One More Remembrance of The Phenomenon that was Andrew Breitbart
I've read so many of the testimonials today from those who know Andrew, that you would think it would be more than enough. But Andrew's personality was so massive, so infectious and passionate, that I think we are all just grappling for words just to begin to describe the superhuman specter of Andrew Breitbart.
I have known him for the better part of two decades now, having first met him when he was an IT specialist…and then I got to know him better over the years through a circle of journalists and misfits in LA. We were the same age and went to neighboring high schools on the Westside of Los Angeles and immediately bonded over the experience of losing faith with the values and priorities of the community we were raised in. I always thought that was the key to understanding how Andrew looked at the world. For us from our earliest days, "The Man" carried an NPR tote bag and had a poster bearing RFK's ripples quote on his office wall. These were our authority figures in baggy cardigan sweaters who preached tolerance until the rare moments when they were confronted with views other than their own, at which point we both saw the mask of tolerance and diversity vanish. I always felt that Andrew's gleeful charge against the liberal establishment was a continuation of our war against these earliest authority figures, and this why he always insisted that conservatism was the truly punk rock option in our world.
Growing up on the Westside and not subscribing to liberal views, one has to choose to either keep your head down and keep your opinions to yourself or to be branded a nut and all the rest of it. For most - myself especially - who do not subscribe to the overwhelming dogma of our community - the burden of having to constantly defend yourself is too much and we choose to keep our heads down and duck the fight as much as possible, lest every business lunch turn into World War Three. For Andrew, this was never a choice. The idea that he should muzzle his beliefs was unthinkable. He was not constitutionally capable of that dishonesty. And the idea that he should not pursue his ideas where ever they might take him was also unthinkable. More than anything else, I think Andrew was just appalled to his core by the notion that a person had to be credentialed by some elite establishment to have the right to express his views, the right to investigate whatever he chose and as a very early citizen of the internet he saw that the online world put into his hands power that the titans had once reserved for themselves. And thus the more he was vilified, the more he needed to show those who felt a person with his background and his views should be neither seen nor heard, that in the internet age, there was nothing they could do to keep him on a leash anymore.
He took so much joy from the fight. He loved talking about his ideas, his theories with anyone - busboy to CEO - he talked to everyone he met like a fully accredited member of his roving debate society. He spoke in strong, unmild language, but he never once talked down to anyone he met or anyone he sparred with.
There was a price to be paid, however. For himself, being a pariah in his homeland was a badge of honor. But in one of my last conversations with him, about a month ago, he worried about the toll that this status would exact upon his always beloved wife Susie. He told me of a couple friends of theirs who had ended their relationships with the Breitbarts because of his activities. Andrew could never even conceive of giving up doing what he believed in, but at moments like this - and there were other tough times along the way - I felt as though he wished he could be someone who didn't believe quite so much or quite so strongly, all the while knowing that feeling less passionately would be his fate.
Personally, I'll remember a private club we shared. For a few of the past New Year's Eves, old and married and off the party circuit, Andrew and I would find ourselves the only people awake in our respective houses and would count down to midnight together over instant messenger; making fun of the network shows, talking about the state of his ever growing empire, comparing notes on how the world had changed for two Westside boys who had come a long way - in thought but not in miles - from the world of our youth. Finally signing off at 3 AM, the talk still flowing but the flesh failing, I went to bed every one of those years feeling I had had the best New Year's eve anyone can ever ask for, a party that truly left me feeling full and complete.
Like so many others, when I heard the news of his passing I thought it must be a joke. The idea that a dynamo like Andrew could suddenly be gone was just impossible and at the day's end, it still is beyond comprehension.
My thoughts and prayers to Susie and the kids. I will miss Andrew terribly.