Make no mistake - the leftist assault on Andrew Breitbart's reputation since his untimely death has but one explanation: he was effective.
Yglesis and Taibbi... but we don't need to name them further. To my personal knowledge not a single representative of the left made any effort to rise above the vindictiveness of the herd, to find some sense of nobility in the struggle they claim to wage, and express it in the form of respect, as one warrior to another. There are no Alexanders on the left, no Saladins, no Robert E. Lees. They are a bandit movement, vulgar and coarse, and that is all they will ever be.
The two items that most irked the left were Briebart's dismissal of Edward Kennedy and the Shirley Sherrod video. Briebart notoriously referred to Kennedy as "a pile of excrement" on the occasion of his death. This is harsh, and something many of us would not choose to say. (I myself prefer Pope Benedict's handling of the matter. Shortly before his death, Kennedy, facing eternity and aware that he was in no way prepared, sent what amounted to a spiritual begging letter to the Pope, outlining his achievements and good works. The Pope, of course, knew exactly what he was dealing with. The reply, from a minor Vatican functionary, amounted to, "The Holy Father is sorry to hear that and will remember you in his prayers." Punctilious, proper, and damning in its coldness. The rapier as opposed to Breitbart's bludgeon. I'd rather be called a pile of excrement.) This supposedly allows the left to appeal to turnabout in the case of Breitbart. But of course, it does no such thing. Kennedy was a murderer who left a young woman to die amid horrifying circumstances. The fact that he remained in politics for another forty years was a disgrace to the Senate and the nation as a whole. Breitbart never killed anybody. End of story.
As for Shirley Sherrod, this story plays a large role in the response of people like Clarence Page and Eugene Robinson. The reason why Big Journalism put up the Sherrod video is clear and has been repeatedly explained: Breitbart wished to pillory the NAACP members for whooping, laughing, and generally behaving vilely on hearing about racist treatment of a poor white man. The target was the organization and not Sherrod. But the left simply closes its ears to this, preferring the narrative of Breitbart as McCarthyite goon -- not the least because it diverts attention from the administration's hysterical overreaction in firing Sherrod before all the facts were in. Breitbart got him a twofer in this case, humiliating both the NAACP and the Obama administration with a single swing. (Sherrod, for her part, responded admirably to the news of Breitbart's death, saying she was "sorry to hear it." But then, she is not a career leftist.)
No -- the record doesn't support the left here. The truth is that Breitbart hurt them, and hurt them badly. The left has grown used to effective immunity as regards their actions, provided by the legacy media and their political and bureaucratic protectors. Breitbart flanked this protective shield to give them body blows, injuries that crippled them and from which they have not yet recovered. ACORN was an outfit upon which Obama was depending to frame his current reelection effort. Breitbart brought it down and scattered it to the four winds. Anthony Weiner was the Democratic Mr. Up-and-Coming, being groomed for New York mayor, senator, or governor, then perhaps the first Jewish VP, or even higher... Today his house seat has been taken by a Republican for the first time since mastodons roamed Prospect Park. (While it's true that James O'Keefe provided the ACORN footage, it was Breitbart who masterminded the media campaign surrounding its release, which O'Keefe, despite his undeniable talents, could not have done. In this case Breitbart was acting as army commander directing O'Keefe and his armored division.)
I contend that this is as good a record as that of any conservative activist in at least thirty years, and in the short compass in which it occurred, better than anyone. If another conservative activist has destroyed an entire left-wing network in recent years, I haven't heard about it.
The problem with conservatism is that it is a school of political activity based almost completely on nonconfrontation. It is quietist, scholarly, and unassuming, acting very much in the mode of the upper-class William F. Buckley and the reclusive Russell Kirk. This is not altogether a bad thing. Conservatives have always argued -- with some justice -- that a major goal of the movement is to maintain standards, to avoid descending to the level of the opposition. But like anything else, it becomes a bad thing when it is taken too far, when conservatives allow themselves -- as they so often do -- to be bullied out of the arena and on to the sidelines and irrelevance. (Buckley, to his credit, and as Gore Vidal well knows, never allowed it to go quite this far.) This is so common that it shocks both sides when it occurs otherwise. Recall the "blue-blazer riot" at the 2000 Florida election recount, with all the staid, Brooks-wearing paleos banging on the windows and shouting, "I say there," at the vote-counters. Nobody ever saw that before. The problem is, we haven't seen it since, either.
This is not meant as an attack on the bow-tie brigade. We need those types. We need the WASP ethos and the civilized behavior that it promotes. But we also need the hard boys in their black t-shirts and shades who can jump into the trenches and give as good as they get -- the kind of cadre that conservatism has for many years lacked.
Enter Andrew Breitbart. Breitbart created a new format for conservative action -- informed by left-wing tactics, utilizing IT to carry the message, utterly fearless, completely outrageous, and at the same time modulated with infinite care. There has been nothing similar in American political activism, though the left, curiously enough, came closest.
The American left has always been confrontational, from the strikes and marches of the early movement through the recent antics of the OWS. This became media-oriented in the 60s when figures such as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin took what they'd learned in the civil rights movement a step further with the Yippies, an antiwar outfit that utilized difficult art of carom ridicule (acting like a complete ass and reflecting it back on your opponents), to the point of perfection. But the Yippie esthetic collapsed into chaotic violence at the Chicago Democratic convention in 1968, and while it prevailed in later actions on the left, it was a much tamer phenomenon.
The right, needless to say, ignored it. Until Breitbart, who brought it into the new media age by adapting it to the technologies of video and the net, along with the understanding that the authorities will act silly enough if you just give them the opportunity. What Breitbart did was take over the left's artillery and turn it in their direction. No wonder they hated him.
The question remains: who will step in his place. We see no one among conservatives who quite matches his experience, insight, toughness, imagination, and sheer brio. While a number of figures are utilizing aspects of his techniques, no one exhibits his flair.
So is this new format a mere detour, beginning and ending with Breitbart? The Yippie movement faded with the 60s that gave it birth. Jerry Rubin became involved in the human potential movement and later became a California venture capitalist. As for Abbie... he became involved in peddling drugs, was caught at it, and went on the run. It ended in a pathetic suicide in Watertown, N.Y. His days of Yippie glory, tweaking the media and the powers that be, were scarcely a memory at that point.
Will Breitbart become no more than a matter of nostalgia? A bright moment fading into the mists of the past? Not if we don't want it that way. There are plenty of conservatives willing to follow the path that he pioneered. The key element is to assure that his techniques and methods don't die. These are still not well understood, even within the conservative movement itself. What we require is a handbook, a close study of Bretibart's tactics and methods, covering how he analyzed the information he was given, and how he chose to utilize it in the new media sphere. We know that he carefully subdivided and scheduled the material on hand according to the response of the media and the liberal elites. How did he do this? What were his criteria? How did he reach his decisions? If we wish to continue Breitbart's mission -- and who doesn't? -- this is the very minimum of what we need to know.
The new media is still a novelty. We are still exploring its potential. There is little question that Andrew Breitbart was the master. The reaction of the left reveals this clearly enough. Memorials are appropriate. Posters and stickers are necessary and would not be overlooked. But we cannot ignore the core of Andrew Breitbart's legacy. We need not only to honor Breitbart, and to remember him, but to learn from him.
The dislike of the unworthy is more precious than ancient jade. -- Chinese proverb
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker