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Ask Matt Labash: How to help Andrew Breitbart’s children, and stepping away from the Internet

Matt Labash Columnist
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Matt, how can we help Andrew Breitbart’s children? – Matt Labash, Owings, Md.

Thanks for the question, Matt. It’s like you’re reading my mail. Since our good pal Andrew Breitbart passed way too prematurely on March 1, at the age of 43, there’s been a lot of Breitbart legacy assessing by his friends and his enemies. Both sides have enjoyed robust turnout, since Breitbart cut a wide swath. You can all argue — if you’re so inclined — about what precisely he left us. But one thing he didn’t leave anyone, apparently, was without a strong opinion about him.

There’s no need to waste time rehashing what the corpse-kicking grave-dancers have said. They exhaust me with their smallness. Conversely, some of his friends/supporters seem to have taken the occasion of his unexpected demise to recast Andrew as a cross between Jesus Christ and Spartacus. Everyone’s entitled to their own memories. But that’s not how I remember him. I remember him as a magnetic, irrepressible goofball. As a friend of mine correctly noted upon his death, “He seemed like the John Belushi of your set.” Not unlike in the scene below, from when a group of us had dinner with former Weatherpeople Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn:

As it happened, Breitbart was on his best behavior. “I’m here to learn,” Andrew said facetiously. It was part of the pleasure of keeping company with him. He wasn’t just a friend, he was a co-conspirator. Once we arrived at the apartment, much to Andrew’s and Ayers’s chagrin, they got along famously. Just two guys having dinner, finding commonality, even if Andrew regarded it his hidebound duty to passive-aggressively heckle Ayers as he served us plates of hoisin ribs and farmhouse cheeses. (“This is the bomb, Bill,” Breitbart said to the former explosives-rigger.)

When Ayers asked me what I was reading right now, I told him “Moby Dick,” which actually lived up to its billing. Ayers agreed, though added, as any good academic would, “You’ve picked up the gay subtext?” Breitbart nearly choked on his tofu and quinoa. “You mean in Moby Dick?” Andrew asked. “Or at this dinner?”

As I freely told Andrew, I agreed with him plenty, except when I didn’t, which was frequently. But I felt nothing but affection for him. Anyone who knew him had no other option. You can read the rest of my tribute to him here. But unfortunately, the mortgage and college tuition can’t be paid for with flowery tributes from his friends. And Andrew left something else behind: his wife, Susie, and his four children, Samson (age 12), Mia (9), Charlie (7) and Will (5).

So you could honor Andrew’s memory by walking around with your “I Am Breitbart” t-shirt or lunchbox or beer-can koosie, or you can start Twitter fights with Media Matters, or you can rollerblade down to Occupy encampments if that’s what floats your boat. We each mourn in our own peculiar way. But chances are, you are not, in fact, Breitbart. He was hilarious and entertaining and lion-hearted and maddening. Something close to one of a kind. So why not just be yourself, and do something useful in that capacity. Help the people closest to Andrew who lost more than a political lightning rod or a performance artist or the leader of a movement. They lost a husband and a father. After all the affectionate eulogizing and hit-obituaries have been written, and attention inevitably subsides, those five people still have to get down to the hard business of living.

So if you liked Breitbart, you can honor him by helping out his family. Send donations to:

The Breitbart Children’s Trust
149 S. Barrington Avenue #735
Los Angeles, CA 90049

If you didn’t like Breitbart, odds are even that you thought you were better than he was. Maybe you were, maybe you weren’t. I’m betting against. Andrew, like most of us, had plenty of flaws. He was incapable of hiding them, in fact, and even freely discussed them, which was part of the charm. But he was a spirited, generous guy to both his friends and to complete strangers. Whether you agreed with him or didn’t, whether you knew him for two decades or two minutes, he was just as likely to sit down and give you his undivided attention, to buy you a drink, and to talk to you until you started eyeing the exits and/or you were bleeding from your ears.

But if you think you’re better than he is, why not try to prove it? Do something gracious and large-hearted and surprise yourself and your “enemy” — if you choose to see the half of the world that’s in disagreement with you that way. Help his kids out, since your war with him is over, his Spartacus Army notwithstanding. Far be it from me to stop you from continuing to nurse your hatred for Breitbart, if that’s what keeps you warm. But it’s unnecessary, and unhealthy. A lesson the Spartacus Army should internalize, as well. As Proverbs says: “He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy.” And as Christ Himself taught, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

While I’m in preaching mode, I have thundered many times in this space and others about the soul-rot of social media. And after clocking the online reactions to Breitbart’s death, I stand by previous assessments now more than ever. It ain’t just for fun, if it ever was — we are spending too many of our hours cannibalizing each other. That said, even hardcore skeptics like me admit it beats carrier pigeons for getting the word out. So feel free to tweet and Facebook-like (and whatever else it is you do in your filthy little online colonies) links to the above address for the Breitbart Children’s Trust.

Then do something even Breitbart’s concerned friends wish he would have done with much greater frequency. Something he himself admitted to me that he desperately needed to do for health reasons. Put the Internet down, and step away for a while. Leave the noise behind. It’ll be there, unfortunately, when you get back. Take a break from gnawing on skulls and picking your teeth with the splintered bones of your ideological foes. Get some perspective. Get some sun. Go outside, read a book, walk your dog, catch some fish, go for a rollerblade, even if you elect to do it Breitbart-style. It’s admirable and good to fight for a righteous cause. But too often we fight just for the sake of fighting. Because fights are easy and readily available, and they beat playing Angry Birds for entertainment.

Find more important things to do, and do them. Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things. (Paul’s words to the Philippians, not mine.) Enjoy your life, and bring your children along with you as you do. They won’t be young forever. Nor will you. And being young doesn’t guarantee you will forestall the inevitable, in any case. Whenever we die — and as the poet-mortician Thomas Lynch notes, if you check the actuarial tables, mortality rates always hover right at 100 percent — most of us will have regrets lists. Things we wished we’d done, that we hadn’t. Things we did do, that we wished we hadn’t. But it’s a safe bet to say that none of us will wish we’d spent more time barking at some nefarious pixels on our computer screens.

Matt Labash is a senior writer with the Weekly Standard magazine. His book, “Fly Fishing With Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys,” is now available in paperback from Simon and Schuster. Have a question for Matt Labash? Submit it here