Monday, March 24, 2008


It would be more tolerable for the rest of us on the left, if playwright David Mamet had snarled like Christopher Hitchens, when the moment came to defect to the right wing. But we only feel a light breeze of urbanity and complacency. The high emotion of an apostate would still be jarring, but not as unsettling as this.

But Mamet reckons that the facts have changed--and he feels that he is one to change with the times--and what is untoward now is being a "brain-dead liberal". And no, he hasn't passed liberalism and gone further to the left, like Harold Pinter, one of his colleagues in the theatre.

For Mamet, the society we live in is just fine, on balance; and the liberal mind exaggerates the corruption prevalent in government, and the so-called evils the nation has committed, and the exploitative habits of business, which are blown out of proportion by a liberal's faith. He is comforted himself by the idea that the liberal nonsense about people being generally good at heart is well and truly nonsense.

Mamet has learned that it's good to be successful; and it's no skin off his nose that the haves are better off than the have-nots.

What is so disillusioning about the defection of this man who wrote Glengarry Glen Ross, is what my friend r'giap writes:
a living art is about remembering so deeply you cannot forget the present & understand all the implications of the future

so when a david mamet turns--he has only to turn his vest as the french would say. a real playwright worthy of that name--harold pinter, the scenarist, dennis potter & the writer john le carre & the great edward bond have moved so far to the left that they make me look like a liberal.
What so astonishes about Mamet's essay "Why I Am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal" is the lightness of the tone, the glibness in parts of it, with its aftertaste of complacency.

Here is the language the playwright uses to describe his epiphany:
These cherished [liberal] 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 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.


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 all 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 an election in Florida; Kennedy stole his in Chicago. Bush outed a CIA agent; Kennedy left hundreds of them to die 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.
I have to stop and take a breath here, at the place where Mamet so glibly makes an equivalence between JFK and George W. Bush. What first comes to mind is a famous line by the poet William Blake:
A fool sees not the same tree a wise man sees.
But in this case it is worse. The fool covers his eyes and cannot claim to see the tree at all.

I don't know if Sorenson wrote the damn book or not; but I do know that Mamet's comparison of Kennedy and Bush is trite, and obscene right down to the roots. Bush was strung out, while in the Air National Guard; it wasn't JFK who got so coked up that he couldn't pass his physical or perform his military duties. JFK had roughly a thousand days in office and sent a relatively small number of troops into Vietnam. George Bush has sent a huge force, 130,000+ into Iraq, completely destroying that country, and has thus far, killed about a million people. The phrase "Bush was in bed with the Saudis" functions as a figure of speech; and unfortunately Kennedy was literally in bed--not with the Mafia--but with women who were, in point of fact, in bed with Mafia dons. The Kennedys were the enemies of the Mafia. The big military escalation in Vietnam didn't come until after President Kennedy was assassinated. What have I left out? The ballot boxes Mayor Daley controlled in Chicago? A little amateurish compared to Jeb Bush's fix at the state level in Florida, and a conspiracy wired all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Mamet has rationalized the truth away; and the worst, most insidious falsification, is to equate the outing of CIA agent Plame to the Bay of Pigs. The outing of Valerie Plame--let us remember--functioned as a pre-meditated obstruction of justice; and its object was to derail any investigation of George W. Bush's major crime against peace, which,--until a greater horror comes along,--is America's biggest contribution to the Crimes of the Century. And insofar as the Bay of Pigs is concerned, history records that the CIA criminally misinformed the President about "the facts on the ground" in Cuba. And then, when things went wrong on the beaches,--something the Agency had discounted,--those Agency spooks tried to strongarm the President into making a commitment that amounted to a really dangerous and costly escalation of war. The CIA was acting like a rogue then, trying to finesse its own agenda over the better judgment of the President.

In a hostile world where the privileged class feels especially threatened, Mamet admires those marvelous young men and women who protect the privileged. Imagine yourself having a conversion experience like his, after which your hatred of corporations will turn into pure love.
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 I could not live.

"Aha" you will say, and you are right. 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 the idealistic vision I called liberalism.
And thus it was that Mamet saw God. And the man became as a prophet. And Mamet saw a Wheel away in the middle of the air. A Wheel within a Wheel. And the Little Wheel runs on faith. And the Big Wheel runs like the Chicago School of Economics.


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