Few people have more street cred with American liberals than Paul Krassner. He published the groundbreaking satirical magazine The Realist (1958–2001). People called him the father of the underground press. (He immediately demanded a paternity test.) He was a co-founder of the Youth International Party, or Yippies. He received the Feminist Party Media Workshop Award for journalism and the ACLU Uppie (Upton Sinclair) Award for freedom of speech. He was inducted into the Counterculture Hall of Fame at the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, and in December 2010 the writers organization PEN honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award. “I want to say how happy this award makes me,” he concluded his acceptance speech, “and the only thing that makes me happier is that it’s not posthumous.” At the age of 79 he runs PaulKrassner.com and is working on his first novel.
Andrew Breitbart is 42, and his goal is “to take down the institutional left,” a job he attacks with gusto and much success. He describes himself as a Reagan conservative with libertarian sympathies. He has written for The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times, was an editor of the Drudge Report and a researcher for Arianna Huffington and helped create the Huffington Post. He currently oversees a group of his own controversial online blog sites, Breitbart.tv, Breitbart .com, BigHollywood .Breitbart.com, Big Government.com, BigPeace .com and BigJournalism .com—“to hold the mainstream media’s feet to the fire”—and he plans to launch BigEducation.com, which will take on the academic establishment. He has been a commentator on Fox News and is the author of Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World! In February 2010 he was honored with the Reed Irvine Accuracy in Media Award at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.
Krassner thought it might be fun if he rang up his longtime cultural adversary and invited him to sit down and discuss their differences and similarities. Breitbart wanted to meet at Applebee’s, says Krassner, but the actual location remains a secret. The result, we think you’ll agree, is one hell of an interesting dialogue.
KRASSNER: I was surprised to learn you consider my work to be one of your inspirations. You also claim that the mainstream media had a double standard and didn’t criticize me the way they do you and the conservative movement that you represent. That’s not true, though. I’ve been excoriated in papers from the Los Angeles Times to the Chicago Tribune to The Washington Post. My favorite headline was give this man a saliva test. You’ve also praised Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies and Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters as heavy influences. Both those men were close friends of mine and remain my touchstones, and yet you’re at the other end of the social and political spectrum. What I want to know is, how do they fit into the context of your personal mission?
BREITBART: Well, at the time you were doing what you were doing, trailblazing and causing mischief and mirth and effecting the type of political and social change you were attempting, there’s no doubt you were being challenged by others. What I’m talking about is the current order of the media in the 21st century and how history now looks on the Merry Pranksters, Abbie Hoffman, Ken Kesey and Hunter Thompson with great reverence. It’s as if they’ve been given their own wing of the journalism school. I don’t want to simplify history. I understand that, at the time, you went through hell, and the same could be said of Matt Drudge. From 1995 until about 2002 the same forces were trying to claim that Matt Drudge had no right to be doing what he was doing, which everybody now accepts as commonplace and accepted practice—AOL just purchased the Huffington Post for $315 million for replicating, on a left-of-center bent, what Matt Drudge does. So the trailblazers, while they’re trailblazing, can have slings and arrows hurled at them, and I’m not trying to diminish the peril you went through. I’m stating that right now, when I’m reporting truths on Wednesday and causing mirth on Thursday, the press has a problem with that. I’m saying no, you’re not going to define me; I’m going to define what I do, and you’re going to have to deal with it. I gained my inspiration from the knowledge that you guys went through the same process, and I’m using you as models.
KRASSNER: In your book you write, “Man, how I long for the days of Sam Kinison, Richard Pryor, Abbie Hoffman, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, George Carlin and Lenny Bruce, and today the only people upholding their free-speech legacies are conservatives like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh.” At first I thought you must be kidding. What about Louis C.K., Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Lewis Black, Margaret Cho, Marc Maron, Rick Overton, Harry Shearer, Kathy Griffin, Wanda Sykes, Richard Lewis, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Larry David, Rachel Maddow, Paul Provenza? The place is overflowing with liberals upholding their free-speech legacies.
BREITBART: I would say that they exist within a protected class for the most part. As long as they adhere to liberal orthodoxy, they’re protected and can say anything against anyone at any time. It’s the conservatives who are challenged by the reigning order of political correctness. There’s nothing transformative or dangerous about a liberal in Hollywood or a Sarah Silverman or a Chris Rock being offensive, because they know they’re granted a “get out of jail free” card, whereas Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter exist outside that comfortable order. So I’m rooting for those people over the ones like Jon Stewart, who are in a protected class.
KRASSNER: By the way, I was once on a TV panel with Ann Coulter, and during a commercial break I suggested to her that the labels “conservative” and “liberal” had become obsolete. I asked her what she thought might be appropriate substitute labels. “Americans and cowards,” she said.
BREITBART: I love Ann Coulter to the core of my being. Nobody humors me more. If there’s anyone I want to have a dinner with and who can have me on the floor laughing—and her laugh is infectious, and to anybody who knows her, she is just a star. Anyone on the left who would spend five minutes with her would be laughing, and in puddles of their own urine laughing, even when she’s making fun of them. Leftists have an inability to have a sense of humor about their sanctimony.
KRASSNER: But humor is totally subjective. You’ve said that Bill Ayers probably wrote Barack Obama’s memoir Dreams From My Father, but to me that’s an obvious joke. Ayers has said, “I wrote that book, and if you could help me prove it, I’ll split the royalties with you.” On the other hand, those billionaire Koch brothers, the notorious oil merchants who oppose reducing air pollution, when they claimed that smog prevents skin cancer, I thought that was a joke. But they had actually hired a think tank that somehow managed to come up with that conclusion.
