I couldn't tell you what Andrew Breitbart's favorite syrup at IHOP was. I don't know his favorite movie. I never met his - by all accounts - lovely and loving family.
But I can tell you this: Andrew Breitbart changed my life.
With his early morning passing today, the conservative world has lost a warrior and general. At the young age of 43, and apparently due to "natural causes," Mr. Breitbart died at his home in the Los Angeles area just after midnight. He leaves behind a wife and four children. He leaves behind a conglomerate of news and journalism sites that have, in many ways, revolutionized the way information is reported to those of us unwilling to simply sit in front of our television at 6pm to hear what talking heads in Manhattan deem news-worthy. He leaves behind an army of conservative soldiers who were ready to follow him into battle against the institutional Left in this country.
I didn't know Andrew very well. Over the past six months I exchanged emails, Tweets, and text messages with the guy. I had the privilege of interviewing him for AEI's "Values & Capitalism" podcast - aptly named "The RJ Moeller Show" - last summer. (Side note: It was only after our 50-minute, thoroughly entertaining, conversation concluded that I realized I had accidentally stopped recording 7 minutes into it. I was way too mortified to tell Breitbart because by this point he was sweating and agitated from having to think about how dumb the mainstream media is.)
The most memorable experience of 2011 for me was getting to spend about 5 hours with Andrew at a sports bar in Venice, CA where we talked about everything from his first make-out session at a concert in Orange County, to the behind-the-scenes details of that first week when the ACORN scandal story broke, to his genuine concern that religious, middle-America conservatives thought he was too much of a bully.
What I heard that evening was not the over-the-top, in-your-face media personality and instigator that most people thought of him as (and with good reason!); instead I heard a dad who loved his kids and cared deeply about the fate of his country. He wasn't putting on a show for a show's sake (although no one could blame him for enjoying many of the things he got to do on a daily basis). He was self-aware of his public persona and wanted to do whatever he could to shine a light on the pervasive progressive bias in our news media and academia.
The guy understood the news media, clearly, but even more importantly perhaps he understood popular culture and its unparalleled impact on society. He saw that even if you were to split the difference in terms of how liberal the news media is, you would still have the entire entertainment industry to deal with. Hearts and minds were being won over to a progressive, secular worldview well before a young man or woman graduated college and started paying taxes and voting.
I left my night out with Breitbart reinvigorated and determined to return to Los Angeles at some point in the near future and to seize any future opportunity I could to learn at his feet. You meet certain people in life and you just know that it would be smart to absorb as much as you can from them. Fortunately, the very next day, while I was still in Los Angeles, Dennis Prager hired me to come work for him and so it looked like I may get my wish (twice over!).
And so now I am out in Los Angeles and awoke this morning to a flurry of of text messages, email alerts, and missed calls from friends and family back in Chicago. I read the first text and my heart sank. But not for me, not for my career, or any potential mentoring relationship I might have been able to cultivate with Breitbart. (We were going to try and meet up for lunch soon). My heart sank for the family Andrew talked so glowingly about that evening in Venice. My heart sank for all of the close friends and co-workers who lost someone special. And, to be perfectly honest, my heart sank a little for the conservative movement.
We have far too many George McClellan's on the Right and not nearly enough George S. Patton's. And Andrew Breitbart was a Patton. More than his tactical genius on the field of battle, the thing that made Patton so invaluable was this: he was essentially the only American general the Germans feared. When your enemy, ideological or otherwise, has no real fear of your side other than the possibility of losing an election here-and-there, a culture shift is impossible. But when you begin to put forth fierce, fearless, and talented warriors, others who might have previously "sat this one out" are more likely to join in the fight.
And this is what frightens the enemy more than anything else.
That's not to say that I agreed with everything Andrew Breitbart said and did. Surely tone and presentation matter. But reading a few quotes attributed to Breitbart is not the same as reading his book, following his television appearances, and getting a chance to talk with the man at-length. I did read his book. I have scoured YouTube for any and all Breitbart-related clips I could find over the past few years. I did get that chance to have a deeper conversation with him.
And what I came away with - what I will remember about Andrew Breitbart - are two things in particular:
1) This is a good and decent nation, and one that is worth fighting for. She is made great not by her politicians or nightly news anchors, but the every-day, hard-working, law-abiding citizens and taxpayers who want nothing more than to create a better life for their kids.
2) "Courage, man. Courage!" Have a boldness in your convictions and be willing to do something about them when they are undermined or attacked. Now again, I might not have shared the same theology with Andrew Breitbart, and if I am called to be a voice in the public square later in life I will take a different overall tone than he did, but I would be unspeakably proud if one day someone wrote about me: "He showed the same fearlessness as that Andrew Breitbart guy before him."
After listening to my personal views on the need for not only a political and economic "revolution" in this country, but a spiritual and moral one as well, the last thing Andrew Breitbart said to me (and my friend Drew) that night in Venice, CA last summer was this: "You guys are the revolution."
I take that with me as I venture forth on my new life in Los Angeles. If you believe as I do, if you share in my convictions, those weren't just my marching orders from a now-fallen general -- they are now yours as well.
R.I.P. Andrew Breitbart (1969-2012)
You will absolutely be able to read better, more in-depth obituaries in the coming days, but I wanted to share with you my favorite Breitbart clip. It's of AB confronting paid protesters outside of his speech in suburban Chicago: