Conservative firebrand Andrew Breitbart died unexpectedly in late February at the age of 43, leaving behind a wife, four children and a legacy of divisive, scurrilous and libelous attacks in the name of political power. Though I will not at all miss his vituperative, bombastic and wholly mendacious brand of media punditry, I do not celebrate his passing. I am in fact saddened for those who loved him and enjoyed his personal attention and sympathize with those who relied on his earnings for any part of their physical well-being. What is not lost on me as a Christian, however, is the potentially precariousness of his eternal life given the suddenness of his physical death. Though it may be irrelevant to Breitbart (I don't know what he believed), those in the conservative coalition who profess Christianity should be sending up prayers.
The last I remember of Andrew Breitbart is his offensive and wholly inappropriate interaction with Occupy protesters at the CPAC conference. He called them "filthy animals". Screamed at them "Stop raping people!" and "Stop murdering people.". The incident was just one more display of his willingness to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the American psyche and to bear false witness in the name of political power. His actions destroyed organizations established to provide housing and services to the poor. His slanders destroyed the career of a public servant who herself demonstrated Christian forgiveness and goodwill in putting aside racism to assist those not of her race in spite of the treatment she and her family received. To put it charitably, Andrew Breitbart was a sad piece of work whose body of work in this life will be celebrated only by those who hate. That said, we don't know if he prayed that day before he died. We don't know if he sought forgiveness at least from God if not from the people he injured. Most Christians don't practice Christianity because we are perfect. We practice Christianity because we recognize how terribly far we are from perfect. Though I've seen no evidence of it, Andrew Breitbart perhaps recognized it as well in his most private of private thoughts. For right-wing politicians and political operatives, this would not be without precedent.
The name George Wallace is synonymous with institutional racism and discrimination. After losing an election, Wallace declared, "I was out-niggered, and I will never be out-niggered again". As Governor of Alabama, he infamously blocked the door of Foster Auditorium to symbolically deter the integration of the University of Alabama. Toward the end of his life, however, he sought redemption according to sources like:
"one by one, he picks up the telephone and he begins calling his old enemies, the people who he had used as kind of punching bags in the 1960s and asked for their forgiveness," says Dan Carter. One of the people Wallace called was civil rights leader John Lewis, who had been beaten by state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965. "He literally poured out his soul and heart to me. It was almost a confession," says Lewis"
Harry Dent is the father of the Southern Strategy of appealing to the fears and prejudices of southern whites to help Richard Nixon win office in 1968. After a long and successful career in politics, he became a minister and himself sought forgiveness before he died according to sources like:
Dent ultimately wrote five books. In one, he claimed the Southern strategy was meant to fight bias against the South, but when he started his ministry he admitted that he helped exploit racism to benefit Nixon. "When I look back, my biggest regret now is anything that stood in the rights of black people," he said. "Or any people".
Though Harry Dent was the originator of the Southern Strategy, his acolyte Lee Atwater perfected it. It was Atwater who compelled Ronald Reagan to give his first speech after winning the republican nomination in the Mississippi county where civil rights workers Cheney, Goodman & Schwerner were murdered and buried in an earthen dam. It was Atwater who originated the "Welfare Queen". It was Atwater who created the "Willie Horton" ads. The race-baiting we continue to see this very day from Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum is straight out of the Atwater playbook. But as an inoperable brain tumor sapped away his life, Atwater sought redemption as well. Though not confirmed, some sources ( http://www.soul-patrol.com/funk/lee_at.htm ) assert that he - like Dent - actually apologized to black people.
On his deathbed he is said to have asked Black Americans for their forgiveness in using them as a "pawn" to attract white voters to the candidates that had hired him.
There is no doubt, however, that Atwater was in deep regret of his actions in the quest for political victory.
In 1988, fighting Dukakis, I said that I 'would strip the bark off the little bastard' and 'make Willie Horton his running mate.' I am sorry for both statements: the first for its naked cruelty, the second because it makes me sound racist, which I am not. Mostly I am sorry for the way I thought of other people. Like a good general, I had treated everyone who wasn't with me as against me."
I believe that Wallace, Dent and Atwater were blessed with the opportunity to at least recognize, confess to and ask forgiveness for their worldly sins and errors before they died. All three were blessed with the opportunity to get their houses in order. As we have no evidence of it, we can only pray that Breitbart did too.
Perhaps Mr. Rove should take note. Perhaps we all should.