David Mamet is a lauded film director, screenwriter, playwright and author. In March 2008 - before the presidential election, he wrote an essay for the Village Voice titled Why I Am No longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal' and in doing so, he gave an incredible expression of conservative thought. While this is not a new story, it is a great story.
I know little about David Mamet or his personal life, when he was a brain dead liberal, or now that he is more conservative, if he is. I know something about his literary and film endeavors. Tonight, his play Oleanna, first appearing in Chicago in 1992, debuts on Broadway. New York is atwitter - literally, not necessarily electronically. More about Oleanna to come.
Mamet is Jewish and he participates in his local synagogue. He received the Pulitzer Prize (*spit*) in 1984 for Glengarry Glen Ross. He wrote the screenplay for The Untouchables. He produced The Postman Always Rings Twice and was nominated for an Academy Award for the script of The Verdict. He is the author of The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred and the Jews. There's more I'm sure, but that should give you a good idea that he was, indeed, a brain dead liberal for most of his life.
Mamet says at the time he began thinking about conservatism, he was writing a play about politics. Here are portions from his Village Voice article:
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 f**k up. "?" she [his wife] 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."Toward the end of the essay, Mamet talks about author William Allen White and the book he wrote, Masks in a Pageant, which Mamet recommends and says it "profiles presidents from McKinley to Wilson." He says this about White:
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....
...and that we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances—that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it.
...and that we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances—that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it....
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 [GW Bush]—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.
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....
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.
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.
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.
White knew that people need both to get ahead and to get along, and that they're always working at one or the other, and that government should most probably stay out of the way and let them get on with it. But, he added, there is such a thing as liberalism, and it may be reduced to these saddest of words: " . . . and yet . . . "He ends the essay, with "Happy election season."
One of Mamet's most controversial works is Oleanna. It debuted in 1992 and is believed to be a veiled statement about Clarence Thomas (now a U.S. Supreme Court Justice) and his real life accuser, Anita Hill [an employee of Thomas at the time] - and centers around sexual harrassment. Mamet's Oleanna is portrayed as showing both sides of the issue.
Oleanna premiers tonight on Broadway with Julia Stiles and Bill Pullman starring. The buzz is heating up and New York can't wait to see how sexual harrassment is presented now that Mamet is no longer a brain dead liberal. The conundrum? take a side...if you can.
I'm hoping the Village Voice and Mr. Mamet will not be displeased that I "borrowed" - really, only a small portion of an essay that I hope you will read in its entirety. By the way, one of my sources for this story came from Big Hollywood, and that page is now loading with a 404 Error, but is till listed in a google search dated "October 9, 2009" - "1 hour ago"
I've searched for searing commentary against David Mamet. Can't find much, at least not much by any name you recognize. In fact, when you read "about" David Mamet, his essay is seldom mentioned. I have wonder, if he still has friends in Hollywood and New York, and either way, is he seen as a "conservative" or a "neocon."
I have a beloved connection to Hollywood. David Mamet's conservative thought is encouraging.