There are probably only a handful of writers who could call the Village Voice, ask for some space to write a column about the ongoing election process, and have it granted no questions asked. David Mamet is one of them. I wonder how surprised they are at the Voice right now?
A funny thing happened on the way left, he turned right. No not right wing in the way many might think. But David Mamet asked some questions. Simple ones really. Is the government always the answer? Is it possible the self-interested people and business are not always evil? Is it possible that conflicting self interests are the way to progress when the system is designed that way? These questions and more are asked by one of today’s leading playwrights. Of course, David Mamet cannot ask these questions without a few four letters adjectives, for emphasis. The Village Voice:
I wrote a play about politics (November, Barrymore Theater, Broadway, some seats still available). And as part of the “writing process,” as I believe it’s called, I started thinking about politics. This comment is not actually as jejune as it might seem. Porgy and Bess is a buncha good songs but has nothing to do with race relations, which is the flag of convenience under which it sailed.
But 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.
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 f— 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.
Bowl me over. Somewhere in Southampton Alec Baldwin has tears falling onto his birkenstocks. Mamet continues…
I’d observed that lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals are giving the world a good run for its money, but that nonetheless, people in general seem to get from day to day; 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.
For the Constitution, rather than suggesting that all behave in a godlike manner, recognizes that, to the contrary, people are swine and will take any opportunity to subvert any agreement in order to pursue what they consider to be their proper interests.
Mr. Mamet gets it. Unfortunately, I don’t think that many of his friends will. Ordinarily, when someone of a brain-dead liberal bent wakes up to reality, the liberal elite need only stick a neo on the front on the label to deride the change of mind. Liberals, you see, can sometimes understand a change of heart, but a change of mind is mostly incomprehensible. When some of the liberal establishment accidentally used their brains after 9/11, neo-con became the mantra of the left to deride the newly security conscious. Now that Mr. Mamet has seen the economic light, perhaps they will try to conjure a neo term to deride him. The only problem is that David Mamet is much better at derision than they are. If they try to label him as a a neo-supply sider or a neo-libertarian, they are likely to hear a classic Mamet retort to their small minds. @#$! You!
Well said Mr. Mamet.