My first encounter with Andrew Breitbart was on Twitter. I had a friend named Scott Groves out of North Carolina who was active in Tea Party politics, and he confronted Breitbart about the constitution. His basic thesis was that a lot of the individuals who purport to be on the right and advocate for a strictly constitutional approach to public policy and government have fuck all when it comes to an actual knowledge of the Constitution.
In Breitbart's case, Scott was right. Andrew Breitbart failed to answer a single question lobbed at him about individual liberties enshrined in the Constitution. What's more, Breitbart's default setting when confronted about this on Twitter in front of thousands of people who expressed their surprise at his inability to answer such questions was snarky sarcasm. That's not a surprise.
Much of what Andrew Breitbart did evinced his feeling of existing under a state of seige. He felt attacked from all angles and directions, and he built a career out of responding to attacks both real and perceived. He was a culture warrior, first and foremost, a fact which struck most of us who encountered him as odd. Not only was Andrew Breitbart unconcerned with the basics of the culture he purported to defend, he was defiant in his ignorance. He wasn't ideological at all, and this fact was surprising to anyone who watched him go forth and wade into fray after fray against the Left. If you could identify one reason Andrew Breitbart lived his life, one reason he got up every morning, that reason was to fight.
He fought for the simple joy of fighting, without any real core convictions related to what he was fighting for as he fought. At the end of the day, Breitbart found people online and in person whose attitudes or personas he just didn't like, and he made a career out of having spats with them. His reputation was built on being the angriest guy in the room, and what was totally strange about it was that the impression you got from interacting with him was that he wasn't that angry. He was the puffer of conservative politics who had built Huffington Post into a news aggregation powerhouse.
He had no real beliefs that I ever saw. He was just alive, in all of his pugilistic glory. He lived to troll people who would take the bait, but he didn't know what to do when they trolled him. Breitbart's online wars over Twitter and other social sites with the likes of Eric Boehlert were the stuff of Internet lore. Nothing was ever really accomplished by any of it, of course. Boehlert and Breitbart were the two kids who would fight every day after school, each one growing more pissed off about the fact that he couldn't knock the other one down. At the end of the fight, the two crowds of supporters all contended that their man had won the fight, but you suspected that was due more to their utter unwillingness to cede anything to the other side than it was to what they had actually witnessed.
People like Boehlert and Breitbart build followings out confirming preconceived notions, and they cater to the audiences they seek to shill to in order to build their brands. For Boehlert, this meant catering to the Whole Foods crowd and their utter disdain for the Sunday morning crowd, who they regarded as boorish and ignunt, not to mention utterly unqualified to participate in civic governance. For Breitbart, this meant catering to the Family Christian Bookstores crowd, people with I Miss Reagan stickers and David Barton on their bookshelves who fervently believe that the mainstream media is out to aid the Liberal Left in advancing radical agendas.
Somewhere in the middle of these discussions were the people who stared on bemused at both sides, recognizing the utter inanity of their public spats. The worst thing for many of us was realizing that Breitbart and Boehlert belonged with us in the ranks of bemused spectators, because they knew they were shilling bullshit to people who wanted to be deceived rather than challenged to defend their beliefs. There's a conceit that's all pervasive in American political dialogue these days, and it's neither attractive nor constructive.
It was amusing to me as an anarchist to stand out publicly and state that I thought the state as an entity was simply evil and have Tea Partiers argue that it could be redeemed. The government could be good to the extent that it affirmed what they believed. But if government was held by others, who did not cleave to the slogans, generalities, and phrases spouted by Tea Partiers, then that government was bad. It was the same on the other side, with the Democrats and the ACORN supporters believing that government could be as good as its conformity with their ideologies.
Government is not good. States are not good. Religions are not good. Any system of human organization that requires unthinking and puritanical conformity with an ideology is not redeemable. It is dangerous. It requires individuals to march in lockstep, to be subject to the panics of herds and crowds, to abdicate their capacity to act as individuals in the face panics and hysterias. It requires no moral courage to self-identify with a majority. There's nothing daring about it. Moral courage is standing in the middle of a crowd and not only saying that the crowd is wrong in its conclusions, but also articulating why that crowd is wrong. You do this at the expense of your career, your bottom line, and your personal popularity.
Breitbart almost did this once. He stood with GOPround at CPAC, even going so far as to join GOPround. You sensed that he knew the rampant homophobia on the right was wrong, and that he felt badly for the way gays were treated by Republicans and conservatives. It wasn't that you had to agree with what homosexuals do; it was simply that you were raised with a sense of decency and you knew that treating any person in that manner was wrong. It was in that gesture, that magnanimous gesture, that you got a sense of who Breitbart was at his core.
Here was a man who spent so much time avoiding ever revealing anything about himself that intimate or real, standing up at last to say that there were some things he wasn't prepared to cater to in order to profit or build his brand. You could talk with Breitbart on Twitter or elsewhere for hours, and never know a damned thing about him. He never mentioned his wife, his kids, or anything personal. It was because his rantings and fulminations were so disconnected from anything personal that you could understand that he simply performing. He wasn't doing it for his kids. He wasn't doing it for his country. He was just doing it to be doing it.
There will be those who say that this makes Breitbart's track record even more egregious. Those people are likely from the other side of the ideological spectrum, and they have a vested interest in slamming Breitbart as hard as possible, even in death. They can't stand to cede a millimeter of ground to him or anything he "stood" for, even though anyone who knew Breitbart knew he didn't really stand for much of anything throughout his entire career. He was just happy to fight for the sake of fighting.
Heaven for Andrew Breitbart will be a never ending argument over anything and nothing in particular. I'd tell Andrew to rest in peace, but that's the worst thing you could wish for someone like him. Enjoy the fight, Andrew. We'll be there soon enough.