A few months ago I was in Los Angeles for a car show, and decided to text Andrew Breitbart about getting together for drinks. We occasionally shared a glass or two whenever he was in Chicago, or I in L.A.; I always enjoyed my brief visits inside his non-stop maelstrom, and for whatever reason he put up with my company. "Can't," he replied. "Am at the Venice Xmas boat parade with family. Want to join us?"
I drove there and met him at the home of Orson Bean (the Hollywood Blacklist actor who also happened to be his father in-law) and joined him and Eric Volz on the deck to watch the passing aquatic floats of what is arguably America's most leftist city. Like always, we wedged in a little stream-of-conscious conversation, punctuated by his ever-beckoning cell phone and the hugging entreaties of his four kids. "Cool, isn't it?" he grinned, pointing to a passing raft bearing a Rolling Stones cover band. "I love this."
It was the last time I ever saw Breitbart, who died early today at 43. He left an electronic media legacy that will be hard to top, having helped launch the Drudge Report, the HuffingtonPost, Breitbart.com, and his collection of "Big" sites. He was an unapologetic conservative, but one who defied the media's template; pro-civil rights, pro-drug legalization, pro-gay rights, to the point of boycotting CPAC when it barred the gay conservative group GOProud. Other than his mainstream pro-life views (he was, after all, adopted) you would be hard pressed to characterize him as a right winger on social issues.
So how did this socially liberal Jewish RINO from Brentwood become the Emmanuel Goldstein of the left's unhinged 2-Minutes Hate? A lot of it, I suspect, is a viral strain of mindless repetition. I have appalled a few nice progressive friends by revealing my friendship with Breitbart. They know good people, like me, are supposed to despise him, but pressed can't quite articulate why. Or cite his reported support for slavery and gay concentration camps or somesuch. Its most concentrated form takes place in the anonymity of comment threads and Twitter feeds. My personal favorite is the frequent taunting of Breitbart as gay, where the taunter either (a) assumes Breitbart considers it an insult, or (b) actually means it as an insult.
Breitbart, of course, reveled in it, and took great delight in retweeting and exposing that hate, the real source of which is clear: unlike meek approval-seeking chickenshits like me, he relished poking at hornets' nests, lifting up rocks, calling out the bullies on the playground. He made himself an enemy of corrupt political con artists who operate on latent threats of thuggery, called them out on it, and, best of all, knew exactly how they would react before they did. He deserved a Pulitzer, but got something better: their opprobrium.
Plenty will be written about Andrew Breitbart in the next few days, some flattering, some not. As for me, I will drink two beers in his honor tonight, and remember him the way he was last December in Venice - a big, lovable, random, generous, fearless, patriotic grinning goofball surrounded by his family, basking in the coolness of it all.