On Dying Young

Andrew Breitbart died yesterday, and half the people who knew who he was mourned publicly and sincerely, and other the half tried to hold their tongues.  Some failed.

I was one of the latter group, and failed a little.  I follow this stuff for a living, and knew who Breitbart was, and watched his work with some amusement, some dismay, and some anger. He was responsible for wrecking or hurting a lot of reputations and careers, some of whom might have deserved it, some of whom absolutely did not.  He often lied about people, and accused others of lying without basis.  It doesn’t seem right to me, even on the occasion of his sudden death, to ignore this. Certainly, the death of a public figure never caused Breitbart to restrain himself from criticism.

One of the things that puzzled me about all the reaction was how often Breitbart was called a conservative or a “conservative warrior.”  He was many things, but calling him a “conservative” is arguable. By his own admission, he wasn’t that interested in policy, or even politics, in the sense of governance.  He was interested in the battle, in the fight between His Team and Their Team, and he was utterly devoted to advancing His Team’s cause, and running up the score, which seemed to be counted by scalps.  Ethics, morality, or even, really politics as detached from personality seemed to have nothing much to do with it. Is there anybody in the world who imagines, for example, that he would have said or done anything about Anthony Weiner’s weiner if Weiner had an (R) after his name?  Calling him a committed conservative, to me, makes as much sense as calling Lawrence Taylor a committed Giant.  He was a very, very effective fighter for his side, and most of the people who mourn him on that side (excepting those who knew him personally) seem mostly to be mourning his departure from the battlefield. Who will take it to the enemy now?

Other people have opined about his legacy and his role in coarsening our debate better than I can.  One of the things that bugs me is that the political battlefield has now extended into every arena, so that everything is fodder for fighting — my father in law, a staunch conservative, refused to use Heinz Ketchup during the 2004 election season. Once politics is interfering with your condiments, its no longer recognizable as politics. Breitbart was one of the many who made a nice living in the manufacture of brand new forms of brickbats.

And, of course, it’s frightening that anyone who dares stick their neck out into the public sphere now must needs expect to pay a harsh price, extracted by Breitbart’s role models, heirs and imitators.  I personally try — believe it or not — to treat people decently, even the people I’m making fun of, so that we never cross the line from satire to cruelty. When I die, I don’t want half the people who knew who I was wondering if it would be polite to say what they’re really thinking.

Speaking of which, I happened to spend an hour today talking to Jennyfer Gleason,  the widow of G. Chris Gleason, who collapsed and died just a few hundred yards short of the Philadelphia Marathon finish line, minutes before I finished the race myself. I saw him lying there, being treated by the EMTs who could not resuscitate him.  Like Breitbart, he died too young (Gleason was 40), like Breitbart, he had a wife and young children (who were waiting for him just on the other side of the finish line —  Jennyfer told me this part of the story and I started to weep.)   Gleason — to my knowledge — never attacked anyone publicly, never got involved in politics, never denounced anyone, and never was featured on cable news by bookers who know that denunciations make good TV.  He did touch a lot of people’s lives, though, as evidenced here.  If you’re going to think about the tragedy of a husband and father dying young, spare a thought for Chris Gleason.






7 Responses to On Dying Young

  1. BD Cruz March 2, 2012 at 1:46 pm #

    Thanks for that sobering { rebuttal | take | reconsideration }, Peter.

  2. Wahidiyya Kosmotikos March 2, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    Peter, this strikes me as an honest, fair, and dare I say it, balanced remembrance of a man beyond the stereotype he perhaps sought to perpetuate. Who woulda thunk you had it in ya? Nah, just joking, your sense of fair play is evident as I listen to “Wait! Wait!” It strikes me you have a tractor beam holding your satire back from crossing into the cruel zone.

    Seriously, thanks for the contrast of coverage regarding Breitbart’s death with that for G. Chris Gleason’s death. I’m ashamed to admit I missed it at the time of his death. Many thanks for the opportunity to mourn him, albeit belatedly.

  3. Marti McKenna March 2, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    I lost a friend this week who was truly a good guy. Science Fiction writer Mark Bourne was 50. He left behind a grieving wife, son, and community of writers and friends in SFF publishing. He made the world a better place while he was here, and left us with writings full of the wonder he felt when he looked at the sky. His is a legacy of joy.

    Love and respect to Mark and Chris and all the bright lights who go out too soon.

  4. Valerie in San Diego March 2, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    There are two parts to the loss of someone well-known, always — the very personal loss felt by the close friends and family, and the public reaction to the departing figure and that figure’s public words and actions. They are extremely different things. I always have sympathy for the personal side of the loss, but sometimes I don’t feel the world is that much worse for the loss of certain publicly visible behaviors. I don’t think that’s hard-hearted; it’s simply that I’m not a member of the family and hence can only feel — or not feel — the public side of the loss.

    We have a national discourse that has broken down partly because people are starting to value “being a warrior” over being functional, being a mediator, or negotiating a workable compromise. I think it’s acceptable not to celebrate this. And I don’t think it’s disrespectful of the dead.

  5. Sauce23 March 3, 2012 at 7:48 am #


  6. Morgan Warstler March 22, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

    Sorry Peter, but your shit side started it.

    Weiner was FAIR GAME, because of your sides goals; to the private sector champs, ANYTHING that demeans the pubic sector is valid.

    You want to start from an assumption that government / state is an equal footed equally respected way of seeing the world.

    That’s not a valid assumption, not for our discussion purposes.

    Now your side – since it so loves the public sector, might want to think deeper about who benefits when they turn politics into professional wrestling.

    ANOTHER equally moral option on your part, is to admit outright (Singapore style) that the public sector are true servants to the private sector. Essentially make personal wealth gain impossible for bureaucrats – that means BIG time pay cuts for public sector right now.

    If you do this, then yes the guys on the right would be outright mean to pick on the help.

    But so as long as men who do not own companies, serve customers, and employ labor are forced to put up with jackals demanding an equal seat in power, DESTROYING them by any means necessary is righteous.

    Andy was a fried of mine. I knew him for a long long time.

    What he did was take all the pious bullshit used against Clarence Thomas and company onward, and return fire- making the left live the kind of life they demand form the right.

    Acorn? Sure a nice org to help the unfortunate. No! Why no? Because your side wants to play for more power than you deserve. We don’t want to be Europe. Stop trying to make us like Europe, and Acorn doesn’t get gutted. but then what is Acorn for?

    You brought this all on yourself.

    Look, the solution to your father-in-law is called states rights.

    The reason every single little issue is now a national issue, and we must all worry about 535 different Congressional elections is because we no longer let states make most of their own decisions, and tell unhappy people to move – which was our national policy for 150 years.

    When medicare, medicaid, health care, gay rights, etc. are ALL state issues, the power leaves DC, and we have less cut throat discussions.

    Look, I just gave you many ways out, many olive branches, if you don’t take them – then the only lesson on Breitbart is that you aren’t very insightful, he existed BECAUSE of you.

    If you don’t want another one to come back, you have to stop being you.

    You know why

    • John Williams March 23, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

      Just what the self-righteous game show host Sagal needed! He CAN thank himself, his activist journalist buds at NPR & elsewhere–most especially Nina Totenberg, and his fellow travelers in the US Senate–most especially Ted Kennedy. Sagal probably was indignant over Breitbart’s cold wards upon Kennedy’s death. But he apparently thinks similar or worse sentiments by himself, Matt Taibbi, and go-to-conservative basher David Frum were just peachy.