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Breitbart, R.I.P.



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I don’t understand the present comparisons of Andrew Breitbart with conservative scholars (always to the latter’s disadvantage), as if their respective genres were at all similar. (Should we fault some conservative academics because they did not always find ways to make their views better known on television or through the popular culture, thereby depriving millions of their singular wisdom?)

The genius of Breitbart was unique and twofold. In a generic sense — cf. the Drudge Report, The Huffington Post, Big Government, Big Journalism, etc. — he mastered the intersection of politics, popular culture, and journalism with very little resources other than his own energy, audacity, street-smarts, and insight. But his real legacy was his embrace of, and thereby critique of, the sort of guerilla agit-prop and carnival that had once been a left-wing monopoly. It was not just that Breitbart saw showing up, filming, Obama-like “in your face” shouting, and counter-demonstrating as effective, but also that he was thereby making a statement about liberal hypocrisy. His candid-camera takes were not much different from the old “gotcha” 60 Minutes establishment technique of embarrassing and outing enemies by secretly taping them or presenting false personas and credentials. He popped up at the strangest places in the way that a young Barack Obama once had at Chicago rallies to blast establishment officials. In other words, he out-ACORNed ACORN, and that, I think, spurred most of the venom against him: It was not just that he had countered the message of the Left, but he often humiliated it by employing its own tactics in a way that made himself either safe from their criticism or the critics of his technique abject hypocrites.

Under the old “truth to power” orthodoxy, considerations of race, class, and gender supposedly excused the boisterous conduct and occasional crass invective of the Al Sharpton, Michael Moore, Code Pink, or Cindy Sheehan sort. Breitbart demolished that exemption, and more or less warned that he could employ the same sort of agitation as the Left, but to endorse and enhance the ideals of a free-market and individual liberty, and he dared his opponents to reject his methods on grounds that they were somehow crude or unfair. I met or lunched with him a few times, expecting to find a sort of naïve buffoonish operator. Instead, I found him on every occasion a candid, inquisitive, and serious everyman, who confessed that he was learning as he went along and was indebted to no special interests. In a world of big egos and tut-tut sense of self, Breitbart, for all his flamboyance and occasional recklessness, was a generous guy without affectations. In some sense of going over the line to make a point, and in his keen understanding of the Left with which he was once in some sympathy, Breitbart was the performance-video version of the late literary Christopher Hitchens — without the latter’s insider prestige and polish, but nonetheless no less capable or savvy.



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