Playwright and Film Director: "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal'"

The name David Mamet may not be known to the majority of Americans. However, theater and movie works that he's been involved in over the past four decades certainly are, such as "The Postman Always Rings Twice," "The Verdict," "Glengarry Glen Ross," "Wag the Dog," and "The Untouchables."

A previously avowed liberal who even contributes to the Huffington Post, Mamet has recently had a change of heart concerning his political views which he marvelously shared with his fans at the Village Voice Thursday.

Readers are cautioned to fasten their seatbelts tightly before proceeding, for Mamet wrote inconvenient truths about liberalism one rarely sees from folks on that side of the aisle. What many will find truly intriguing, especially those that used to consider themselves to be liberals, is how much the calculus of his epiphany is similar to theirs (emphasis added throughout, infrequent vulgarity alert):

I took the liberal view for many decades, but I believe I have changed my mind.

As a child of the '60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.

These cherished precepts had, over the years, become ingrained as increasingly impracticable prejudices. Why do I say impracticable? Because although I still held these beliefs, I no longer applied them in my life. How do I know? My wife informed me. We were riding along and listening to NPR. I felt my facial muscles tightening, and the words beginning to form in my mind: Shut the fuck up. "?" she prompted. And her terse, elegant summation, as always, awakened me to a deeper truth: I had been listening to NPR and reading various organs of national opinion for years, wonder and rage contending for pride of place. Further: I found I had been—rather charmingly, I thought—referring to myself for years as "a brain-dead liberal," and to NPR as "National Palestinian Radio."

This is, to me, the synthesis of this worldview with which I now found myself disenchanted: that everything is always wrong.

But in my life, a brief review revealed, everything was not always wrong, and neither was nor is always wrong in the community in which I live, or in my country. Further, it was not always wrong in previous communities in which I lived, and among the various and mobile classes of which I was at various times a part.

Amazing. Makes one wonder how many former liberals have come to similar conclusions about the hypocrisy of their positions -- that their beliefs about life and society were totally diametric to their actual observations! -- and eventually altered their political views and affiliations.

Of course, on the flipside is how many respond to such an epiphany by digging themselves deeper into their dogma. How many liberals does each of us know that demonstrate moments of clarity during discussions either in person or at message boards, but will quickly dig trenches and install landmines around themselves to prevent a conversion from occurring?

Think about this as it pertains to the strong economy that we experienced since 2003 despite continued polls showing folks anxious about such matters. What was interesting about most of these surveys until quite recently is that people felt very optimistic and pleased with their own financial condition, but felt others weren't doing as well.

Isn't this quite akin to the hypocrisy Mamet recognized at his wife's encouragement while they were driving in their car listening to NPR? But there's more:

The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long.

Rather brilliant. For, in the abstract, we may envision an Olympian perfection of perfect beings in Washington doing the business of their employers, the people, but any of us who has ever been at a zoning meeting with our property at stake is aware of the urge to cut through all the pernicious bullshit and go straight to firearms.

Quite a revelation from a devout liberal, wouldn't you agree?

Yet, Mamet was just getting warmed up, because next he actually compared George W. Bush to John F. Kennedy, a transgression so serious that he might never be allowed into posh Manhattan penthouses again.

I found not only that I didn't trust the current government (that, to me, was no surprise), but that an impartial review revealed that the faults of this president—whom I, a good liberal, considered a monster—were little different from those of a president whom I revered.

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. Oh.

To be sure, his views about Bush are tainted by his liberalism. However, can you imagine what the good folks at the Huffington Post will think when they see their hero JFK compared to the president they believe responsible for all the problems in the world?

But Mamet had more inconvenient liberal hypocrisies to skewer:

And I began to question my hatred for "the Corporations"—the hatred of which, I found, was but the flip side of my hunger for those goods and services they provide and without which we could not live.

And I began to question my distrust of the "Bad, Bad Military" of my youth, which, I saw, was then and is now made up of those men and women who actually risk their lives to protect the rest of us from a very hostile world. Is the military always right? No. Neither is government, nor are the corporations—they are just different signposts for the particular amalgamation of our country into separate working groups, if you will. Are these groups infallible, free from the possibility of mismanagement, corruption, or crime? No, and neither are you or I. So, taking the tragic view, the question was not "Is everything perfect?" but "How could it be better, at what cost, and according to whose definition?" Put into which form, things appeared to me to be unfolding pretty well.

Things are unfolding pretty well? Have you ever heard a statement from a liberal so antithetic to liberalism? Isn't the core of the progressive movement the belief that things are NOT GOING WELL? Isn't that what Democrat presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama say on the stump every day?

And how about the current desire of Democrats to expand government? Well, Mamet clearly can no longer support that either:

What about the role of government? Well, in the abstract, coming from my time and background, I thought it was a rather good thing, but tallying up the ledger in those things which affect me and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow.

Yikes. That'll get Mamet thrown out of the Club. And, so will the following story about how some of his revelations actually came while he was in temple:

Prior to the midterm elections, my rabbi was taking a lot of flack. The congregation is exclusively liberal, he is a self-described independent (read "conservative"), and he was driving the flock wild. Why? Because a) he never discussed politics; and b) he taught that the quality of political discourse must be addressed first—that Jewish law teaches that it is incumbent upon each person to hear the other fellow out.

And so I, like many of the liberal congregation, began, teeth grinding, to attempt to do so. And in doing so, I recognized that I held those two views of America (politics, government, corporations, the military). One was of a state where everything was magically wrong and must be immediately corrected at any cost; and the other—the world in which I actually functioned day to day—was made up of people, most of whom were reasonably trying to maximize their comfort by getting along with each other (in the workplace, the marketplace, the jury room, on the freeway, even at the school-board meeting).

And I realized that the time had come for me to avow my participation in that America in which I chose to live, and that that country was not a schoolroom teaching values, but a marketplace.

Wow. You mean it takes a marketplace, NOT a village? This coming from a liberal?

Maybe more delicious is how like so many political converts, rather than digging those trenches and installing those landmines I referred to earlier in order to protect and preserve his dogma, Mamet took to the books to explore the veracity of his revelations:

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.

Amen, David. Bravo!

Exit question: how many conservatives came to their current political views in a similar fashion as Mamet, and how many more liberals would do the same if they allowed themselves to listen to that voice inside trying to expose the hypocrisies in their dogma rather than stridently fight to silence it? 

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.