The Mainstreaming of Andrew Breitbart

One thing you learn if you are involved in political controversy for any length of time is that there are two kinds of partisan or ideological opponents. There are those who may have different allegiances, perceptions, policy goals, and even values than you have, perhaps holding them quite vociferously, but who fundamentally understand we live in a pluralistic society with significant areas of commonality, where political competition is essential and diverse points of view are to be welcomed rather than deplored. By and large, these kinds of opponents accept there is such a thing as objective “truth” that transcends ideology, and admit the possibility that empirical evidence can change their minds. And then you have people who understand no “truth” other than the oaths and pieties of their “team,” and would be perfectly happy living in a one-party dictatorship, seeing you silenced or jailed, humiliated or disgraced.

Used to be I didn’t think of that many conservatives as falling into the latter camp, but little news items like this from Dylan Byers of Politico are helping change my mind:

The Heritage Foundation and Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity will host an awards dinner this Friday in honor of Andrew Breitbart, the conservative firebrand who passed away earlier this year.

The first annual Breibart Awards dinner, which will take place in Providence, R.I., is part of the two organizations’ Future of Journalism Summit, which brings conservative news outlets and bloggers together for meetings, panels and training sessions.

When I lived in Washington I used to walk by the Heritage Foundation en route from work to the Metro station every day. I envied the organization its wealth and influence, and considered most of its work wrong-headed and sometimes destructive, but didn’t consider it actively evil, and didn’t even think of crossing myself when I passed its doors. Even after attending a terrifying lecture at Heritage in 1997 by the late Richard John Nuehaus, who in that chilling voice of his urged his well-fed bourgeois listeners to contemplate the need for a revolutionary insurrection against the “regime” that allowed legalized abortion and equal rights for gay folks, I still thought of the think tank built on Paul Weyrich’s vision with Coors money as a place where people like Stuart Butler, the father of the individual mandate, worked. You know: reasonable people with whom I just happened to disagree a lot.

Back then most of the people at Heritage might have enjoyed an illicit thrill reading the “work” of people like Breitbart, much as people on my “team” got a quiet kick out of slumming through the fever swamps of the conspiratorial Left. But they would have hastened to the restroom to wash their hands of any active contact with Breitbartian guerillas, at most considering them convenient distant allies, while fearing they were agents provocateurs planted by their enemies as a sinister joke.

And they sure as hell would not have been publicly handing out awards in the name of someone like Breitbart, holding him out as an exemplar of journalism.

Much as I think there is currently a very large gulf between the two major parties on matters large and small that will have a tangible effect on the lives and well-being of the American people, I still don’t consider it appropriate that U.S. politics adopt the tone of the Spanish Civil War. It was bad enough when the 2008 vice presidential candidate of the Republican Party began accusing Democrats of wanting to kill off old people, or when large numbers of GOP pols got into the habit of accusing Barack Obama of waging a “war on religion.” But when you start seeing the words “Heritage Foundation” and “Andrew Breitbart” in the same sentence, it is time to realize we are at a juncture where defeating these people–not silencing or jailing them, or glorying in their humiliation, but denying them political powwer–has become the only way to restore the possibility of bipartisanship and civil discourse.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.