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March 01, 2012 4:13 PM Don’t Speak Ill Of The Recently Departed, Unless The Recently Departed Spoke Ill Of The Recently Departed

By Paul Glastris

I don’t agree with my friend Jack Shafer that it’s okay to speak ill of the recently departed. Even if the deceased was your bitterest enemy and richly deserves a trashing, common decency, especially toward the person’s loved ones, demands a cessation of hostilities, at least until the body is in the ground.

At the moment, news of the death of right-wing media provocateur Andrew Breitbart has many people offering ritual condolences or holding their tongues. Still, the announcement has been followed by a steady stream of “good riddance to bad rubbish” tweets from liberals like Matt Yglesias. This in turn has outraged Breitbart’s conservative fans.

But here’s the thing: Breitbart did not afford the customary courtesy due the dead when Sen. Ted Kennedy passed away:

Andrew Breitbart, a Washington Times columnist who oversees Breitbart.com and BigHollywood.com, tapped into the anti-Kennedy vein in the hours after the senator’s death was announced, posting a series of Twitter messages in which he called Kennedy a “villain,” a “duplicitous bastard” and a “prick.”

Moral rules cannot long hold if there are no consequences for transgressing them. So I think that in the interest of protecting the rule about not badmouthing the recently departed, there should be a proviso that those who willfully and publicly break the rule do not deserve the protection of it when they die. By this standard, Yglesias gets a pass. And Christopher Hitchens, who was notably uncharitable to Bob Hope and downright vicious to Jerry Falwell when those gentlemen died, would have had no right to cry foul at Katha Pollitt’s devastating sendoff of him—and indeed, I doubt he would have.

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. This article was supported by the American Independent Institute.

Comments

  • BillFromPA on March 01, 2012 4:17 PM:

    Twain, Darrow or other, it still bears saying, "I've never killed a man, but I've read many an obituary with a great deal of satisfaction.Ē

  • TCinLA on March 01, 2012 4:23 PM:

    Andrew Breitbart was a despicable piece of shit and I am glad he's dead. I wish his departure had been excruciatingly painful for all the pain he has inflicted. He's now a "good Republican" and good riddance. His kind won't be pushing up any daisies, only weeds. I hope his little bog-Irish doppelganger follows shortly.

  • punaise on March 01, 2012 4:29 PM:

    odious, amigo!

  • DJ on March 01, 2012 4:32 PM:

    It's difficult to afford Breitbart mercy. But you don't do it for him, you do it for yourself. You know, "blessed are the merciful," and all that...

  • kevo on March 01, 2012 4:33 PM:

    A##hole Breitbart deserves no favor in life or in his untimely death!

    In fact, I'd beat the natural causes that took this 43 year old can be directly tied to death by remorse-overload. His presence on this earth was one of continually insulting others he refused to speak with, baiting the less fortunate for his own folly, and purposely bearing false witness regarding his fellow humans he chose to despise!

    No, his body went into shock, and his earthly vessel collapsed, and he died! No one could possibly survive all the malfeasance he held in his heart for far too long, and he succumbed to his irrevocable, unhealthy temperment! -Kevo

  • ahoy polloi on March 01, 2012 4:34 PM:

    BillFromPA, I was about to say (or quote, as it were) the same thing.

    Although the Twain version I know goes "I have never wished a man dead..."

    Either way: very appropriate.

  • cwolf on March 01, 2012 4:45 PM:

    Breitbart is dead and wherever he is
    or wherever you think or believe he is,
    I OK with it.

  • Robert Waldmann on March 01, 2012 4:47 PM:

    I'm a huge fan of Matt Yglesias, but two wrongs don't make a right. The argument for not doing for others what they didn't do for a third party which might convince me ( and which you seem to be making) is that this serves as a deterent, but people considering following Breitbart's example will not be scared of by liberal snark. It just makes them angrier if that is possible.

    I think the key point is the earlier point that the courtesy can't help or hurt Breitbart and is for the people who cared for him. He is young enough that it is quite likely ( for all I know) that his parents are living. It would take a whole whole lot of deterence of nastiness to make up for adding anything to the suffering of a parent burrying a child.

