Thursday, March 20, 2008

If a liberal falls in the liberal forest . . .


David Mamet's Revision
March 20, 2008; Page A18

The American playwright David Mamet wrote a piece for the Village Voice last week titled, "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal.'1" Mr. Mamet, whose characters famously use the f-word as a rhythmic device (I think of it now as the "Mamet-word"), didn't himself mince words on his transition. He was riding with his wife one day, listening to National Public Radio: "I felt my facial muscles tightening, and the words beginning to form in my mind: 'Shut the [Mamet-word] up.'" Been known to happen.

Toward the end of the essay, he names names: "I began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, and Shelby Steele, and a host of conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism."
[David Mamet]

This of course is an outrage against polite American wisdom. Isn't Paul Krugman supposed to be our greatest living philosopher? One would have thought that David Mamet saying bye-bye to liberalism would have launched sputterings everywhere. But not a word.

As I think Groucho Marx once said, either no one reads the Village Voice anymore or my watch has stopped.

That one of the language's greatest living playwrights would say this in our hyperventilated political times was news worth noting in most of the English-speaking world. Commentaries appeared the past week in England, Canada and Australia. But there's been nary a peep about Mr. Mamet going over the wall in what some call the Mainstream Media.

Matt Drudge put news of the Mamet essay at the top of his Web site the day it appeared, so it was hard not to notice. Yesterday the Los Angeles Times printed an op-ed piece on it by the crime novelist Andrew Klavan, welcoming Mr. Mamet. For the most part, though, this is being treated in liberal drawing rooms like a favorite uncle gone suddenly dotty. A reporter for the Times of London put the apostasy to actor Kevin Spacey, now appearing there in Mr. Mamet's "Speed the Plough." "I didn't pay it much attention," said Mr. Spacey.

Which raises the question: If a liberal falls in the liberal forest and no one says they heard it, can you say it didn't happen? Mr. Mamet must feel like the guy in a mob movie who knows the hit is coming but has to sweat through to the bullet.

There is a more benign explanation for the silence of American punditry's liberal lambs. They have their hands full with Barack and Hillary. No playwright since blood-soaked Greece would have tried to script the furies let loose by the struggle between these two senators.

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose mad lines no one would think to write -- "God damn America!" -- has returned to haunt the holy candidacy of Barack Obama. In turn, Sen. Obama has been forced to give a speech reanimating racial ghosts back to the nation's founding -- a Constitution "stained by this nation's original sin of slavery." This is primal stuff. Meanwhile the Democratic elders, in their role as Super Delegates, must wrestle with knowing that this foul poison was set by factions loyal to Hillary Clinton, whose own personal loyalties are . . . well, you don't need me to get into all that.

With blood on the party's temple floor, who has time to give a flying [Mamet-word] about what this guy thinks? (Also, his essay appeared the day after the Spitzer melodrama began its short, but unforgettable, New York run.)

Still a thought: If David Mamet says he can't take it anymore, can others be far behind? Were I a Democratic Party strategist, out on the frontier of voter sentiment, my thought would be: This is not good for Democrats. David Mamet's mind is a tuning fork of regular-guy sentiment. He's the one who wrote "Glengarry Glen Ross." He says he's been a reliable liberal all his life. All of a sudden, the party sounds off-key. What if other guys are starting to think this? What if, after Barack's charisma gets stripped away, all you're left with is "universal health care" and Hillary's blind ambition? Come November, you could be [Mamet-worded].

Hollywood does a good job of policing the public political activities and statements of its workforce. Step out of its left line, the man comes and take you away. It helps the policers that Hollywood's writers have little script autonomy. They do as told and get used to it. Playwrights, by contrast, have total control over what their scripts say. This, one suspects, affects the two trades' habits of thinking.

In a remarkable coincidence with the Mamet essay, the playwright Tom Stoppard just published a piece in the Sunday Times of London2 ripping the 1968 student demonstrations there, in Paris, and elsewhere. Admitting he was thought by the left even then to be "politically dubious," Mr. Stoppard says he "was embarrassed by the slogans and postures of rebellion in a society which, in London as in Paris . . . seemed to me to be the least worst system into which one might have been born -- the open liberal democracy whose very essence was the toleration of dissent."

Mr. Mamet in his (often hilarious) goodbye-to-liberalism essay credits the famed American newspaper editor William Allen White with the idea that government should basically stay out of the way of people trying to work out ways to get along and get ahead. Tom Stoppard ends with the same, central point: "The idea of the autonomy of the individual is echoed, I realize, all over the place in my writing."

Many Democrats know that individual autonomy is the moving spirit of our times. The Web is its relentless, daily metaphor. This notion is embedded in the thought of the writers David Mamet has been reading of late. Left-liberalism breeds many autonomous spirits -- but only in their private lives. The party's ethos is as it was in 1930 -- dark forces arrayed to thwart the delivery of benevolence to fragile masses. For the latest standard version, see the end of Mr. Obama's Tuesday speech on "the real culprits of the middle-class squeeze."

Unless the Democrats figure out a way to back down big brother, the years ahead likely will bring more Mamet drop-outs. Belief in autonomy may even reach Hollywood.


Jim said...

David Mamet makes some excellent points. I took the time to go over to the Village Voice and actually read the article and I watched a recent interview on Charlie Rose where he discussed some of the same issues. I couldn’t agree more with his premise that at the end of the day we shouldn’t be brain dead liberals or brain dead conservatives because we are all more the same than different and when we meet at the water fountain we should be willing to consider the other person’s point of view. He points out the fact that when he stepped away from his extreme viewpoints he could see that presidents of both parties are painted by the extremists as monsters, yet their beliefs and politics are often very similar. He gave example of this by saying, “Bush got us into Iraq, JFK into Vietnam. Bush stole the election in Florida; Kennedy stole his in Chicago. Bush outed a CIA agent; Kennedy left hundreds of them to die in the surf at the Bay of Pigs. Bush lied about his military service; Kennedy accepted a Pulitzer Prize for a book written by Ted Sorenson. Bush was in bed with the Saudis, Kennedy with the Mafia.” I liked the conclusion of the article. He says, “The right is mooing about faith, the left is mooing about change, and many are incensed about the fools on the other side—but, at the end of the day, they are the same folks we meet at the water cooler.” In the interview on Charlie Rose a few weeks back he expanded upon it a bit in describing his discussion with his Jewish Rabi. He says, “It’s easy to say the other people are swine. They’re running this country and should be taken out. When people meet at the water fountain, they probably don’t talk politics but if they do, they would probably say well I don’t know what Charlie’s politics are but they’re probably different from mine. And, I’d like to hear his point of view, right? That’s what makes a democracy work, that’s what makes a business work.” So, David Mamet is exactly right that we should all strive to understand the positions of the opposite party and try to reach common ground and consensus. We’ll never come together “at the water fountain” if we can’t reach out to one another, try to understand one another and get past the brain dead extremists of the far left and far right of each political party.

VoteNovember2008 said...

Thanks for stopping by Jim.