BREITBART: I believe Bill Ayers is a moral relativist, and I think he’s protecting his intense and long-standing relationship with Barack Obama. The history of Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn with the Obamas—they helped usher Barack Obama into his political origins, which started in their house, in essence. Of course the media are going to downplay his relationship with Ayers, an unrepentant radical domestic terrorist. Of course they’re going to protect Obama. They protected him from Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who was his spiritual mentor for 20 years, and from his relationship with Father Michael Pfleger. The most controversial thing they could glean from my book on the left was that I believe, based on his writing on Dreams From My Father, that Jack Cashill makes an incredibly compelling argument that Ayers performed the mundane task of ghostwriting a politician’s memoirs. It’s what everyone does. Every politician has a ghostwriter, and I believe to the core of my being that Ayers was the logical writer of Dreams From My Father. If you don’t think it’s compelling, then don’t think it. It’s just what I happen to think. I don’t think it’s even a controversial point. One is allowed to draw conclusions based on well-argued writing.
KRASSNER: In your capacity as Tea Party protector, you must be aware of the blatant disconnect between its plea for small government and its desire for social issues to be controlled by the government.
BREITBART: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
KRASSNER: I’ll give you a few examples related to my own experience. One would be abortion rights. During the 1960s, when abortion was still illegal, if a woman was a victim of botched back-alley surgery and went to a hospital, they were required to call the police, who would not allow a doctor to give her a painkiller before interrogating her. I ran a free underground abortion-referral service and was subpoenaed by district attorneys in two cities, but I refused to testify. Two, marijuana decriminalization. My position is that as long as any government can arbitrarily decide which drugs are legal and which are illegal, then anyone behind bars for a nonviolent drug offense is a political prisoner. I started smoking pot in 1965, and I still do, only now it’s medical. And three, gay rights, from “don’t ask, don’t tell” to same-sex marriage, which is not the slightest threat to heterosexual marriage. I mean, take Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, John Edwards, David Vitter—please! In 1979 I covered the trial of Dan White for The San Francisco Bay Guardian. He had killed progressive mayor George Moscone and openly gay supervisor Harvey Milk.
BREITBART: Dan White was a Democrat, and Harvey Milk was a libertarian.
KRASSNER: I’ll put those labels aside, though. When White was sentenced to only seven years for a double political assassination, I got caught in the middle of a postverdict riot at city hall. I was beaten by two cops shouting homophobic epithets—it made no difference to them that I was straight—and as a result I now have to walk with a cane. Anyway, how do you react to the conservative movement’s inconsistency about less government in their lives?
BREITBART: I don’t know what evidence you’re offering that the Tea Party is focusing on any of those issues. The Tea Party is a bizarre amalgam of independents, conservatives and libertarians who have surgically excised the social issues from the table, and the people in those crowds have diverse opinions on all the things you mentioned. I happen to be pro-marijuana, certainly marijuana decriminalization, but I’m not asserting myself and my social views in this current environment. If you can’t see and if the media don’t want to see that the Tea Party is about financial restraint and has nothing to do with social issues—nothing, nothing, nothing—to the consternation of the social conservatives. I’ve had rifts and schisms with social conservatives over my stances on these issues. They can call me a libertarian if they want. I don’t care what labels they call me. But the Tea Party is abused by the mainstream media, which misinform the public of what their rights are. Their rights are specific to the expansion of government and the inability to rein in budgets. And by spending money on things that don’t work, we’re putting our children in economic peril, period. It has nothing to do with marijuana, it has nothing to do with abortion, it has nothing to do with gay marriage. There are gay people in the Tea Party. There are people of all different social stripes within the Tea Party who have a singular focus on restraining government debt and applying constitutional principles.
KRASSNER: When Who’s Who in America invited me to fill out a form for inclusion in the book, where it asked for my political affiliation I wrote “Independent Dupe,” and that’s how it has me listed. It’s interesting to see how in America the free-enterprise system has become intertwined with democracy, and in the process socialism has become a dirty word.
BREITBART: It is a dirty word.
KRASSNER: It’s revealing that Norman Thomas ran for president six times as the Socialist Party candidate, and though he was defeated in each election, over the past several decades every one of his platform planks has been adopted by both Republican and Democratic administrations. The laws they passed just weren’t labeled socialist. Now, I have no economic ideology, but I realize there is something wrong with capitalism. I realized it as I read the business section all those years before the recession was officially declared. I noticed day after day these news items about hundreds of employees being let go by different corporations, and yet their shareholders were pleased because the value of their stocks went up. There’s something wrong with that. In the insurance industry especially, greed became a preexisting condition.
BREITBART: Well, I think I lean more toward being an independent conservative, in that I see problems with the Republican Party, with its lack of consistency in its point of view and its unwillingness to fight for conservative principles. I controversially support people like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Allen West and Rick Perry, people who are either sort of in the Tea Party sphere or in the more independent sphere of the conservative movement, who feel less represented by the Republican Party. I’ve come to appreciate the emancipation of that independence. If anybody came to me with a scandal that involved blatant wrongdoing by a Republican, I would be blissful to report it. But when the mainstream media are so naturally left of center, people can go to ABC, CBS and NBC with those types of stories and they will get maximum coverage. So people end up coming to me only when they have stories that perhaps hurt liberals or Democrats, because they know that if they go to ABC, CBS or NBC the door will be closed on them. I wouldn’t recommend that a person who knows of a scandal involving a Republican come to me, because they can simply go to The New York Times and it will be exposed. But somebody should test me, because I would be happy to report on corruption within the Republican Party. I would like to think that my team, the people I relate to ideologically, hold themselves to a higher standard.