Rightwing Film Geek

I cannot feign surprise

Last week, David Mamet wrote a piece in the Village Voice called “Why I Am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal” (really … THAT headline got into the Village Voice). It’s lengthy, but well thought-through … RTWT. But here it is distilled in its essence:

mamet.jpgBut my play, it turned out, was actually about politics, which is to say, about the polemic between persons of two opposing views. The argument in my play is between a president who is self-interested, corrupt, suborned, and realistic, and his leftish, lesbian, utopian-socialist speechwriter.
The play, while being a laugh a minute, is, when it’s at home, a disputation between reason and faith, or perhaps between the conservative (or tragic) view and the liberal (or perfectionist) view. The conservative president in the piece holds that people are each out to make a living, and the best way for government to facilitate that is to stay out of the way, as the inevitable abuses and failures of this system (free-market economics) are less than those of government intervention.
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.

And, I wondered, how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong at the same time that I thought I thought that people were basically good at heart? Which was it? I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart; indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama.

The best part here is his setting up the ideological conflict as one of the worldviews — the tragic and the perfectionist. I’ve always thought that a taste for Greek tragedy (and distaste for the secularized Christianity that is much of the contemporary liberal implicit worldview) contributed to my conservatism by immunizing me from the four-letter f-word liberals like to toss around: “fair.”

I’ve noted Mamet’s politics once here before, and the crack about “National Palestinian Radio” makes it clear that the left’s increasing anti-Semitism (masquerading as anti-Zionism or opposition to this or that Israeli ius in bello violation) is a prime motivator. I also think his work has made it reasonably clear for some time that he was no exponent of pc-orthodoxy — e.g., OLEANNA could only have been written by a man who thinks feminism turns women into grievance-mongering robots, and GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS could not have been written by a man who believes man is perfectable (to call the play/film anti-capitalist simpliciter is reductive and flattening).

But anyway … welcome aboard, David. To the actual home of free thought, without smelly orthodoxies.

March 20, 2008 - Posted by | David Mamet


  1. Dammit! Morton figured us out! Deep down it’s all about how much we hate the Jews! And here we thought we were getting away with it. I can’t believe Limbaugh, Coulter, et al. haven’t caught on yet. But now I guess it’s only a matter of time.

    Well played, friend.

    Comment by sleeper | March 21, 2008 | Reply

  2. I write:
    the left’s increasing anti-Semitism (masquerading as anti-Zionism or opposition to this or that Israeli ius in bello violation) is a prime motivator [for Mamet’s change of heart]

    And this becomes:
    Deep down it’s all about how much we hate the Jews!

    Try again. With actual reading comprehension.

    Comment by vjmorton | March 21, 2008 | Reply

  3. Come now, do you really expect someone as deluded as a liberal to comprehend logic of any kind? Obviously I’m running on 100% pure whatever-you-say-Michael-Moore dogma here. I can’t help but be reduced to frothing incoherence by your sheer unclouded (but humble) enlightenment. But you already knew that.

    My intellectual bankruptcy is exposed. You win. I lose. As David Mamet enters the “actual home of free thought,” I can only stare at my pathetic reflection in the mirror….and weep.

    Comment by sleeper | March 21, 2008 | Reply

  4. You attempt to ironize and bluster, but everything you say is true. Your inability to read properly was amply shown.

    Comment by vjmorton | March 21, 2008 | Reply

  5. Victor, to be fair, you did infer that criticism of Israel made by leftists tended to be motivated by the Left’s “increasing anti-Semitism.” (I don’t think that this is an unfair summary of your statement- if it is, please point out how it is..) Is it really such a leap on Sleeper’s part to conclude that by “anti-Semitism” you meant “hatred of Jews”?

    I for one a bit more dubious about the Mamet piece. For one thing, why write a newspaper article announcing to everyone that your opinions have changed? Does this not seem a little bit pompous? I mean, “stop the presses; Mamet’s political philosophy is now officially different.” Why does Dude really think we care? Because he’s a big shot playwright who lives in New York? Please.

    Comment by Andy Nowicki | March 21, 2008 | Reply

  6. You read me right, Andy.

    I do think anti-Semitism is on the rise on the left since the Sixties and this is hand-in-glove with its increasing distaste for Israel. But that’s an empirical statement, anti-semitism can go up or down, on the left and on the right. That =/= “it’s all about…”

    I should add though that, while in the real world ideological causes and effects bleed into one another, left-wing anti-Semitism is more an “effect” than a “root cause” or “ultimate value.” The core committments are “oppressed/poor=good,” “Third World/nonwhite=good,” “U.N.=good” and pacifism/dove-values that “war is not the answer” — all measuring sticks by which Israel comes up short against the Arabs, much more than an a priori Jew-hate.

