Even as RightOnline bloggers headed to the bars and the blackjack tables, the words of pollster Scott Rasmussen at the conference’s final dinner echoed in our minds. On the one hand, he explained, the vast majority of Americans agree that free markets are better than government-managed economies, and that we want to live in the kind of society that limited government makes possible. On the other hand, Americans are fed up with both parties, and neither presidential candidate will emerge from this election with a mandate to pursue sweeping changes–even though drastic changes are needed.
The challenge for conservative new media, Rasmussen predicted, would be to shape messages that can reach the American people. Our society always leads its politicians towards change, he said, citing the example of the civil rights movement in the 1950s, and Americans are ready to reduce the size of government–but the hard work will be articulating that idea in terms to which people can relate. The political class will not give up its power easily–and so conservatives should reach beyond the political bubble.
Andrew Breitbart would have agreed. For Andrew, politics was shaped by media, and media was, in turn, shaped by culture. Political battles were important, but it was far more important to break down the walls that the mainstream media had build around political discourse. And in the long term, conservatives would have to confront a culture industry at odds with the values, aspirations, and everyday reality of its own consumers.
In the past few months, a theme has crept into tactical debates among conservatives, and conservative bloggers in particular: “What Would Breitbart Do?” Andrew was a man of such legendary courage that it is easy to forget that he was often quite flexible in his tactics, based on the circumstances of a particular story or political environment.
For example, Andrew never actually called for Democrat Anthony Weiner to resign from Congress, but he did call on Republican Spencer Bachus to leave Congress because of his involvement in–legal, but intolerable–insider trading. Andrew saw the mainstream media as the enemy–yet he often relied on a individual mainstream journalists to highlight stories that had begun (and might otherwise have stayed) in the blogosphere.
The one constant in Andrew’s tactics was that he was provocative. Andrew realized that it was necessary to create outrage–or ridicule–in order to burst through the mainstream media censorship. When he first encountered the Occupy movement, in October 2011, he spoofed it, wearing a faux Che-Guevara t-shirt to a protest in downtown Los Angeles and quizzing baffled demonstrators: “Capitalism: thumbs up or thumbs down?”
When Andrew met Occupy in February 2012, outside the hotel where the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was being held, the smile was gone. “Stop raping people!” he yelled at the crowd, evoking outrage from the left–and forcing the media to notice, finally, the vast number of sexual assaults that had occurred at Occupy camps.
Whatever tactics he chose, Andrew Breitbart’s strategic goal was always to reduce the power of the mainstream media to act as political gatekeepers for Washington, and as amplifiers for cultural Marxism in Hollywood. That struggle, Rasmussen told a sobered audience, would remain long after the ballots had been (re?)counted in November.