Sunday, August 1, 2010

Andrew Breitbart comes to Philadelphia

Andrew Breitbart came to Philadelphia on Saturday; I missed the event, unfortunately, but this Philadelphia Inquirer article crystallized what about Breitbart, exactly, troubles me so.

It's not his willingness to peddle misleadingly edited videos, or his well-documented arrogance (some would call it flair) or the fact that he gives shelter, on his Big Government site, to conspiracy peddlers like Frank Gaffney. (No, I'm not going to link to that.) These things bug me, but they're not the thing that bugs me about Andrew Breitbart.

This is the thing that bugs me: Andrew Breitbart has made himself famous and influential by raging against (he says) a liberal establishment colossus. But he's used his power, essentially, to try to crush ants. He's done that loudly, sure, but that doesn't change the essential dynamic.

Let me elaborate, by referring to the Inky article. Here's Breitbart describing his mission, echoing statements he's made elsewhere:

Andrew Breitbart, the Hollywood Internet celebrity with a flair for controversial video, fired up about 300 Tea Party devotees rallying on Independence Mall Saturday afternoon, denouncing a "media cabal," the Congressional Black Caucus, NAACP, liberals, and everyone else who has "ripped apart" America.

The media, he told reporters, in cahoots with black politicians and the Democratic Party, are dividing the country with false charges of racism aimed at the Tea Party groups.

"It's cynical politics," he said. "I'm more than happy to talk about this very noxious form of trying to stifle political speech in the United States. It's un-American."

This is typical Breitbart stuff -- if anything, a bit understated in his example. He's not simply arguing back against liberals and Democrats with whom he disagrees -- he's mounting a full-scale cultural rebellion against the leftward bias of some of the country's leading institutions. The media, after all, provides most of what you read and watch. The Democratic Party is in control of the government. Let's not even get started on the universities.

So how does Andrew Breitbart rebel against the establishment? By embarrassing office workers and mid-level bureaucrats.

Think about it. What are Breitbart's two big contributions to mainstream debate in the last year?

* The ACORN tapes. Enough's been said about this that I don't need to pile on, except to note that the tapes don't show ACORN leaders plotting to do anything nefarious or illegal, and certainly not working to steal elections -- the fantasy scenario of so many conservatives. What the tapes did show was office workers in big American cities being, essentially, being polite to Breitbart's minions. It's the right-wing version of "Borat," which made Americans look racist and dumb by virtue of their willingness to accomodate a stranger. I'll go out on a limb, though, and suggest that few -- if any -- of the ACORN workers depicted in the tapes were making even $30,000 a year.

* Shirley Sherrod. Who really ever heard of this woman before Breitbart made her famous? I hadn't. I bet you hadn't either.

So Breitbart, essentially, has been making his bones off of people who were only very loosely "public figures," individuals who didn't know they were front-line participants in our nation's great debates -- until he thrust them into the spotlight without so much as a how-do-you-do.

This, frankly, is the stuff of bullying and cowardice.

Now the genius of Breitbart is that, somehow, he's managed to convince his audience that each embarrassment of a minor, unknown figure somehow counts as a mighty blow against the hated liberal establishment. It doesn't; it's bread and circuses stuff, really.

It's probably too much to hope that Andrew Breitbart takes his energies and argument against the establishment to the establishment itself. It's much easier picking on small fries, and just as lucrative -- maybe more so. Breitbart might be a crusader, but he's also a bit of a wimp. It works for him.

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