Breitbart and Me

Andrew Breitbart changed my life. I don't think I am alone.

When I was a 19-year-old kid touring the country in a beat-up old van alongside my band mates, the last place on earth I thought I'd be a mere four years later was at the Conservative Political Action Conference. But there I was. A former punk-rock musician now in a suit and tie, alone and eager to learn what all the hype was about. I spent the day mingling in a large and diverse crowd debating a multitude of political issues, and at the end of that first day, I had reached a conclusion: This is what I wanted to do. I wanted to get involved -- somehow, someway -- in the political realm of ideas and make it the focal point of my life.

So, how did I go from strumming a six-string in a smoke-filled bar in downtown Detroit to attending an upscale conservative conference in Washington, D.C.? The answer is simple: Andrew Breitbart.  It's not that I agreed with Breitbart on every issue, or even considered myself a conservative at the time; rather, he sparked a hunger inside of me to discover new ideas and viewpoints contrary to what I previously believed. I wanted to learn more about the issues, and perhaps more about myself.

I became fascinated by the political process and with challenging (and formulating) my beliefs.

This spark was lit after listening to a radio program by Mark Levin in 2007, and become a bright flame with Breitbart

You see, there is a defining characteristic in these men: authenticity. This most admirably quality is lacking in the vast majority of our so-called leaders and pundits today. Pandering, party allegiance, and complacency have become the norm, leaving those of us with a hunger for real debate practically nowhere to turn. It is an unfortunate -- yet common -- occurrence for cable news channels to drag out Republican and Democratic operatives who simply tow the party line. The Elephant vs. The Donkey might as well be The Yankees vs. The Red Sox. Pick a side, put on a uniform, and step up to bat.

Breitbart initially stood out to me because he was unique from this crowd. He had an honest personality and was focusing on specific issues he felt passionate about. I was first introduced to the man when he broke the ACORN story with James O'Keefe. At that time, I was a 23-year-old graduate student at George Mason University working on a semester-long report on the Community Reinvestment Act. My specific focus was on the role of ACORN and its implementation of the CRA. I had spent months digging up old files and books written by former ACORN staffers that revealed to me the layers of corruption within the community group. The dishonest organization was using CRA regulations to increase their capital flow. 

When a bank files an expansion application, any individual or organization is allowed to file complaints with regulatory agencies on the grounds that said bank has failed to adequately meet its obligations as set forth by the CRA.  Since it often takes several months to go through a CRA examination process, groups such as ACORN have utilized this time for leverage. The organization would file challenges to proposed bank mergers and acquisitions under the authority granted to them by the CRA, essentially forcing the institutions to the bargaining table.  Often, banks chose to settle with ACORN rather than undergo a costly full-scale review by the regulatory agencies.  Community organizers quickly discovered that it was cheaper for financial institutions to settle with ACORN than deal with potential litigation.  By manipulating banks to essentially "pay off" the organizers through what many have defined as "legalized extortion," ACORN was making out big with threats of CRA challenges, providing a massive cash influx to the organization. 

I knew this was a problem, and I knew the organization was corrupt. However, I didn't realize the full extent of the corruption until Breitbart's videos began to surface. The fact that the media had never bothered to investigate ACORN and, believe it or not, did the best they could to attack Breitbart over his exposure was repulsive to me. I had always known there was a media bias, but for me this took the cake. It wasn't that the media was simply failing to report stories that might hurt their political allies; rather, they were actively seeking to destroy those who did. For me, the ACORN story turned from exposing a particular community organization to exposing the media (Breitbart's original goal). I was enraged.

It wasn't just Breitbart's investigative reporting and commentary that attracted me to the man; it was also his personality and the way he carried himself. After I began attending CPAC and various other conservative conferences in D.C., it didn't take long to realize most people in attendance weren't anything like me. And by that I simply mean they came from different backgrounds. Most had grown up attending private college prep schools and held strong religious beliefs.  I, on the other hand, was an Agnostic who had spent the last few years touring with punk bands and making beats for underground rap artists.  My personal background was different, but I understood and shared their passion for policy and activism, even if I felt like somewhat of an outcast at times.

When I looked at the conservative movement as a whole, I realized there weren't too many out there like Breitbart.  He was someone I could immediately relate to. He came from California, wasn't exactly a religious guy, didn't fit the clean-cut image, drank, and cursed freely. Yet, somehow, someway, he ended up at the forefront of the conservative movement. How did this happen?

Well, the most prominent reason is simple: Breitbart had the ability to connect with people.

He could discuss politics at the bar with a group of strangers one day, and then give a speech to a room full of scholars at the Heritage Foundation the next. His unique personality equipped him with the ability to effectively communicate with people of all backgrounds and truly relate to them through his own personal experiences. Without rehashing an extensive history of my philosophical development, I'll simply state that it occurred predominately because of my ability to relate to individuals like Breitbart on a personal level. He changed my perception of what a conservative was. He made me realize that I didn't have to fit the mold in order to be involved in the movement and make a difference. Andrew didn't attempt to be somebody that he wasn't, and to me that was refreshing.

 This is why people were drawn to him; this is why I supported him. We didn't have to agree on every issue because he was entertaining, spontaneous, witty, honest, and a joy to watch. He was fearless and would take on any challenger on any network in any format at any time. This is how he lived, and this is how he will be remembered. Rest in Peace, Andrew, and thank you.