Monday 21st August 2017

Remembering Andrew Breitbart

Greg Gutfeld: Remembering Andrew Breitbart — Random thoughts on the fifth anniversary of his death

FILE -- June 6, 2011: Andrew Breitbart speaks at a news conference in New York.

FILE — June 6, 2011: Andrew Breitbart speaks at a news conference in New York.  (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

By now everyone knows Breitbart.com. But how well do they know the guy who started it all?

Andrew Breitbart died five years ago last week, so I’m thinking it might pay to remind people where the name “Breitbart” hails from: a man who is no longer on this earth, but seems to be felt everywhere.

First, Andrew was one of the deepest, funniest, smartest individuals I’ve ever met — and the world deserves to know him. Most people know of my relationship with A.B. — though I don’t talk about it much, unless I’m asked.

In short, we wrote together, talked daily about everything. We conspired hourly for weeks at a time — from our start at the Huffington Post (yes, kids, he launched that site, and I wrote for it) to the Anthony Weiner episode — almost entirely and accidentally choreographed by Breitbart himself. He graced my show Redeye many times, peppering it with memorably absurd appearances. We always drank and sometimes got into trouble afterward (see the Opie and Anthony appearance after the Anthony Weiner press conference). I edited his pieces sometimes, helped organize his second book and helped when I could on his latest endeavors. This went on for nearly a decade, until his death.

Andrew died a great man, and his life — and death — spawned a movement. In my humble opinion, you could not have had the election of Donald Trump without the phenomenon that was (and still is) Andrew Breitbart.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wl7fZH4fX1k

Sadly, I had the honor that no one wants when it comes to a close friend: to speak at the reception following his funeral.

If Breitbart is part of your everyday lexicon, then you should know where the moniker hails from. Andrew Breitbart was a joyful, hilarious man. How many people know that? They must know that.

There is a grim silver lining when you die young. There’s no additional 30 years of assorted career changes, gaps of non-exciting employment and detours into events that muddy early great achievements. If you live long enough, you become disappointing.

Andrew died a great man, and his life — and death — spawned a movement. In my humble opinion, you could not have had the election of Donald Trump without the phenomenon that was (and still is) Andrew Breitbart.

* * *

Andrew was about waging war with the left by using the left’s tactics. His foot soldiers are everywhere now, and their footprints are all over the faces of the shocked liberals who never saw them coming.

Andrew was inclusive, not solely ideological. He was a party leader who wanted a tent big enough for everyone, not a litmus test for locksteppers. He might have rubbed shoulders with the religious, the vocally right-wing, the hardcore moralistic — but he had no tolerance for those who demonized by lifestyle. Did you know Andrew backed out of CPAC because it initially refused to allow gay groups to speak?

When groups planned to boycott CPAC 2011, Andrew promised to throw a bash for right-wing gays. He wanted to call it the “first annual Roy Cohn CPAC Breitbart Homocon Welcoming ’80s Extravaganza.” Breitbart loved exceedingly long titles. Overdoing it was his way of doing it.

* * *

Andrew once was a liberal, but like all liberals with a brain, he wised up. He was a crappy student (he wasn’t much of a reader, he admitted) who liked to party, and he was a default liberal — simply because it was easy and without risk. But when he saw the Clarence Thomas hearings, he transformed from a goofy, partying liberal into a libertarian/conservative Reaganite. He worked for Matt Drudge and then he gravitated toward Arianna Huffington, working as her researcher before helping launch her celebrity-drenched site. He told me his purpose at HuffPo: By giving a voice to liberal celebrities about political issues, he could show the world how absurd their beliefs really were.

I’d send him my bizarre pieces every day, and we’d spend hours (him in LA, me in London) crafting surreal mocking blog posts for Arianna’s site. I ended up editing the rough drafts of his Washington Times pieces for fun, while he added jokes to my pieces for his site. That relationship ultimately led to the creation of his own “Big” sites (Big Hollywood, Big Government, Big Journalism), which later morphed into Breitbart.com.

* * *

Andrew was the Tea Party’s heart and soul. He didn’t have a TV show, or hold political office, or run some major super PAC, but he came to represent — through pure will, humor and charisma — the dreams and aspirations of thousands of people. He was the soul of the Tea Party. Here was a man who could show up and draw thousands, introducing the average fed-up American to a new form of populist activism. Through the Tea Party, he showed it wasn’t just the left who could mobilize. He made it OK for people to “show up” and talk, unafraid, about the stuff that inspired them. The Tea Party would not have flourished if not for its inspiration engine, Andrew.

* * *

Andrew loved more than he hated. If you are one of those angry types who shouts in all caps on Twitter about how X needs to be fired and Y needs to be in jail — Andrew would have avoided you like the plague.

The guy was rarely angry. I saw him sad, concerned, and frustrated — but angry? If he appeared that way, it was only a glimmer before he caught himself and pulled back. His only anxiety came when he felt his family might be mad at him. A powerful memory of Andrew was before a Redeye show, when he was pacing nervously in a tiny green room. It wasn’t over the topics; he was full of remorse that his daughter was mad at him for not spending time with her during a slumber party.

No one laughed more than Andrew. Maybe that’s why I hung out with him. I needed someone to laugh at my terrible jokes.

If there’s one thing he understood, it was that ideology doesn’t describe a person. Andrew knew there were awful people in this world — but he also knew that not all people who disagreed with him were awful. Underneath all the team sport ideology, there is a person. And if you can reach that person, you can make real progress. It’s hard, but Andrew was willing to try.

It’s why Andrew had so many friends from all over the political spectrum, and why he was so willing to confront them happily when the situation merited it. He once confronted a group of far-left protesters by taking them to breakfast (they accepted, perhaps because Andrew made the offer while on rollerblades). He was not only unafraid of confrontation, but also the communion afterward.