  • ShadeTail on March 01, 2012 4:57 PM:

    Mr. Glastris, if you make that exception, then where does it stop? It can snowball pretty quickly. Unless you make another exception for people who speak ill of those who "earned" it?

    Let's just dispose of this complex attempt to relieve ourselves of responsibility for what we say, and just have one blanket rule: say whatever you want about whoever you want, and then accept the consequences of your words.

    I think Breitbart was a disgusting bit of human being, and while I don't ghoulishly celebrate death, I'm definitely not going to miss this guy.

  • beep52 on March 01, 2012 5:00 PM:

    Two reasons we don't speak ill of the dead: (1) their families are already suffering, and (2) we don't want anyone speaking ill of us when we're dead.

    The first reason is ALWAYS applicable.

    As for the second, if you were a son-of-a-bitch in life, you remain a son-of-a-bitch forever. Just because you're dead doesn't mean you get out of jail free.

    Breitbart was a poor excuse for a human being and should be remembered as such.

    My sympathies to his family.

  • beb on March 01, 2012 5:06 PM:

    breitbart was odious. He deliberated ruined people's lives. He deserves no mercy. I hope they pave the grave he's buried in because somany people will be dancing on it.

  • Ron Byers on March 01, 2012 5:07 PM:

    That the late Mr. Breitbart was an SOB when talking about the death of Senator Kennedy is irrelevant. There is no reason that we should follow his lead. Breitbart died. Sympathies to his family.

  • Raymond on March 01, 2012 5:16 PM:

    I would say that God made a choice and acted by cutting his life short. No amount of negative commenting can top the ultimate judgement call the great creator has made. Let God's judgement stand alone as any further condemnation falls way short.

  • T2 on March 01, 2012 5:18 PM:

    Thank you Raymond. God chose to take Mr. Breitbart for reasons known to him. God also provided hours of entertainment recently by asking Rick Perry to run for president. God is Good.

  • Daniel Kim on March 01, 2012 5:31 PM:

    I'd give Hitchens a pass at least for being vicious toward Falwell, if not Bob Hope. I'm pretty sure Falwell condemned plenty of disaster victims by saying they 'deserved' it for disobeying God in some way or another.

    in any case, the overall level of truth in the world was raised, so that's good.

  • noncarb on March 01, 2012 5:32 PM:

    My heart goes out to his family, particularly his children. It's difficult to lose a parent at any time of life, and they deserve our sympathy.

    That said, Breitbart's effect on the world of American politics can't be seen as anything but negative, and that world is a slightly saner and more civil place now that's no longer in it.

  • Giulio Murray-Smith on March 01, 2012 5:44 PM:

    While I do feel sorry for those family members left behind, there is that old saying - what goes around, comes around. Sometimes we live to see karma rule, other times it just never seems to come around, but it eventually does. Interestingly if one believes in the afterlife, then Andrew will certainly meet many of his allies, enemies, and most important of all, his maker. At that time, he can explain his life and the caustic, mean comments he spewed forth as well as perhaps be commended for the good he did. Hopefully for his soul the good outweighs the bad or he may meet that disgraced Lucifer who might well fit him with a shovel, pitchfork, or whatever you get when you head the other way.

  • martin on March 01, 2012 5:47 PM:

    We should treat him in death like he hated to be treated in life: Ignore him.

    Mr Captcha adds: lesspec universally

  • mudwall jackson on March 01, 2012 5:48 PM:

    so we stoop to his level ...

  • gus on March 01, 2012 5:49 PM:

    What gets me is that I see blogging which goes out the way to write good things about him now. Perhaps it is merited if the bloggers have some positive experiences with the man.

    But, from the standpoint of raising a glass or raising his stature as a significant figure...

    Bloggers, puh-lease! Get off your high horse and stop staring at your navels.
    I donít tend to read conservative blogs. Thereís a good chance good things are being written about the guy on those sites. But, in the case of a person who played politics and didnít seem to come close to being anything more about influence and money, I think we should not care so much about saying good things about him.

    It isnít like he nor his temporal legacy amounts to a hill of beans in the grand scheme of things. The same can be said for many of the bloggers exalting him. Eventually, sometimes quickly, we get replaced, each and every one of us.

