The untimely death of my friend Andrew Breitbart last week got me thinking about what an extraordinary contribution he had made to our country and to the cause of freedom in his forty-three years.
Reflecting on Andrew’s visionary, colorful and usually combative leadership conjured up a favorable comparison to another patriot from an no-less-critical time in our nation’s history: Samuel Adams.
I sought the counsel of J. Michael Waller, a scholar and professor on the art of political influence who prominently features Sam Adams in his courses at the Institute of World Politics as one of the earliest and most effective of American practitioners of that art.
Dr. Waller confirmed my sense that there were extraordinary similarities between these two towering figures.
For one thing, neither the original Samuel Adams nor our time’s version were troubled by the prospect that their stances were seen as extreme by some. What mattered to both Adams and Breitbart was being right, particularly if it entailed challenging those in government who abused their power and standing up for the common man.
Both men relished a good fight. Samuel Adams and Andrew Breitbart were instigators who could appeal to and mobilize the masses with effective and often-pathbreaking use of the communications instruments of the day.
Interestingly, as Dr. Waller observes, “It was Samuel Adams who organized the Sons of Liberty and the rough men of the waterfront to dump the tea into Boston harbor that night in December 1773, fueling a tea party movement across the colonies, as far south as Charleston, South Carolina.”
Andrew Breitbart played a similarly catalytic role in encouraging and amplifying that movement’s counterpart in our era.
Michael Waller admiringly makes another parallel between these two, larger-than-life figures. Like Samuel Adams, Andrew Breitbart used his role as a purveyor of information — initially as an editor for the Drudge Report and later as the driving force behind his own online media empire — to infuriate his audience and move them to action.
Like Adams, too, Andrew would seek to goad his adversaries to act, or overreact, creating new opportunities to defeat them.
For example, in 1770, Sam Adams was the first to publish the story of an incident he arguably encouraged when a Massachusetts crowd taunted British Redcoats into firing the shots he portrayed as the Boston Massacre.
Andrew Brietbart similarly inspired or stage-managed exposés of outrageous misconduct by President Obama’s favorite community organizers at ACORN, the Agriculture Department’s Pigford scandal, NPR’s willingness to take money from the Muslim Brotherhood and Anthony Weiner’s moral turpitude. All were designed to put a withering spotlight on and upend the established order – and compel action to correct its corruption and venality.
Andrew's network of websites — Big Hollywood, Big Government, Big Journalism and Big Peace — served as a latter day, electronic equivalent to Samuel Adams' famous Committees of Correspondence.
As Dr. Waller put it, “Those were local groups of patriots who networked among themselves across Massachusetts and most of the rest of the colonies to spread news, discuss issues, plan action, coordinate their political action, and serve as an underground information dissemination network to circumvent the establishment.”
I was privileged to work with Andrew in launching his most recent “Big,” Big Peace.com. It rapidly became a vehicle for just such collaborations by those committed to a strong America and appalled by policies espoused by Barack Obama – and, regrettably, to varying degrees, by some Republicans – that are having the effect of devastating our country’s ability to project power and deter aggression.
Sadly, unlike Sam Adams who lived to see the fruits of his efforts give birth to a new nation, Andrew Brietbart has passed on while there is still much work to be done.
While he has left behind a terrible void at a moment when a skilled, brilliant and effective political warrior is more needed than ever, Andrew’s abiding legacy will be that he helped create movements and networks that are sure to shape our future.
It falls to us to realize his vision of an America rooted in freedom, limited government and patriotic common sense — a vision he certainly shared with Samuel Adams.