There is nothing quite like the zeal of the convert. And Andrew Breitbart, who has died aged 43, as a born again conservative had more than enough (maybe too much) exuberant zeal to go around. A long time denizen of Hollywood and former lefty he spent much of the last ten years raging against what he saw as a liberal hegemony in the US media and what particularly got his goat was the grip of the Democrats on the rich and famous of tinseltown.
Adds: Good piece on Salon about just how important Breitbart actually was to the creation of the modern media in the US…
I met him once, very briefly one evening about five years ago. I’d not heard of him before, even though he’d been a key player in the blogosphere from even before the platform had been invented. Nothing in his demeanour that night suggested the public persona that broke out a few years later. Mickey Kaus was his mate, and recounts this story:
One day in the summer of 2010 I woke up to a commotion outside my door. It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but it turned out that my neighbor, Jodie Evans, was having a fundraiser for her friend Jerry Brown, then running (successfully) for Governor. But there were protesters. Specifically, Andrew Breitbart, who was gliding around on rollerskates with a video camera, trying to catch Brown in the act of attending the party.
I thought it was a little risky of Brown to go to Evans’ house–her Code Pink organization does some wild things. But what struck me most was the mood–the way the lefties in the party and Brietbart waved to each other. It turns out they knew him. He’d gone to the Brentwood School with some of them. “Everybody tells me he’s a good guy,” one of the aggrieved Brown funders later conceded.
Towards the end of his life, he became more and more public, and increasingly hysterical. His war against the institutional left in the US took him to some very bizarre places, almost as though he was not quite in control of his faculties. His best moment was the Weiner controversy. The worst, showing a heavily cut and edited video clip that formed the core of what became known as the Shirley Sherrod controversy.
He broke more than a few plates of delph (and truncated some careers). Some on the left in the US will never forgive him. Indeed there are some on the aristocratic right who were not too fond of him either. To European eyes and ears, he was not what may of us would consider typical of a political conservative at all.
But his restless desire to smash what he viewed as the abiding grip of a liberal establishment, wherever he saw it, may tell us something important about American politics that’s not always obvious from this distance. As Gore Vidal once put it:
“There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party… and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt – until recently… and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.”
At the time of the revolution there was indeed only one party in the US; the imperialist Tories retreated to Canada. Andrew’s radical, often histrionic public anger smacked more of US whiggery than anything remotely resembling European conservatism.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty