Populism is supposed to be popular, right?
Andrew Breitbart passed away yesterday for apparent unknown health reasons. Most people know Andrew simply as “the asshole that got Shirley Sherrod fired” and make no mistake, Andrew Breitbart was in fact that asshole. I’m fairly certain he would be proud of such a description.
Now to be clear, I have no stake in defending this man’s political positions and I’m not going to, but I couldn’t help but notice that a great deal of the eulogizing about him has been, in large a sense, true.
“He was a happy warrior”
“[He was] funny and enjoyed life”, “a new type of conservative”
“He made conservatism cool with young people”
In my ongoing converge of what I suppose has inadvertently become my “beat” looking at the death of the organized and relevant Left, I would be derelict in my duties if I didn’t point out that being “happy” and “funny” and “enjoying life” is more than can be said for our activists. Something that gives me no pleasure to point out.
I think Andrew Breitbart’s most effective speech was at CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Committee) in 2010, when he talked about the evolution of his personal politics. Essentially, he described himself in college as a leftist-loser-alcoholic who was far too personally invested in the counter culture hero of the time, Kurt Cobain. A description that will certainly hit a tad too close to home for a great many people
Andrew commented about his “readiness and willingness to fight, to answer the call of duty” and how he was “waiting for marching orders from his hero”.
Then Kurt killed himself.
Andrew’s speech was cheerful and patriotic and contained within it a great deal of camaraderie for his fellow conservative activists. Although, I doubt they would refer to it that way. At the end everyone cheered and felt great and happy and wonderful. In my opinion, this was not necessarily a bad thing. They were happy they came to hear him speak, happy to be an activist, happy to donate money to the cause or knock on doors for one of “their” candidates. They were everything we in the left aren’t; organized, militant, energized, ready and spoiling for a fight.
In contrast, my central memories of the Occupy movement were of infighting and disagreement juxtaposed against the overwhelming desire of some members to project a “holier than thou” mentality and make sure everyone else felt badly.
I suppose a large amount of this is simply the inevitable by-product of a quasi-factual analysis bleeding into the emotional realm. Those of us at Occupy who were Rich and Empowered (80-85% of the movement – working poor don’t have the luxury of camping adventures in the park) have a great deal to feel bad or guilty about, even more to apologize for. Although, in my opinion contrition has the opposite effect – it causes inaction.
It is worth noting while the “other side” is giving each other pep talks, Occupiers were castigating their fellow comrades for using words like “he” and “she”, because such language is oppressive. So, let me get this straight: 4 out of every 10 Transsexuals is discriminated against when applying for jobs and 6 out of 10 will at some point in their lives be the victim of sexual violence and the people who CLAIM to represent them are sitting in a park worried about fucking pronouns ? Why are they not combing through law libraries are doing volunteer work for civil rights attorneys? Huh? Oh right, because that would require work.
The solidarity marches on the weekends had a different tone that was largely absent from the general assemblies. The mood was strikingly different. Gone was the fleeting triumphalism of expressing strength in numbers and in its place was a depressing pessimism. The notion that WE had fucked up all of society; it was all our fault. There was nearly no hope (outside of delusions) and the only “human” thing left to do was sit in the park in the rain, eating vegan cuisine and ruminating on how evil most people are while simultaneously wondering why we can’t convert more of them to our “cause”.
Perhaps I didn’t make this clear, so allow me to reiterate what I have been saying in almost every single one of my articles; I want to win. Not through coercion or force or manipulation but in the only free market I approve of – the one of ideas.
- If you think human beings have inherent value beyond what they are capable of earning in the marketplace – I will work with you.
- If you think the entire structure of decision making in society shouldn’t be consolidated in the hands of men – I will work with you.
- If you think that America doesn’t have the right to police the world – I will work with you.
- If you think perhaps, it is worth considering that we not destroy the very planet which sustains us – I will work with you.
Hey lefties! The question remains “Will you work with me?”
I am happy and funny and well-read and optimistic and enjoy life and don’t hate 99% of all people who breathe oxygen (not even tea-partiers). I use pronouns and eat BBQ.
Michael Albert, creator of participatory economics and former SDS leader and activist in the 60s was addressing an audience who came to hear him discuss his latest book Remembering Tomorrow: From SDS to Life After Capitalism. He said that the no one wants to join the left for the following two reasons: Firstly, they don’t want to hear what we have to say and secondly, we have very few solutions. He then made an analogy about going to a Doctor…
“Hey Doc, what’s wrong with me?”
The Doctor then talks for the next hour in methodical detail about the various ways in which you are completely and totally fucked. So you ask…
“What can I do about it?”
The Doctor then talks for the next hour in methodical detail about the various ways in which you are still completely and totally fucked.
Of course it is easier for the rich and powerful to be happy and organized, for reasons that are so obvious it would seem insulting to even to mention them. But it precisely because the people we claim to represent have a lower standard of living that our movement needs to be able to offer something beneficial to their lives. For all the faults I find with organized religion, this is something they do very well. They offer solidarity, hope, friendship, council, laughter, music, etc. In my humble opinion, such qualities far supersede the value of pessimism and impotent rage at the ‘system’.
Boycotts are tactics. Marching in the street is a tactic. Organizing a political campaign is a tactic. So is being nice to people, talking to people, listening to people, including people, having fun with people, and so on.
Kurt Vonnegut once wrote “Live by the harmless untruths that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy”
My only real critique of Andrew Breitbart is that the ‘harmless untruths’ which define the conservative platform are not so ‘harmless’ after all. That being said, the Left could learn a lot from Andrew and I for one would like to express my condolences to a fellow traveler; us happy warriors, spoiling for a fight.
“I love my job. I love fighting for what I believe in. I love having fun while doing it. I love reporting stories that the Complex refuses to report. I love fighting back, I love finding allies, and—famously—I enjoy making enemies”
– Andrew Breitbart, RIP.
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Michael Albert Speech about the Left
Alexander Cockburn’s Speech to Libertarians about an Left/Right coalition
Andrew’s CPAC 2010 speech