Andrew avoided the divisiveness among the right — that insecure desire to decide who is a “real” conservative and who isn’t. He believed in unity, but he understood that it was often those who pretended to be the purest who were the obstacles.

* * *

Andrew invented conservative citizen journalism. He had his hands in everything old-school journos ignored, and he beat these old-timers in stories that the public hungrily gobbled up. He understood the new media better than anyone, and he let others take the credit for his hard work. This is a guy who changed media by egging on everyone else, pointing them in the right direction and telling them what tools were necessary. He alone took the model of old left activism and used its best tricks to invent the new right.

Promoting James O’Keefe’s Acorn videos was a historic moment for conservatism. For the first time, conservatives adapted left-wing “60 Minutes” style efforts to expose deceit on the left. Breitbart was one of the first to take the tricks of the left and apply them to the left. He became our Abbie Hoffman, our merry prankster.

* * *

Andrew would have loved the new right, but he would have kicked the alt-right goons to the curb. He hated creepy people of any political stripe  and would have rejected all the assorted David Duke wannabes trying to climb their way in. He would have known that the weirdos on the alt-right are just a mirror image of the weirdos on the hard left. They get off on fear. It’s too bad Andrew isn’t around to call these ghouls out. He’d be great at it.

His only flaw: He was forgiving. He’d listen to everyone — and sometimes, within that wide net he would throw, he’d get a few toxic fish. I know this for a fact: Andrew steered more than a few people to me who were more trouble than they were worth. But it was a small price to pay for introducing me to so many other original voices.

* * *

Andrew brought down Anthony Weiner, and maybe Hillary Clinton. Not many people remember who Anthony Weiner was before he became Anthony Weiner. He was a liberal star, likely the next mayor of New York City: a brash, arrogant, self-confident jerk with plans for the White House. It was Breitbart who helped exposed the man who chronically exposed himself to others.

Andrew and I were together in New York the day Weiner’s life imploded (well, the first time it imploded, anyway). Andrew was about to do my show when he crashed the press conference Weiner was supposed to have helmed in midtown. In Breitbart’s possession were photos that proved that proved Weiner had lied.

Why is this important? Consider the second wave of scandal that erupted days before the 2016 election. It was the insertion of Weiner, late in the game, that helped torpedo Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Now people were writing about, and thinking about, her email scandal again — only because it had the added novelty of Weiner.

Clinton lost the election days later.

This all goes back to Andrew. By taking down Weiner five years ago, he helped take down Hillary in 2016 and helped usher in a President Donald Trump.

* * *

Say what you will about how A.B. felt about Trump’s politics, but Andrew predicted this new kind of Republican. His most famous quote? “Politics is downstream from culture.” Meaning, to win in politics, you have to win the culture. Trump is the first Republican to exemplify this equation. Born and bred in the restless impatience of modern culture and eschewing the stuffy moralism of conservative ideology and the politically correct paralysis of the left, he fulfilled what Andrew saw coming: a path free from the tricks played upon the right for so long. Sure, Trump was rude, offensive and sloppy — but so was America. And like America, he was tired of the PC BS.

Andrew was Trump before Trump. Wherever Andrew spoke, crowds formed. He could talk for hours on just about anything. He fell in love with the masses who were looking for a new direction. Sound familiar?

There are disagreements over where Andrew might have stood on Trump, but I know he would have relished the implosion of pernicious tribal politics. Andrew was a conservative, but he hated litmus tests and ideas tethered to precious books. He just wanted to expose the lie of leftism. Trump wouldn’t have found his footing in such ground if Andrew hadn’t begun sowing that turf a decade before.

Where would Andrew stand on the internal conflicts among Republicans over Trump? Would it matter that The Donald was neither ideological nor predictably conservative? Would Andrew be suspicious of Trump’s autocratic outbursts, impulsiveness and disdain for critics? Or would he embrace Trump not just as a natural ally, but as the first real candidate in a post-ideological world? I don’t know, but he’d be enjoying every minute of it.

* * *

Andrew saw the cracks in the left. You knew his impact was working when the complaints about “polarization” got louder from people who never had to contend with opposition. The claims of “polarization” came because the right, which had been hiding under a couch, finally showed up to fight — and Andrew was its commander in chief. He was the one rallying the troops who, for once, were acting like the left instead of the fearful right.

Before Andrew, the right settled for being out of step and outraged. We were offended by a changing culture instead of figuring out how to own it, and we took on the demeanor of the picked-upon nerd, screaming “it’s not fair” to the liberal media that constantly degraded conservatives.

Andrew changed that. His goal wasn’t simply to make conservatism cool (trying to do that, in itself, is not cool), but to expose how uncool the other side was.

* * *

So, what about now … 2017, the era of Trump? I think Andrew would have found him vastly entertaining, while being cognizant of his impulsiveness. He would struggle with Trump the way so many of us have. But, ultimately, he would see Trump as darkly humorous, important and preferable to the Democratic alternative. At least Trump is real, and more vital. At least Trump has finally opened the door to fight back against those who, for decades, reveled in attacking us.

But what I wish Andrew could enjoy now is the implosion of the PC movement, the freedom to mock the self-righteous and the destruction of fake moral concern. Andrew would revel in the left getting a taste of its own medicine. Finally, it’s conservatives who are scaring the crap out of people, not the reverse!

The beauty of 2016 is that nothing that used to work for the left works anymore. It’s done. The name-calling, the smearing — now, our collective response to such attacks, borrowed from Andrew’s own arsenal of rebuttals, is, “So?”

What’s next? Who knows? I’d ask Andrew, but he’s dead. Clearly, however, his impact is not.

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