How a liberal writer responded to the death of Andrew Breitbart

Matthew Yglesias of Slate cheered the death of Andrew Breitbart. “Conventions around dead people are ridiculous,” he wrote on Twitter. “The world outlook is slightly improved with @AndrewBrietbart [sic] dead.” The editor of Slate defended Yglesias’s remark.

Yglesias is an unusually frank liberal. In 2006, he made it clear that he is cheering for the death of America, which he seeks to accomplish through immigration.

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Svein Sellanraa writes:

Your recent post on Matthew Yglesias’s gloating over the death of Andrew Breitbart got me thinking. Rejoicing in the death or personal misfortune of ideological enemies seems to be disturbingly common in certain corners of the liberal commentariat. The mockery of Rick Santorum’s stillborn child and Sarah Palin’s Down Syndrome daughter are two other relatively recent examples that spring to mind. Not that I’m necessarily a fan of Santorum or Palin (or Andrew Breitbart, for that matter), but I still find the sheer nastiness of it very disturbing. And while I may be biased, I can’t recall ever having seen or heard anything comparable from a conservative, either of the mainstream Republican or the VFR-style traditionalist variety.

The question, if I’m correct in my observation, is what this discrepancy tells us. It seems a little too easy——and much too smug——simply to conclude that liberals are big stupid meanies. I’m inclined to think that we hear more of this sort of thing from the Left because the Left, by virtue of its cultural hegemony, feels more secure than the opposition about its own power and moral rectitude, and is thus more lax about these kinds of rhetorical excesses.

LA replies:

That may be part of it, but it seems to me that it’s more connected with the fiery insane rage in which much of the left has been weltering since approximately the 2000 presidential election.

At most any liberal website (even ones that I used to think of as respectable, such as The American Prospect), the contributors as well as the commenters routinely engage in shockingly crude and even obscene ad hominems against conservatives. This seems to be the only way they know how to speak.

From time to time in recent years, when I felt I wasn’t getting the liberal side of an issue and checked out the liberal sites, I would instantly be bathed by this low level … hatred is the only word for it, and would be reminded of the fact that the liberal blogs have nothing useful to offer.

My point is, liberals’ cheering the personal misfortunes of conservatives is part and parcel of the ubiquitous liberal personal hatred of conservatives.

Also, as regards your point, the liberals don’t feel that they are enjoying hegemony. They feel that the evil conservatives are in charge. That’s why they’re so full of loathing and, yes, fear. To them the fear is justified because they think that faith-based fascists are in charge of or are about to take charge of America.

Robert J. writes:

Here is Matt Taibbi writing at Rolling Stone:

So Andrew Breitbart is dead. Here’s what I have to say to that, and I’m sure Breitbart himself would have respected this reaction: Good! F**k him. I couldn’t be happier that he’s dead.

Read more.

LA notes:

The asterisks are at VFR, not at Rolling Stone.

Bill Carpenter writes:

Conservatives are disgusted and dismayed by such displays. But remember your observation that conservatives are dedicated to denying, or at least concealing, the following facts: that the leftists have declared war on America and are seeking to destroy it; that we really have no negotiating partner in attempting to preserve this nation; that there is no common ground or mutual respect that enables the left to compromise with the people except as a temporary tactic; and that the conditions of deliberative self-government and majority rule are dissolving. Thus when we deplore leftist hate and cry out for civility—are we just begging the left to help us keep up the fiction of a common weal? Is it solely the good, or our own slothful ease, at issue in that appeal?

Yglesias’ conduct would be deplorable in any time and place. But we need to understand such conduct not only as bad manners or barbarism but as the sentiment of an enemy eager to urge on his fellow enemies in a civil war. Still, it is only verbal misbehavior. We don’t expect Yglesias to show up at Mr. Breitbart’s grave site holding a sign, or to lead a posse of Red Guards in a celebratory rampage against conservative media facilities. The civil war is pretty low level, compared with the turmoil elsewhere we can see and read about—though to some extent that is a function of our people’s passive willingness to endure bad behavior by fellow citizens and the state.

Ian T. writes:

To be fair, Breitbart used Twitter to cheer the death of Ted Kennedy. Seems hypocritical to get worked up over the libs doing the same to him.

Gintas writes:

Hmm …

Here is a VFR entry by you from August 2009:

Edward Kennedy dead

Gintas writes:

I have a bounce in my step today, could it be because it’s such a beautiful day outside?

I found Gintas’s brief remark, which he sent under the subject line “Ted Kennedy dead,” charming and containing an element of truth, and so I posted it. Some readers may be offended by the publication of lighthearted thoughts on the occasion of a death. In this connection, I am reminded that the Book of Psalms presents a wide range of human emotions, including despair, hatred, and desire for vengeance. By including such non-godly feelings in the Bible, its authors and editors seemed to be saying that there is a need to recognize and express the full panoply of the emotions in the human soul, not necessarily in order for them to be approved and emulated, but in order for them to be given their due place as part of the whole. Edward Kennedy, the lion of the left, strove for 40 years to destroy this country. It is natural and normal, if not representative of a high level of moral virtue, for a man to feel a bit of innocent cheer at the departure of this remorseless enemy from the planet earth. In that spirit I’ve posted Gintas’s comment.

LA replies:

It seems to me that there are two possible responses by me to the fact that I approvingly posted Gintas’s comment, “I have a bounce in my step today, could it be because it’s such a beautiful day outside?” One is to point to the striking differences between, on one side, his comment and my commentary on it on the occasion of Edward Kennedy’s death, and, on the other, the remarks made by liberals about Andrew Breitbart’s death, such as Matt Taibbi’s, “Good! F**k him. I couldn’t be happier that he’s dead.” Gintas didn’t even say anything about Kennedy; and I put the remark in a philosophical context while making it clear that Gintas sentiment, though natural and understandable, did not represent a high level of morality.

It nevertheless remains the fact that, notwithstanding the qualifications I was placing around Gintas’s comment, I was saying it was understandable to express innocent cheer at the thought of the death of a remorseless enemy.

Which leads me to my second possible response, which is simply to say that I was wrong to post Gintas’s comment and to rationalize my posting of it. Re-reading my own comment now, in light of my criticisms of Yglesias, I feel that renouncing it is the only way to have a consistent moral position on this issue.

So, I am inclined to take the second course, and renounce the posting of even the most mild and impersonal expression of cheer on the death of an enemy.

But that leads to another thought. What if I did renounce it? And what if all conservatives did the same? It would not change the behavior of our enemies one whit. They would continue openly to wish and work for our destruction and to say “F**k him, I’m glad the bastard is dead,” whenever a prominent figure on our side dies. They would continue to speak of conservatives as evil subhumans that need to be removed from the earth.

As Bill Carpenter insightfully points out above, the other side is at war with us, while our side refuses to recognize that fact. Indeed, our expressions of moral dismay at liberals’ cheering Breitbart’s death show that we have not fully taken into our minds the reality that liberals are at war with us.

So then, what are the correct terms for our relationship with liberals, given the low-level war that they are already waging against us? Shall we continue trying to do the right thing, and end up sounding like hair-splitting moralists, as I am doing in this comment? Or shall we just speak of our enemies as the enemies they are?

However, even if they are our enemies and even if this is war, I am still inclined to say that my posting of Gintas’s comment was wrong. But something is keeping me from saying that. I need more time to think about it.

Chuck Ross writes:

On the topic of Matt Yglesias’ insensitive remarks about Andrew Breitbart, I came across a 2008 video of a drunk Yglesias cheering the death of Tim Russert who had drawn Yglesias’ ire for his interview style. I have a post up about Yglesias—who I consider to be a serial death-gloater—which ends with a note on Hanna Rosin’s (like Yglesias, of Slate) recent jubilation at the death of children’s book author Jan Berenstain. A good term for them: Slatinists.

Irv P. writes:

I’m re-sending a comment I made last Sunday. I think it is relevant to Breitbart’s death and the glee with which it was met.

I’d like to add to Kristor’s characterization of the other as our enemy. I have used the phrase “mortal enemy” in several of my comments to VFR. At times, you have chosen to ignore me when I’ve said that. I’ve surmised that is because you see it as too extreme or inflammatory.

However, that is what they are, our mortal enemies. They seek our destruction as a civilization and as a race. There will be no compromise with them in the long run. All compromises to date have been made by “our side”. We have been compromising away our existence.

We have so much material wealth, and such abundance in so many ways, we think we dare not make waves that can upset the stability we have come to enjoy.

This is appeasement for short term peace. There will be a battle at some point. It is inevitable. I wish someone could figure out a way to save our way of life, that Francis Schaeffer said was based on what he called “the Christian consensus”. Until we fight to return to that consensus, those of us who see themselves as traditionalists are doomed. We are going to have to get dirty because our mortal enemies are in the mud.

Gintas replies to LA:
I wasn’t exactly gloating or rubbing my hands, laughing maniacally. But that old goat was a nemesis, and he did much damage. And it was a fine day in August here. May God have mercy on his soul.

Alan Roebuck writes:

You wrote:

… the liberals don’t feel that they are enjoying hegemony. They feel that the evil conservatives are in charge.

It strikes me that the Left’s position now is somewhat analogous to the position of the Russian Communists circa 1930: formally in charge, but not having fully consolidated their control. Most of Russia was not functioning communistically, and many powerful enemies of the Revolution still existed.

Analogously, the contemporary Left still has many enemies, and they know the man in the street will only go along with them when he is forced to, as he increasingly is. They feel their position is precarious, so they naturally fear and hate the counterrevolutionaries despite the fact that Counterrevolution has no official standing and is even illegal in a matter of speaking.

It also seems to be essential to the Left to imagine themselves as brave outcasts fighting an officially-established conservative juggernaut. Hatred of the conservative establishment seems to be their primary psychic fuel, without which they cannot sustain their martial ardor.

Paul K. writes:

I have to confess I chuckled when I read last year that Yglesias, while strolling Eloi-like through a borderline neighborhood of Washington, D.C., was randomly assaulted by some youths of the sort whose case he relentlessly pleads.

Honestly, regarding the political conflict in the country as I do, I am not shocked or dismayed that leftists take great pleasure in the death of a right-wing firebrand like Andrew Breitbart. I have to admit that there are a number of figures on the left in whose demise I would take equal satisfaction, though I wouldn’t demean myself by expressing it in such a vulgar fashion.

March 3

John McNeil writes:

I never paid much attention to Breitbart and assumed he was just a standard Red State neocon. After reading this quotation I now realize that I had misjudged him. His views on the importance of culture are insightful, and something that will probably be ignored by the politics-obsessed right. At the very least, I hope his pearl of wisdom plants seeds in the minds of other right-leaning thinkers.

Robert B. writes:

Given that VFR has now (finally?) acknowledged that the left is our mortal enemy, I think you’re looking at this from the wrong perspective. Instead of seeing it from a civilized, “We have a difference of opinion” view, you should be seeing it from the “life or death, mortal enemy” point of view. Actually mourning the loss of an enemy lends that enemy legitimacy. The left does not do this, and neither should we. It has always been the custom to celebrate the death of one’s mortal enemies. Perhaps this is why you cannot quite bring yourself to refute the Ted Kennedy post?

Irv P. writes:

Don’t agonize in any way about lack of moral consistency on your part.

Ted Kennedy was a man who wielded tremendous political power from the seat of our government for decades (4?). [LA replies: 48 years.] His influence had a tangible negative effect on millions of us in many different ways. We suffered at his hand. Our way of life will never be the same because of the architecture of which he was a major designer.

Andrew Breitbart was like a flea on the back of an elephant compared to Kennedy. He was only a perceived threat to the liberal hegemony on our culture. He was a thorn in their side, but his influence would and could be expanded only by the hard work of opening the mass public’s eyes (and what a task that is).

It doesn’t really matter what either side says about the loss of someone influential on the other side. What matters is that our side seems to be awakening to the fact that there has been a declared war going on against us on several fronts. Maybe we are getting close to the hour when we too will declare war. War means getting dirty and in the mud as I said last Sunday.

And as I also said to you a few weeks back when I was discussing the need for I called “a conservative national action network” to defend those who lose their livelihoods because of things they say or write; at a bare minimum, we have to get into the streets and in the faces of the tyrants who force us to live in the “reign of fear.” They have been beating us to a pulp with real sanctions against us. Our kid gloves have got to come off. We hope and pray that violence will not be an outcome of our “fighting” back. But fight back we must, and if escalation occurs, so be it.

Civilization saving is not for the faint of heart. So let’s not wring our hands over how we felt upon Ted Kennedy’s demise, or what we said or didn’t say.

Dan R. writes:

Interesting how one can be on the side of some of the worst trends in our culture and still find one’s self the object of left-wing demonization. From blogger Iowahawk’s tribute to Andrew Breitbart:

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.

LA replies:

So it looks like the phenomenon of the Bush years, a worse version of which was avoided by the defeat of McCain: a liberal leaning Republican is ferociously attacked by the left, leading conservatives to spring into action to defend him as a tribune of the right.

That’s not meant to diminish Breitbart. He was making a tremendous contribution, and exposing the left where it hurt. Still, as with so many conservatives, he was conservative on some things, and liberal on others. And the things he was liberal on (e.g. homosexual “rights” and empowerment, judging by his strong support for GOProud) were enough ultimately to undercut all the conservatives things he stood for, particularly the culture war part. As I’ve written before, once the conservative movement, in December 2010, largely surrendered to the left on homosexuals in the military, what cultural issues would conservatives not surrender on?

Further, to support the homosexualist movement, as Breitbart did, is to support the increasing PC tyranny which is an inevitable aspect of homosexual empowerment. So Breitbart was crusading against PC tyranny, even as he was supporting a movement that is vastly increasing PC tyranny. Such is “conservatism.”

LA writes:

On Breitbart’s Jewishness, I had always sort of assumed on the basis of his name that he was Jewish, but since his death, looking at various photos of him, I thought he might be either German-American or Jewish.

Also a passing point: it has often struck me that despite the fact that German Americans are almost as numerous as Anglo-Saxons in the U.S. population, there seem to be almost no German Americans in U.S. political and opinion writing. The only notable exception I can think of, as far as conservative political writing is concerned, is the Lutherans who used to (and perhaps still do) write at First Things.

Timothy A. writes:

Wikipedia describes Breitbart as being of Irish descent and the adoptive son of Jewish parents.

LA replies:

Ahh. When I was drafting my previous comment I happened to see this photograph of Breitbart again, from the Rolling Stones article where Matt Taibbi curses him out, and I thought, “With that wide face and the curly blondish hair, he looks like an Irish Celt.” But I didn’t say it.


Timothy A. writes:

Regarding the lack of German-Americans in the commentariat, I have a few ideas. Historically, the Forty-Eighters (exemplified by Carl Schurz) had political ideas which aligned well with American public opinion, and they were, therefore, quite influential. Later waves of German immigrants had political ideas (socialism or German nationalism/separatism) which were violently repressed during and after World War I and then again during World War II (H. L. Mencken is an example of a pro-German who had to silence himself during World War II in order to avoid detention).

I believe that the memory of these repressions led German-Americans to avoid the commentariat, leaving the field, for the most part, to German-Americans of Jewish descent (e.g. Hannah Arendt and Henry Kissinger).

Present day commentators of German descent include Gary Bauer, Keith Olbermann, and George Weigel (part of the group associated with First Things that you noted, though he is Catholic, not Lutheran). Pretty meager for a group of 50-60 million Americans.

William A. writes:

I think that many German-Americans may be “under the radar” with Anglicized names. E.g. Pfersching became Pershing, Hans van Kaltenborn became H.V. Kaltenborn, etc. German-Americans are still fairly prominent in politics—keep in mind that Walter Mondale’s first political speech was delivered in German. And Nixon had many German-American associates: Schulz, Kleindienst, and Butz come to mind. [LA replies: Right, but these aren’t commentators/writers.]

The Bush dynasty is German-American. So are the Rockefellers, Tim Pawlenty, and Sarah Palin.

German-Americans are 17% of the population—had they consciousness of it, they would be an ethnic group larger than African-Americans, and approaching Hispanic Americans. The upper Midwest is almost 50% German-American. There must be some German-American pundits up there!

Alissa writes:

So it looks like the phenomenon of the Bush years, a worse version of which was avoided by the defeat of McCain: a liberal leaning Republican is ferociously attacked by the left, leading conservatives to spring into action to defend him as a tribune of the right.

So … this happened with Bush, would have happened with McCain, happened with Palin and now happened with Breitbart? It’s a sad state of events when liberal lites are portrayed and defended as far-right wingers. Sad indeed.

LA replies:

Let’s not forget Richard Nixon. Nixon was never a conservative, was never considered a conservative. He was of the GOP’s moderate/centrist faction. But (and here’s the analogy to Breitbart) because he was so outspoken and effective as an anti-Communist (especially in the Hiss affair), the left called him a fascist, etc., and hated him more than anything.

David P. writes:

Glorying in the death of an individual, particularly if one despises him, is wrong, even sinful.

First, it corrupts the soul, and makes one bitter within. Bitterness poisons the individual like no other potion. I believe that is the reason that LA feels uncomfortable about such joy. [LA replies: But if you’re referring to the Kennedy case, did Gintas or I express joy about the death of Edward Kennedy? No.]

Second, it leads others, particularly the vast majority of decent Americans, to put the Right in the same box as the Left.

If we behave with Christian charity—“forgive those that hate you”, we will win that vast majority of decent Americans. When that happens the Christian consensus will have arrived. We will not have to do anything further.

Socrates said “It is never right to do wrong.”

LA replies:

Agreed that it is wrong to glory in the death of an individual. Though I would say that in certain cases it is certainly appropriate to take an ordinate measure of satisfaction in the death of an individual. Hitler, Stalin, Osama bin Laden, and Timothy McVeigh come to mind.

So the statement, “Glorying in the death of an individual is wrong,” does not help me with the question in my mind, which is, was Gintas’ very mild expression of satisfaction at the death of Edward Kennedy wrong, and was I wrong to post it and to give (qualified and circumscribed) reasons why I felt it was appropriate to post it?

March 4

Catherine H. writes:

I have several distinctions to make that may clarify the matter. First, Bill Carpenter writes that is a sign that the right is fooling itself in expressing dismay when the left shows its hand in crude rejoicings over the death or misfortune of conservatives. But there is a difference between showing a dismayed surprise at the liberals’ actions, and observing and morally condemning their actions with lucid commentary. The first is naivete exactly of the kind Mr. Carpenter describes; the second a good and necessary judgement. It is important to note the degradation of our enemies and explain why we deplore it from time to time, lest we fall into it ourselves. I am myself rarely surprised by anything the left does anymore, but I find it salutary and even cathartic to comment occasionally on their more egregious acts.

That brings me to the second part of the discussion, regarding the appropriateness of conservatives’ enjoying the death or misfortune of the liberals. David P. remarks that it is sinful to glory in the death of an individual; I contend that there is a difference between glorying in a liberal enemy’s death, and glorying in the excellent fact that that enemy is no longer able to harm us. Further, it is not necessarily sinful to take satisfaction in someone’s physical death, but it is always wrong to rejoice over spiritual death. If I were to crow, “Ted Kennedy’s dead—may his soul rot in Hell!” I would undoubtedly be sinning, both in presuming his damnation and in scandalizing my neighbor by my lack of charity. If I were to remark, however, that “Ted Kennedy has died and the world is absent a great force of corruption—I will be sure to pray for his immortal soul,” and thereafter feel what a lovely, blessed day it was and express this to others, there would be nothing wrong in my behavior.

Something further to consider is that traditionalists may do things that liberals may not—simply because we are right. As an example, the medieval Catholics were justified in mounting the Crusades to stem the evil of Islam and its effects on the West, and the Muslims were and are wrong in waging jihad on the West to stem the effects of Christianity. So, too, conservatives may be glad that one liberal’s evil has ended, because that liberal truly harmed the world with his actions. Liberals imagine that they rejoice over the end of an evil with a conservative’s death, but they are wrong about what constitutes evil, and therefore rejoice wrongly.

Paul K. writes:

David P. writes: “Glorying in the death of an individual, particularly if one despises him, is wrong, even sinful.”

I may be morally obtuse, but I don’t understand this. Is the issue “glorying,” as in an unseemly dancing on the grave, or is mere satisfaction, a certain elevation of mood, also to be condemned? If the latter, I give up. It’s a counsel of perfection, not realizable by anyone short of a saint.

David P. also writes: “If we behave with Christian charity—‘forgive those that hate you,’ we will win that vast majority of decent Americans.”

Again, I don’t understand what this means in practical terms. Do we forgive our enemies while understanding they are our enemies and fighting them as best we can? Or is this forgiveness in lieu of fighting back, in hopes that our equanimity in the face of our destruction while inspire new converts? If the latter, I don’t see it happening.

Kevin H. writes:

Are we really responding to the death of an individual, or the removal of an aspect of that person which opposes us? I am almost sure that anyone’s joy, to whatever level, at Kennedy’s passing was not at the death of the whole man, but at a political opponent who no longer needs to be dealt with, (his legacy notwithstanding.)

I suspect that if one were to ask Yglesias what his thoughts on Breitbart’s picking up the check for a soldier a couple tables over in a restaurant, or contributing to various Jewish causes, or how Breitbart raised his children, we may hear a different tune. If not, we would view Yglesias as even more vile than we view him in light of his recent comments. I am appalled by Yglesias, but not surprised. But I could never take the slightest pleasure in his death.

March 5

A reader writes:

I was working as a clerical at a real estate company in NYC when Reagan was shot. All the employees were white (liberal Jews, to be exact) except for the head bookkeeper, an obese, middle-aged black woman named Helen.

At the very moment the announcement was made, Helen let out a yelp that could be heard throughout the office. Nobody dared to contradict her. I still remember it 31 years later.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 02, 2012 09:27 AM | Send

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