When news of Andrew Breitbart's death broke through the fog of awakening morning news, most of the commentary I heard and saw about it was extraordinarily laudatory of the man and his "work" over the years. Slate's David Weigel was practically rhapsodic on NPR's Morning Edition in praise of Breitbart's bravery and political firebranding. There is a convention, of course, that one shouldn't speak ill of the dead, but some of what I was seeing, hearing and reading was simply absurd. The man was a monster. But "convention" prevents people who know better from saying so, and so a mythology of fortitude and grit and bravery is born. Whether it will survive more than a little while is hard to say.
No cause of death has been asserted as yet; all I heard about it was that he collapsed while walking outside his Los Angeles home sometime after 11:00 pm last night. He was 43.
Breitbart was one of the many "conservative" venom-spewers filled with rage and contempt for anyone and anything not him or that crossed him. Venom-spewing is a cottage industry among rightists, as it has been for many years and generations. Venom-spewers create enemies to metaphorically slay or in some cases to literally harm, as Breitbart did so frequently, but he was far from alone in that endeavor. The rightist world is filled with those who marinate in their own venom and who sometimes drown in it.
I call them "conservative" because I have never been convinced that people who live to spew venom actually have any ideological grounding at all. They are more like parasites who attach themselves to whatever ideology looks to be most profitable to themselves and that welcomes and fosters their need to bring harm to others for their own gain. It Breitbart's case, it seemed obvious to me, though many of his critics as well as his devotees couldn't see what I saw.
What Breitbart did, which I despised, was to identify, dehumanize, demonize and scapegoat "The Other." He seemed to have no other public purpose at all. His whole world appeared to revolve around finding, targeting and obliterating -- through dehumanizing, demonizing, and scapegoating -- his Enemies, whoever they might be at any given time.
His virtually insane attacks on Shirley Sherrod were characteristic of his style. It didn't matter to him what the real story was. Even when he knew the real story, and even when he was forced to acknowledge it, it didn't matter to him; all that mattered was his attack and the attention he could derive from it. If someone was harmed in the process, it was their problem. Not -- and never -- his.
Celebrating this character is bewildering to me. Why? The Celebration goes well beyond the polite conventions surrounding the mention of someone else's death (which of course only apply to certain prominent people, not all...)
Part of this celebration is due to the long-term decline of mainstream mass media and the rise of new media. Breitbart was able to succeed in that realm by being as scattershot, loud, obnoxious, and as destructive of others as possible. Thus, he became an example for others to follow. Any number of media personalities outside the "conservative" framework have tried to emulate the viciousness and venomousness of Andrew Breitbart in the apparent hope of raising their own profiles and enhancing their own opportunities and success in their chosen fields in the new media. But there are plenty of examples of the Breitbart style in the old media as well. Some, like Charles Krauthammer, have been at it for many years, and no doubt will stay at it till they too drown in their own venom.
For venom and poison of the kind that Breitbart and others have specialized in is almost inevitably fatal to those who employ it.
Rest in peace, certainly. There is no point in wishing ill on the dead. On the other hand, there is less point in avoiding mentioning the real harm some of them have brought to others.