    Now, letís get back to business because there are people like Breitbart who are still making waves, saying stupid things, pulling stunts and just playing crap politics in trying to win at the expense of others losing.

  • st john on March 01, 2012 5:53 PM:

    At the risk of upsetting readers of this comments section, I have a perspective that may rankle many or some: Presumably, Breitbart's friends and family knew of his activities and either condoned them or spoke to him about his opinions and their effect on the people he insulted, often for no valid reason. If you love someone, or care about them, and also care about others' feelings, you don't get a pass when they abuse people and institutions for personal or financial gain and you don't speak up. ACORN, though not perfect, served many people in a positive way. Shirley Sherrod's statement was taken out of context in order to harm her reputation. And, it worked. Andrew Breitbart and his minions took pleasure in hurting and insulting people and institutions and he did it by lying about them. Just because he was passionate about his work does not change its intent and effect. A blanket sympathetic treatment of his family and friends is not warranted. Some may be innocent, but let them mourn his passing quietly. The others may take this opportunity to heal the wounds he opened while he was alive.

  • gus on March 01, 2012 5:56 PM:

    Mudwall Jackson wrote:
    ďso we stoop to his level...Ē

    We donít need to. However, we also donít need to erect statues to every figure of minor significance just because they had influence in the media, politics, entertainment or whatever.

    Thereís no reason to go out the way in doing anything more than saying so and so passed. And yet, Wow, he was only 43? Thatís a shame. He was on the TV and probably got paid to speak and wow, whoís next?

    One day it is an old minor singing sensation and the next day a not-so old self-styled provacatuer? The horrors. The next day it some one else who no one knows anything about might die.
    Oh wait. That has probably happened since he passed times hundreds.

  • Texas Aggie on March 01, 2012 5:57 PM:

    One thing that he did accomplish in life is to add the verb, to breitbart, to the English lexicon. It means to distort the truth by clever editing of some recorded medium.

    And while it may be satisfying to call him bad names, and he certainly deserves everything that has been said about him, it is more effective to merely point out his "accomplishments" such as the ACORN tapes, the tape of the woman who worked for the USDA whose name I forget, and many others. You can talk about what he did in a nonaggressive manner and by doing so, heap mountains of glowing coals on his head.

    As for those who extend sympathies to his family, are you sure that they are upset? A person with Breitbart's behavior probably isn't someone that his associates really care much about, including his family.

  • James at home on March 01, 2012 6:09 PM:

    His children and wife are likely glad that he is dead. You see how he treated people that he didn't know at all. How do you think he treated people that he did know?

  • Joe on March 01, 2012 6:16 PM:

    I think it's weird that speaking ill of the dead is considered a "morals" issue. Isn't it really more of a "manners" issue?

  • sleepyirv on March 01, 2012 6:27 PM:

    I completely disagree with the reasoning of this post. If you think it's wrong to say nasty things about someone who recently died then it's wrong. There are reasons we think this is rude. If you ignore that rule, fine but don't pretend just because the guy was a jackass doesn't give you an excuse to be a jackass. The jackass biggest excuse is always, "He was rude first!"

  • Califlander on March 01, 2012 6:31 PM:

    Who?

  • Objective Dem on March 01, 2012 6:44 PM:

    I think there is a big difference between the average person and someone who is a public figure. If Joe Smith is an average Joe and a SOB, there is no reason to call him an SOB in his obituary or when discussing him with others after he passes away.

    But if Joe Smith is Joseph Smith and is a public figure who is working to shape history, his legacy needs to be evaluated in a fair honest manner. The obituary and articles will be used as historical reference items and therefore undue whitewashing is not appropriate.

    I don't think it is appropriate in this case to call Breitbart a bunch of names.

    I do think it is appropriate to document how he was a dishonest propagandist who destroyed lives and organizations for ideological purposes.

  • KazooGuy on March 01, 2012 6:47 PM:

    I'm not inclined to speak critically of the recently dead. I think a modest period of respect is called for - for death itself, if not for a particular life. However, I don't think that making statements of fact regarding a person violates this observance. There apparently are plenty of facts that can be presented to adequately represent the lack of affection for Mr. Breibart that many, including myself, hold. Often, these statements of fact can be more successful in establishing an accurate post-mortem picture of the recently dead than more personal attacks could ever be.

