By Danny Schechter / The Rag Blog / March 6, 2012
There was an eerie synchronicity in the pending resignation of veteran Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, a Republican who had more than she could take of hyper-partisan “conservative” correct-lineism in Congress, and the death of Andrew Breitbart, the right-wing provocateur who did his very best to create the dynamic that Snowe was rejecting.
She would never use the language of her Party-mate Rick Santorum who confessed that some policies he disagreed with made him want to throw up, but if we lived in the age when all roads led to Rome, Congress would surely have its own vomitorium in the basement and it would be well-attended.
Breibart’s unexpected passing of “natural causes” might foreshadow the death of his political brand just as Snowe’s retreat to the state lobsters made famous may mark the end of the center in the GOP.
There was nothing natural about Andrew’s angst and activism as he smeared and bullied political opponents with the full support of the extremist echo chamber that helped him build his career.
There was no tactic that was too unethical in his aggressive arsenal that relished embarrassing and exposing enemies with videos and bombast.
After he died, the likes of Matt Drudge and Michelle Malkin were there with teary condolences as were his adoring staff members who posted this testimonial: “Andrew lived boldly, so that we more timid souls would dare to live freely and fully, and fight for the fragile liberty he showed us how to love.”
What he did love was to retweet every criticism he received as badges of honor in what seemed like an endless self-promoting crusade. No wonder, the right wing blogosphere is in mourning, echoing each other’s laments.
Brinart’s spirit was animated by a large dose of Stalin.
Conservative Ron Deher wrote,
I couldn’t stand some of what Breitbart did, and criticized certain of his stunts on this blog. But Lord have mercy, a 43-year-old man dropped dead and left a widow and four fatherless children. He was a provocateur, not a criminal. The thing Breitbart suffered from is the same thing… too many of us suffer from: making ideology more important than basic human decency.
David Frum, the man who coined the phrase “axis of evil,” was honest enough to admit
that to speak only “good” of Breitbart would be to misunderstand the man. The good was there. Breitbart was by all accounts generous with time and advice, a loving husband and father, and a loyal friend.
Yet perhaps Breitbart’s most consequential innovation was his invention of a new kind of culture war, and it’s difficult to assess his impact on American media and politics if you withhold an objective evaluation of his career — a career that was so representative of his times.
It was that “culture war” that offended a cultured senator like Olympia Snowe who said she was through with the spirit of confrontation and polarization that drives politics, fed up with an environment which has no room for individual conscience or dissent.
NPR reported, from a story in The Nation:
Politico’s Jonathan Allen published a piece that epitomizes this genre today. The article, “The center crumbles,” laments that “Congress can’t find the middle ground because no one’s willing and able to stand there anymore.”
For some like Snowe, the question is, why bother? The prospect of running hard to win another term — particularly a six-year Senate term — is less and less attractive for folks who came to Washington to make things happen only to find out there’s no common ground to get things done, only partisan point-scoring that leads to paralyzed politics.
Some years ago when I was making the film In Debt We Trust, I spent a long night in Congress waiting to interview Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee who was then speaking on the floor against Republican demands that the United States seal both our Southern and Northern borders with a fence or East Berlin-like high wall to stop illegal immigrants.
She very calmly challenged the idea with facts and figures that seemed very rational and to the point.
But when the vote came, all of the Republicans were looking down at their blackberries where they were being instructed on how to vote by their leadership.
Despite agreeing with some of the points she made in the debate, the GOP voted as a block, no deviations! That was before the Tea Party fanatics moved in and frequently rejected the advice of their whips because it was not obstructionist enough.
Those were Breibart’s ideas in action. The Los Angeles Times praised him for turning media manipulation into an art:
Breitbart was a revolutionary eager to overthrow a media establishment that he viewed as a front for left-wing social causes. Always brimming with righteous indignation — before he died, his final tweet offered an explanation for why he’d called an adversary a “putz” — he had contempt for anything that smacked of liberal do-gooderism or hypocrisy.
In his last known conversation in an LA bar he blamed liberals for forcing the GOP to debate social issues so they could challenge them. To him, like generations of anti-communists before him, there was always a liberal (his version of communist) under every bed.
Noted writer Patrick Goldstein said,
Breitbart would’ve been a marginal figure if he had simply been a media gadfly. His genius was rooted in the realization that in the new media universe, being outrageous often gets far more attention than being authoritative. After Ted Kennedy died in 2009, when everyone else was lionizing the great liberal crusader, Breitbart ripped him as a “duplicitous bastard.” He also called him a “prick” and “a special pile of human excrement.”
Personally, he went from a liberal family to join a reactionary community. He helped found Huffington Post. Appearances on Bill Maher’s shows and Fox News programs helped build his national celebrity even as he co-wrote a book criticizing the celebrity culture that propelled him into national visibility.
Many on the left lacked his sophistication and were unprepared to respond to his attacks. Organizations like ACORN, known for grassroots organizing and voter registration, were destroyed by Breibart’s calculated shock tactics, partly because his undercover gang with video cameras understood its vulnerabilities and played on its naiveté. Rather than defending them, many Democrats rushed to distance themselves and in the process helped defund an important organizing force.
He was less effective in his campaign against Occupy Wall Street but what he lacked in invective, local police forces more than made up for with spying, surveillance, and physical attacks on Occupy. He was a cheerleader for this repressive response.
He did seem to have some loose screws, though. According to Wikipedia,
At the Conservative Political Action Conference convention in Washington, D.C., on February 10, 2012, a belligerent Breitbart was captured walking with a glass of wine, screaming a diatribe at protesters, including repeatedly calling them “filthy freaks” and “murderers,” demanding that they “stop raping the people.” He was restrained by convention hotel security, resisting as they physically pushed him away from the demonstration.
He wanted his enemies to hate him, and, no surprise, many reciprocated in kind.
Wikipedia also noted that
Breitbart often appeared as a speaker at Tea Party movement events across the U.S. For example, Breitbart was a keynote speaker at the first National Tea Party Convention at Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville on February 6, 2010.
What’s the lesson for the left?
No one would suggest emulating Breitbart’s deliberately deceptive methods, but perhaps his example argues that the activists he sought to destroy need more audacity, more discipline, and more cleverness in exposing right-wing media with better alliances and collaborations. They need to create mutually supportive echo chambers that go on the offensive as opposed to just reacting to attack.
They also need to try to seize the national stage, not shrink from it for fear of being co-opted.
Olympia Snow deserves our respect for taking the stand she did. Andrew Breibart didn’t deserve to die at age 43, but — who besides acolytes and his own ditto-heads, including many haters — will really honor his legacy?
[News Dissector Danny Schechter writes the News Dissector blog and edits the new Mediachannel1.org. His new book is Occupy: Dissecting Occupy Wall Street (ColdType.net). Email Danny at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more by Danny Schechter on The Rag Blog.]