Many friends and colleagues asked today about my thoughts on the sudden and shocking death of conservative blogger and activist Andrew Breitbart. My reaction first amounted to surprise and condolence and has grown to include disappointment with the less-measured and indecorous reaction from some progressives.
While several on the left, including Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington, offered respectful condolences, others took to Twitter to celebrate the news. It's unfortunate, unproductive, and unnecessary.
To be clear, I can't think of any issue on which Breitbart and I shared common ground and I disagreed not only with his politics but his tactics. He certainly had an enviable sense of humor and his passion and commitment to his cause was admirable, but his incendiary rhetoric did little to brighten the tone of political discourse and encouraged others who have breathed a similar brand of contempt without possessing the same smarts.
However, I caution progressives who take any measure of joy or even relief in such sad and tragic news to call to their better natures. Celebrating the death of a political adversary is inappropriate, unkind, and small -- and we, all of us of any political persuasion, should strive to rise above such nonsense to more fully realize and exhibit our common humanity.
Breitbart (who incidentally was instrumental to the launch of this internet newspaper) was a young father of four, a husband, and a friend to many. Conservatives lost a fierce advocate and formidable pundit, but his family lost its hero. If we have any hope of restoring civility to political discourse we must respect that loss and let Andrew Breitbart rest in peace.
He and his family earned this right -- not as a spoil of any political battles, but by virtue of his humanity and the mortality he shares with all of us. Yes, he spouted coarse comments after Ted Kennedy's death. But rising above the incivility we claim to despise in others is not weakness but strength; and showing fundamental respect or common decency when remembering a man at his death doesn't equate to political acquiescence, impotence, or sheepishness.
We can and should debate polemically without tearing each other apart. We can forcefully fight for our convictions without compromising our purported values of compassion and dignity. And we certainly can disagree without being disagreeable.
I am a progressive because we support progress towards a better society -- a just cause best served when we also progress towards our better selves.