  • JEA on March 01, 2012 6:57 PM:

    The "but Johnny does it too" argument is refuted by the "two wrongs don't make a right" argument.

  • SqueakyRat on March 01, 2012 7:08 PM:

    He didn't stop being evil just because he died. Fuck him and his whole tribe.

  • rrk1 on March 01, 2012 7:08 PM:

    Breitbart is the personification of the vitriol, anger and hate that has become the trademark of the right wing in this country. There is no bottom to the vile discourse he and his ilk feel entirely comfortable using against their perceived foes - just about everyone who doesn't agree with them. His comments about Ted Kennedy after he died are just inexcusable on any level. Breitbart is really not entitled to the common decency we should accord to most everyone. My condolences to his family, but one has to wonder how he treated them.

    Forty-three-year-olds don't die of 'natural causes' all that often, and one wonders if he, like his soulmate, Lush Bimbo, isn't a drug user. So far we haven't heard anything more of the circumstances of his death. Regardless, the political world may mourn him publicly, but privately there are many of us who read his obituary with great pleasure. Usually it is the reasonable voices of the middle or left who for some reason die prematurely. This is an exception.

  • MsJoanne on March 01, 2012 7:18 PM:

    Michael Ian Black: "The best tribute we can pay to Andrew Breitbart is to continue screaming at each other over the internet."

    That sums up Andrew succinctly.

    My prayers to the family.

    I don't buy into the Don't Speak Ill of the Dead. First amendment and all. Brietbart was all about the 1st, right?

  • Rachel on March 01, 2012 7:35 PM:

    When I saw the headline that Andrew Brietbart I was glad such a contract to what I felt when I saw yesterday's headline that Davy Jones had died.

  • Bobsled on March 01, 2012 8:22 PM:

    Not glad He's dead, but sure as hell glad that he's quiet.

  • ShadeTail on March 01, 2012 8:32 PM:

    mudwall jackson: ["so we stoop to his level ... "]

    Slandering people with blatantly political lies? I haven't noticed any of us doing that. Could you point them out to me, please?

  • suitworld on March 01, 2012 8:52 PM:

    I could care less if people speak ill of me after I'm dead--that will help separate them from those who actually appreciated whatever I had to offer. This "no speaking ill of the dead" thing seems more rooted in some supernatural fear of the recently deceased--like ghosts. So his family learned that millions hated him? That should be kept from them? It's just a fact.

  • RonBreschini on March 01, 2012 9:27 PM:

    I have heard no comments, but why is a guy going for a walk after midnight, and why would neighbors be awake to see him collapse?

  • biggerbox on March 01, 2012 9:58 PM:

    I hope that those close to Mr. Breitbart are afforded all the sympathy and compassion that he is famous for showing others.

    Or, to borrow the words of Lyle Lovett:

    So who says he'll forgive you
    And says that he'll miss you
    And dream of your sweet memory
    God does
    But I don't
    God will
    But I won't
    And that's the difference
    Between God and me

  • mshare on March 01, 2012 10:54 PM:

    My condolences go to his family for their loss.

    But Brietbart was a cruel and hateful man who hurt many people and certainly wouldn't have hesitated denigrating anyone else who died who wasn't on his right side and for whatever headline grabbing reason he could think of. This man was a snake. Period.

    Hate kills. In this case, it killed the hater instead of the hated. Good.

  • PD on March 01, 2012 11:46 PM:

    When told she shouldn't speak ill of the dead, Bette Davis said: "Why? Have they changed?"

  • Jana on March 02, 2012 12:12 AM:

    From LA Times article on Breitbart's death: ‎"The last posts from his Twitter feed appear to have come just moments before midnight, with one calling a user a "putz" and another replying "Apologize for WHAT?" to another user."
    And then he died . . . juat as he lived - hating.

