Gotta say: I wasn’t a close observer of Andrew Breitbart. I knew who he was and what he was about, of course, but I wasn’t masochistic enough to monitor his various Big Whatevers on a regular basis. I skimmed the New Yorker profile awhile back, and came away with an impression of a fantastically angry man who brought a showbiz sensibility to a very baldly stated desire to destroy what he saw as institutions of the liberal media, blah blah blah. The fact he was able to get away with so much of this I attribute to the ability of those targets to say, Look, a truck. It’s coming this way. It’s speeding up. It’s not turning away. Isn’t that interesting?
I checked in on a few of the obituaries today, and once the shock wore off and the conspiracy theories fizzled and popped like firecrackers, a portrait like this emerged. David Frum:
The good was there. Breitbart was by all accounts generous with time and advice, a loving husband and father, and a loyal friend. One of those friends, Arianna Huffington, wrote today: “All I can think is what Andrew meant to me as a friend … his passion, his exuberance, his fearlessness.” Breitbart was unquestionably passionate and was exuberant. If by “fearless” you mean perpetually eager for confrontation, then yes he was fearless too, although in a very particular way. Nobody would ever describe Andrew Breitbart as a man of “quiet courage.” He delighted in the enraged outburst, the shouted insult, the videotaped jab of a finger into an opponent’s chest.
And I’m sorry, but this is the point where I check out. So he was a good guy in private, a jerkoff in public? I’m not interested in — no. I don’t like people like this. I understand that Don Rickles may well be a fantastic, sweet fellow after he’s offstage, but Don Rickles is an entertainer. Breitbart seemed to think of himself as one, too, but the world was his stage, and the damage was real. He told lies about people, malicious lies with very real consequences. Shirley Sherrod lost her job because of Breitbart. James O’Keefe, another trifling little liar, a nasty creep who makes Abbie Hoffman look like Willie Wonka, has a career because of him. He chose his targets and then said, By any means necessary.
Frum goes on:
Yet perhaps Breitbart’s most consequential innovation was his invention of a new kind of culture war. …Because President Obama was black, and because Breitbart believed in using every and any weapon at hand, Breitbart’s politics did inevitably become racially coded. Breitbart’s memory will always be linked to his defamation of Shirley Sherrod and his attempt to make a national scandal out of back payments to black farmers: the story he always called “Pigford” with self-conscious resonance.
Frum, whose discontent with the contemporary Republican party is no secret, goes on to add, “but he wasn’t a racist.” He was willing to use racist subtext to attack a president he didn’t like, and damn the consequences. But it was all in the game, yo.
I read some version of this — and Frum’s assessment is very good, I should add — half a dozen times today, and was left thinking that I simply have nothing but contempt for a life lived like this. I have more flaws, failings and human frailty than anyone here, but I think I’m basically honest. I try to tell the truth — and yes, my truth is not absolute and may not be yours — because if you’re in the communication business and you’re a liar, you’re a villain. It’s that simple. This is why I can’t stand phonies like Bob Greene and Mitch Albom, who do the same thing, but in a toadying, flattering way for their suburban audiences. If you write for a living, you may not always swing the sword of truth, but you cannot reject it entirely.
Oh, and may I just say? All these right-wingers clutching their pearls over all the mean things said about their boy today? Who left four young children and a wife, etc., and where is the decency? You have got to be fucking kidding me. Have you read what this man had to say about Ted Kennedy when he moved to the undiscovered country? Seriously?
A few Breitbartian links: Salon. Slate’s rerun of their 2010 profile of the man.
Charlie Pierce. Mark Warren, at Charlie Pierce’s blog.
And that’s pretty much where I’m leaving it. No, one more note. Here’s what Shirley Sherrod, who had to leave her job after Breitbart colluded in a lie about her, had to say about his death:
“The news of Mr. Breitbart’s death came as a surprise to me when I was informed of it this morning,” Sherrod said in a statement sent to International Business Times by her attorney, Thomas Clare. “My prayers go out to Mr. Breitbart’s family as they cope during this very difficult time. I do not intend to make any further comments.”
Speaking of the truth, here’s one I need to pass along: I got my Amazon gift card, the one that arrives every few months, my cut of the Kickback Lounge. The range of these payouts ranges from around $17 to — in a Christmas month — $45. But this one? Ninety bucks. I’m speechless. I’m not sure why it’s so high, whether we had more shopping or just one shopper with a fondness for big-ticket items, but I’m not sure it matters. I’m grateful. Really.
OK, now the weekend awaits. I hope yours is spectacular. We’re going to see the Black Keys! Carumba.