Andrew Breitbart, the 43-year-old conservative media entrepreneur who was laid to rest this week after experiencing a sudden heart attack, rose from an unknown to one of the leaders of the conservative movement in just a few short years. I am proud to have called him a friend.
The swiftness of his rise and his popularity among conservatives, provide a lesson for anyone wishing to understand how to win in the game of politics and media in the 21st Century.
While Andrew was one of the Right's most innovative media entrepreneurs and personalities, creating a slew of highly read websites and helping build a modern, social-media-savvy journalism infrastructure for the Right, the secret to his rise had as much to do with something very offline and analog.
One of Andrew's last public appearances before a large crowd was just a few weeks ago at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which annually attracts thousands of conservative activists to Washington for three days of speeches featuring a slew of A-list conservatives in politics and the media. At this year's conference, in early February, his 20-minute speech was one of the most well-received, generating some of the largest and loudest cheers and applause.
While no one was running decibel meters, few speeches received as much loud applause and cheers, and more than a few people attending the conference listed Breitbart's speech right up there with Sarah Palin's roof-raising keynote as being among their favorites.
Andrew was a success because, as his long-time friend and business partner Larry Solov put it, he was a happy warrior.
Like Ronald Reagan, Andrew knew how to use the media of his day to wage ideological war against the Left, but also knew how to do it with humor and grace. In the current era, there are many conservative politicians and media personalities who know how to marshal the facts and make cogent arguments, but Reagan and Andrew had the more rare talent -- the ability to attack and parry with grace and humor, and to attract and inspire people, even if they didn't agree with everything being said.
Andrew was a warrior for the conservative cause -- and a great communicator. That big response he got when he spoke to conservatives at CPAC and other events was because conservatives are hungry for leaders who have the courage to fight the Left -- and the ability to do it with a genuine smile on their faces.
Doing that is an art, not a science and one which demands the use of the full array of artistic implements available. In his day, Ronald Reagan and his skilled team of assistants pioneered new ideas in event management, local media outreach, and direct mail which have since become universally implemented.
Since that time, however, there has been an unfortunate ossifying among many center-right leaders who continue to mistakenly cling to outdated perceptions of media which have led to the much more nimble liberals running circles around them. The McCain campaign's monumentally stupid decision to unveil newly selected vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Katie Couric's television show is but one example of this, the Bush-Rove decision to simply ignore the liberal media's constant hate campaign against them is another.
This was a particularly sore point for Andrew Breitbart in my conversations with him. As he saw it, too many conservatives and libertarians were content to continue doing the same old thing, never bothering to realize that we live in an age where not only can you fight and defeat someone who buys ink by the barrel, you can also beat city hall and even the president.
Andrew understood this point and he lived his life trying to not only persuade fellow conservatives to get with the new media program, he also put his money where his mouth was.
His untimely death is a great loss but thanks to the wonderful team of tireless workers he put in place before his passing, I don't think we've even begun to see the scope of the legacy that Andrew has left us. He will be missed but not forgotten.