American ideological journalism — if that’s what it is — has a long tradition of savaging warm corpses. I hope no one shocked at tasteless tweets about Andrew Breitbart’s death at 43 is forgetting that left and right both have their specialists in denigrating the dead. Breitbart himself was an amateur, taking easy shots at Ted Kennedy. Christopher Hitchens put a little more effort into his hatchet-wielding, though it hardly takes courage or wit to lambaste Jerry Falwell, living or dead. William F. Buckley and National Review made a habit of vituperative obituaries: nearly 20 years have passed, and Buckley himself is gone, yet friends of the late Murray Rothbard have not forgiven WFB for comparing the much-loved libertarian to David Koresh.
The chief reason not to speak ill of the dead is to spare the feelings of the living. Beyond that, outraging postmortem piety is cheap provocation, attention-whoring of the most puerile kind. But a public figure remains a public figure in death, and a critical examination of his legacy — if not a mean-spirited one — is never needed more than in the midst of ideologically prettifying encomia. I can’t say much about Breitbart myself, since I know him mostly as someone who was famous for being famous. He seemed a lot like Glenn Beck without the television or radio show, a “brand” for projects that have helped to lobotomize the right. It’s a shame that he’s dead, especially at such a young age, but I wish he’d done something else with his life.