Andrew Breitbart’s heart was too big to fail, but it did anyway.
If you don’t know who Breitbart was, you haven’t been paying attention. A conservative activist, entrepreneur, author, muckraker, media pioneer, and performance artist of sorts, in his heart he was a radical.
His friends saw him as a fearless truth-teller and provocateur. (The word “fearless” will have to be retired from overuse when all of his obituaries have been written.) His enemies, and they are legion even in death, saw him as the most vile creature who ever slithered upon the earth.
Within hours of the news, Twitter lit up with repugnant and ghoulish statements from left-wingers celebrating the premature death of a man with four small children. I won’t repeat them because the printable ones aren’t representative, and the representative ones aren’t printable.
Andrew relished such attacks, truly, because they proved to him that he was having great effect in his work and that his opponents had run out of serious arguments.
This is not to say that Andrew was beyond criticism. He made mistakes. He took full swings at some pitches he should have just let go. He overstated some things that needed to be said, and said some things that didn’t need to be said at all. He was a human run-on sentence who showed deference to no punctuation mark save the exclamation point, a conservative Tasmanian Devil from the Bugs Bunny cartoons we both grew up on, whirling and whizzing through anything in his path. Giving him a dose of Ritalin to treat his hyperactivity would be like throwing a glass of water on a five-alarm fire.
But the hatred his enemies had for him overshot his faults like a dart thrown past the board and over the moon. Others will talk of his accomplishments: working for the Drudge Report in its infancy, creating websites and businesses, pioneering new forms of media, and exploiting the inherent weaknesses and pieties of the old media. And many who knew him will talk of his personal kindness: how the only times he slowed down were when he needed to lend an ear, do a favor, or talk about how much he loved his family.
Those things matter more than the politics, but they are not what made him a public figure. If being kind and loving your family made you famous, countless plumbers, carpenters, and accountants would be famous too.
No, what made him a public figure is what drove him to leap into battle day after day. Andrew had profound contempt for those on the left who claimed a birthright to a monopoly on virtue and tolerance.
He rejected in the marrow of his bones the idea that conservatives needed to apologize for being conservative or that liberals had any special authority to pronounce on the political decency and honesty of others.
Indeed, when liberals called him (or his heroes) racist, Andrew paid them the compliment of taking them seriously. He truly felt that to call someone a racist was as profound an insult as could be leveled. To do so without evidence or logic was a sin.
He believed, rightly, that much of establishment liberalism hurls such charges as a way to bully opponents into silence, and he would not be bullied. That was why, for instance, he offered a reward of $100,000 (payable to the United Negro College Fund) to anybody who could prove tea partiers hurled racial epithets over and over at black congressmen walking past them to vote on Obamacare, as several alleged. No one got paid because the charge — recycled over and over by the media — was a lie.
The Internet was a boon to Andrew because it exposed liberalism’s undeserved monopoly on the “narrative” — one of his favorite words.
60 Minutes won awards for hidden cameras, but when he used the same technique to embarrass liberals, such tactics were suddenly proclaimed ethically beyond the pale. The joke was on the scolds because they had to cover the stories anyway. And the stories got results. Congress defunded ACORN. Heads rolled at NPR. Andrew understood that news and arguments change politics if you can get the news and arguments to the people — and if you don’t let those who don’t like what you say define you.
Whatever his faults, that was my friend’s great and remarkable strength: He never let the bastards get him down. That took away his enemies’ greatest power, and they hated him all the more for it.
— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can write to him by e-mail at JonahsColumn@aol.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO.