In the wake of conservative activist, author and publisher Andrew Breitbart's death, the news media reported on the sharp division of "opinion" reflected on Twitter and other social media outlets. Half and half. Half what you might expect when someone dies at 43 leaving a wife and four children under 13. The other half as nasty as Breitbart himself was when Ted Kennedy passed away. What has become of us?
Breitbart was always pleasant to me. I would ask after his children, and he after mine. We agreed on nothing, but I didn't view him as my enemy, just as another American with whom I disagreed. That's democracy.
And yes, as someone who worked for Ted Kennedy and greatly respected his ability to move beyond his flaws and failings, beyond tragedy and disappointment, and keep fighting for what he believed in, I was thoroughly horrified and angry when Breitbart stooped to the gutter to denounce a man who had just left a grieving family.
So sure, having trashed Kennedy, liberals had every excuse in the book to trash Breitbart -- if two wrongs make a right. In my book, they don't.
When someone dies, you're no longer hurting that person. You're hurting those they left behind, those who will hold on to their memory, those who will cringe or cry, now or in the future, at the cruelty heaped on top of loss.
I got a note the other day from Cathy Seipp's daughter, Maia. Cathy was a conservative blogger here in Los Angeles who died in March 2007 at the age of 49. Cathy was a nonsmoker who died of lung cancer. I knew her from her blog. We used to correspond; we disagreed and debated. Civilly. When she died, I mourned her loss publicly. That's why Maia wrote to me. In the wake of Breitbart's death, remembering that there were hateful people five years ago as well (and with absolutely no Ted Kennedy-like excuse), she dug out my column.
At the time I wrote it, and now, I didn't think I was doing anything particularly noble. I believed what I wrote. And, truth be told, I wrote it for Maia.
When I grew up, politically speaking, we went out for drinks with our opponents after a day of political warfare. We were on opposite sides, but we weren't enemies. Winners got the trophy; losers sucked it up. Some of what I saw was wrong and unfair and below the belt. I hated it. There were days when I hated politics. But I fought against hating the people on the other side, because we were all in the same business -- the business of building our country's future.
I always tell my students: I don't care which side you're on. I respect you too much to try to persuade you in 120 minutes a week, much less lure you into pretending that you agree with me. All I want is for you to own this democracy, to see yours, to have a stake in it.
So this is for Andrew's kids. Your father had his flaws. In my mind, he made some rather big mistakes: his comments about Ted Kennedy, first and foremost. But he also was a man of courage and conviction, who was willing (and sometimes eager) to give voice to ideas he passionately believed in, however wrong his critics thought he was. He believed in vigorous debate, in First Amendment freedoms, in taking on Goliath. He loved his family and his country. May he rest in peace.