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March 12, 2008
David Mamet is one of America's finest playwrights, film directors, and screenwriters. He has also been a doctrinaire liberal all his life.
Therefore, it was something of a shock to read this revelatory and uplifting column by Mamet in The Village Voice where he basically rejects many of liberalism's creeds and substitutes a refreshing rationalism based partly on conservative principles with a healthy and satisfying cynicism about government, politics, and people:
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.... Mamet praises conservative philosphers like Thomas Sowell and Milton Friedman while adopting a decided skepticism toward the efficacy of government solutions to society's problems.
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 bulls**t and go straight to firearms...
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.
If this sounds like Mamet has drunk the entire measure of kool ade and become a rock ribbed conservative Republican forget it. Mamet has become an independent thinker - a dangerous commodity for liberals who will now gang up on the writer in Op Eds and essays and declaim against his apostasy. He will no doubt lose friends over this piece as all former leftists like David Horwitz, Chris Hitchens, and Norm Podhoretz did when they chose to re-examine their beliefs.
But I urge you to read the entire, brlliant essay. You will probably come away with a few different perspectives of your own.