(Presented here is my first contribution to Huffington Post!)
One year ago today, playwright David Mamet wrote of his personal transformation from a “brain-dead liberal” to one more person who sees the country mainly as a “marketplace”. The author of Glengarry Glen Ross — the ultimate drama of visionless American capitalism — announced one year ago “a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism.”
While I remain a great fan of Mamet and hold his many works in the highest esteem, on the anniversary of his screed I can’t help but ask: how’s that free market working out?
In the time since, the economic meltdown has served to tear away a great deal of conservatism’s camouflage, revealing the “marketplace” conception of this country as sorely wanting. In reality, the country resembles far more closely a fiefdom, not something so pleasant as an egalitarian arrangement of buyers and sellers, but rather a brutal exercise in naked class antagonism.
Hyperbole? Hardly. In one year of Mamet’s marketplace, the fraud of laissez-faire economics has simply and expensively died. Trillions of public dollars have been appropriated by the dominant class of business interests via no such quaint mechanism as competition. Competition — never the preference of the wealthy to begin with — has been cancelled. The fittest along with the unfit banks and corporate giants live on in the commons, our togetherness no less real for having been denied so forcefully by the conservative party line. Shameless panhandling imposes profoundly on all of us. No invisible hand picks our pockets — rather it is plainly attached to a piggish body, arm stretching from Wall Street through Washington, wrist adorned as ever in Patek Philippe.
To the surprise of nobody who saw through the “free market” canard from the beginning, the overarching theme of conservatism today is to heap blame for the sinking vessel anywhere but upon where it belongs — itself. To do this, the very language and the meaning carried by its words is constantly sacrificed on the altar of cheap PR flackery. It is in this aspect that Mamet’s abandonment of progressivism hurts most, because his gifts as an artist are plainest in his dialogues, and these depend utterly upon the integrity of the words they employ. If there are two camps, Mamet has regrettably chosen the one least ethical with language. No modern conservative ever met a word he couldn’t happily debase and weaponize, as any summary of their vocabulary shows:
Repeating “No Child Left Behind” is how conservatives have destroyed public education. Repeating “Big Government” is how conservatives have destroyed law and regulation in the financial markets and created an unprecedented privatization golem in everything from prisons to airport security theater. Repeating “Liberal Media” is how cultural conservatives pretend that college professors, and not corporate boardrooms, determine what is presented as news on television. Repeating “Tax and Spend” is how conservatives have pitted the people against the government, and therefore themselves. Repeating “Socialism” is how conservatives deny the barest notion of a public interest. And now, repeating “Obama Recession” is how conservatives will pretend that thirty years of laissez-faire deregulatory free-market worship never even happened, let alone are responsible for the coming months and years of crisis.
When it comes to foreign policy, Mamet has long indulged the conservative’s peculiar penchant for semantic warp. His call for government to “get out of the way” pulls up regrettably short at Washington’s billions in military aid to Israel. The latest result of this support has been nothing to pat one’s self on the back about, for in the past year the US-armed IDF have indiscriminately killed and wounded thousands of Gazan civilians while strangling that urban hellhole of basic staples. In this, who was Mamet’s chosen villain one year ago? Unbelievably, NPR. In last year’s essay, Mamet mentions National Public Radio’s liberal reporting bias (“National Palestinian Radio”) in his decision to repudiate liberalism. If he was offended by hearing the human cost of lopsided, gratuitous force before his transformation, what will be the fruit of his outright embrace of the neocon worldview? I’m having fevered visions of a one-man Broadway show entitled Wolfowitz! that I can only hope are absurd.
We may not see David Mamet return to the progressive cause, nor even expect him to cease conflating it with utopianism. Though we will no doubt see and admire his works. They will as always make us think, and uncover ways of being. If he finds something of value in conservatism, I will continue to presume there is something in it I have missed. But to his new ideological pals, I warn: he is one Hollywood (former) Liberal who is far too thoughtful to make much use of on the national stage. For that, stick with the Limbaughs, the Palins and the Jindals. Keep them loud and up front — and thereby hasten the day that Mamet finds your brand of brain-death less appealing than our own.