy from voicing his or her objections in the public arena. This Catch-22 was something with which Breitbart himself was intimately familiar, as followers of the numerous boycotts initiated by official grievance mongers against Andrew’s presence anywhere will recall. He would have not taken the sustained propaganda campaign against another conservative icon lying down, but would have instead fought tooth and nail to debunk the lies and half-truths being propounded by Rush’s antagonists. Breitbart would not have relented until the truth outed.
And that is what we must keep in mind as we recall Andrew Breitbart. He never slacked for a moment when he saw good people’s reputations besmirched, or when the media narrative of a news event contradicted reality. His intensity was not a pose or an affectation adopted for the cameras, it was a fire born of genuine conviction and the knowledge that life is permanently impermanent. The best way of honoring and perpetuating the legacy of Andrew Breitbart is by continuing it in his spirit, and standing up for what we know to be right while we still have the privilege of doing so.