    Comment by vjmorton | March 21, 2008 | Reply

  7. I won’t deny that there are anti-Semites on the Left, but for what fraction of liberals do you think that’s much of a motivating force?

    Comment by Adam Villani | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  8. And how does one go about peering into the hearts of those who criticize Israel to find whether an anti-Semite lives within?

    Comment by Adam Villani | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  9. I have no idea about percentages, precisely because one cannot peer into others’ hearts.

    But it suffices to look at people’s objective words to conclude that anti-Semitism is becoming increasingly mainstream on the left (though less so in the US than in Europe, best I can tell). And numerous well-publicized cases from Louis Farrakhan and Jeremiah Wright to Gore Vidal and the anti-war marches also show that many completely-mainstream liberal figures not themselves anti-Semitic increasingly excuse, squirm around, relativize, “contextualize” and (eventually) ignore statements and actions the anti-Semitism of which cannot be reasonably debated. That is to say, anti-Semitism has become a minor thing or an excusable error, rather than an existential disqualifier, as racism, sexism and homophobia are for liberals. Example, pogrom leader Al Sharpton, whose mob committed the first post-WW2 Jew-qua-Jew killing unrelated to the Middle East, is a respected figure in the Democratic Party, rather than the despised figure his moral equivalent David Duke is among Republicans.

    As for when criticism of Israeli actions becomes anti-Semitism, I have several rules of thumb, in three broad categories: (1) Israeli sins are systematically exaggerated and Arab sins systematically minimized, both in terms of objective magnitude and the speaker’s rhetorical volume (any use of the term “Jeningrad” say) or emphasis; (2) the essential moral difference, in both regime terms and goal terms, between Israel and the Arabs is ignored or denied; and (3) conspiratorialism, whether in the use of language or in the meta-narrative, or whether positing Israel as the prime mover, usually by reducing Arab actions and words to epiphenomena of Israel.

    Comment by vjmorton | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  10. Victor: I think you’re right in that it boils down to the left’s tolerance for anti-Semitism. A Republican who made anti-Semitic remarks would be hammered for it, while it is comparatively okay for a Democrat to do so.

    A question I’ve had for a long time: why do Jews seem to overwhelmingly vote Democratic?

    Comment by James Frazier | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  11. Primarily three reasons: Social liberalism, combined with contempt for the contemporary U.S. Christian right; recent history (“misplaced nostalgia,” the unkind would say) in identifying the Democrats as the party of civil rights and tolerance; and a broader narrative that identifies Nazism as the highest form (or lowest) of political conservatism.

    Comment by vjmorton | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  12. I think you may be discounting (1) How much the ANSWER types are seen as loonies, or are supported by people unaware of what they stand for beyond being against the war. Essentially, ANSWER plays a bait-and-switch games with liberals, encouraging people to come protest the war and then hitting them with a barrage of trutherism, Stalinism, anti-Semitism, etc. Similar to, say, Voz de Aztlan and the pro-immigrant movement. I think that’s a big part of why you don’t see much of ANSWER these days. (2) A lot of Democrats think Al Sharpton is a rabble-rousing ass, too. But again, he’s perceived largely as an opportunist and his involvement with the Crown Heights riot isn’t widely known to the general Democratic electorate.

    Comment by Adam Villani | March 22, 2008 | Reply

  13. Also, I really wish I could support the Party of We Agree With Every One of Adam’s Political Positions and Every One of Our Leaders is Absolutely Honest and Virtuous and Has Never Done Anything Bad, but such a party does not exist.

    Comment by Adam Villani | March 23, 2008 | Reply

  14. You mean the left’s anti-Semitism is catching up with the Right’s these days? Plenty of people on the Right in the US love Israel but basically can’t stand Jews unless they are some Prager suck up types who rub the likes of Anne Coulter with Kosher salt. Don’t forget the millenium old wellspring of Christian anti-Semitism that has hardly been cleansed out, but hey we on the Right know that “Origin of Species” led directly to Auschwitz cause Ben Stein said so. Sometimes the Right uses liberal and left as a pc way to criticize Jews who don’t spew the Limbaugh party line. Like all those Hollywood Jews, I mean liberals, who called saintly Mel Gibson and his medieval passion play anti-Semitic? You remind me of the old saw: “Don’t throw stones……” As far as Mamet endorsing Sowell, why do all those people feel they have to act like that crank is some sort of uber-genius , maybe cause he’s black?

    Comment by Jakester | May 21, 2008 | Reply

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