  • Felicia on March 02, 2012 12:56 AM:

    I'm not for badmouthing the dead, but we don't have to pretend he was a nice guy now that he's dead. I just about lost my lunch today watching Last Word w/Lawrence O'Donnell. Breitbart was a horrible human being in public, and I don't give a damn what he was like in private. If anything, it pisses me off if this persona of Breitbart was an act, as O'Donnell and Goldie Taylor seemed to imply. Breitbart destroyed Acorn. He destroyed Shirley Sherrod's career. And that was all an act?

  • gus on March 02, 2012 12:57 AM:

    Hereís the thing:

    The guy is one of the media. He made his living primarily because of the internet and parlayed success through the usual channels that talking heads go in the political industry.

    For a good number of bloggers and journalists, he was close enough to their age that it freaks them out. The way he died of natural causes, as is being reported, freaks people out. People who knew him, well or encountered him, are just freaked out. This is all normal, of course. But, the problem as I see it is doling out accolades in this post-mortum. Report it straight, like an obit.

    What if Lee Atwater had died during this omni-media 24 hr. news cycle? Heíd get the same type of treatment. His least benevolent moments, his actions against others in the political arena, would be dealt with kid gloves. That would rightly piss off people who know the end results of that crap.

    Same here. Thereís so many people who spew bile and who have loud megaphones that when you know they influenced others to follow their methods and who make governing more difficult by politicizing everything, it really is a dis-service to the ones they slimed to hold up candles for them.

    He has people who are close to him who will mourn his passing. Donít ask every one to do the same. The world isnít that small that we should all be expected to mourn all of the petty, political players who wrecked the scenery on a big stage.

  • Rational on March 02, 2012 4:55 AM:

    I certainly hope that Shirley Sherrod continues he lawsuit against his estate.

    If the evil he has done lives on there is no reason that his estate should not continue to have liability for that evil.

  • candideinnc on March 02, 2012 6:00 AM:

    One little editorial correction I would make to your story. Jerry Falwell was not a gentleman. I will refrain from saying what he was, since he is dead.

  • Raven on March 02, 2012 6:16 AM:

    I'm actually sorry he's dead. Shirley Sherrod has finally filed a lawsuit for that manipulated videotape, and I hope his death does not interfere with her collecting massive damages from his estate. Also, it would have been nice to see him tried on criminal (felony) charges, convicted, and sentenced to a long long term in prison.

    As to "speaking ill of him" -- another saying is "tell the truth and shame the devil."

    If people choose to do so decorously, in order "not to sink to Breitbart's level," well and good -- though that in itself says something about Breitbart!

    But Breitbart's supporters have no grounds to complain if he is spoken of, postmortem, in the same way he himself spoke of Ted Kennedy. Their complaint would require a double standard, and they would convict themselves of hypocrisy.

  • bob h on March 02, 2012 6:52 AM:

    Presumably it was the vexatious opposition of liberals that hastened his death.

  • Blue Girl on March 02, 2012 8:55 AM:

    A quintessentially Hobbesian life. Nasty, brutish...and short.

  • Trollop on March 02, 2012 9:58 AM:

    I couldn't have happened to a more deserving D-bag. Once a sick fuck, now a conservative hero.. Figures!

  • SadOldVet on March 02, 2012 10:01 AM:

    One should say only good things about the deceased!

    Andrew Breitbart is dead. Good!

  • stevio on March 02, 2012 10:21 AM:


    "The evil men do live after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. So be it with Breitbart"

    regrets to Shakespeare

  • fillphil on March 02, 2012 12:16 PM:

    Andrew was just another "Repub Mental Masturbator" who, whenever invited on public, spewed the Kool Aid with such intensity and volume that no one else could ever get a word in. It's the no. 1 tactic of his type and prevents any question of his "facts". It's also the SOP of Fox News and they all follow suit.

  • Old Uncle Dave on March 02, 2012 12:21 PM:

    Maybe I missed it, but where was all this tut-tutting about people who celebrated the deaths of Qadaffi, Saddam, or the poor sucker the gov't says was bin Laden?

  • Chopped Shoppe on March 02, 2012 1:43 PM:

    Andrew had a salient point about Teddy. FACT: Teddy killed Mary Jo and bought off her parents.

    Andrew didn't stand accused of manslaughter, public drunkenness, or holding orgies for his male relatives.

    But then Liberals think that is OK.