Comfortable and Furious



David Mamet: Why I Am No Longer a ‘Brain-Dead Liberal’

March 11th, 2008 12:00 AM

Village Voice

John Maynard Keynes was twitted with changing his mind. He replied,
“When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?”

My favorite example of a change of mind was Norman Mailer at The Village Voice.

Norman took on the role of drama critic, weighing in on the New York premiere of Waiting for Godot.

Twentieth century’s greatest play. Without bothering to go, Mailer called it a piece of garbage.

When he did get around to seeing it, he realized his mistake. He
was no longer a Voice columnist, however, so he bought a page in the
paper and wrote a retraction, praising the play as the masterpiece it

Wow, what a self-absorbed prick he was. But I think you’re getting
ahead of yourself here. Could you write a whole bunch of common
knowledge shit to first explain why one might write a newspaper
article. Then I’ll be prepared for the fact that you are writing
anything at all in the first place. Then you can explain that it is
actually reasonable for people to change their mind about things, then
you can finally get to the subject of the article.

Every playwright’s dream.

I once won one of Mary Ann Madden’s “Competitions” in New York magazine.

What the fuck are you talking about? This is beginning to remind me of
those Harry Carey sketches from SNL. Hey! Did you know that in the 8th
grade I went to the California finals with a History Day project that I
did with a kid who is now the guitar player in Linkin Park? It was
about… well, I won’t bore everybody with the tedious details of some
dumb contest I was in years and years ago.

The task was to name or create a “10” of anything, and mine was…


…the World’s Perfect Theatrical Review. It went like this: “I never
understood the theater until last night. Please forgive everything I’ve
ever written. When you read this I’ll be dead.” That, of course, is the
only review anybody in the theater ever wants to get.

So aaaanyyywayyy…

My prize…

Jesus fuck.

…in a stunning example of irony, was a year’s subscription to New
York, which rag (apart from Mary Ann’s “Competition”) I considered an
open running sore on the body of world literacy—this due to the
presence in its pages of John Simon, whose stunning amalgam of
superciliousness and savagery, over the years, was appreciated by that
readership searching for an endorsement of proactive mediocrity.

So… you won a contest in a small periodical you didn’t like eighty
years ago and the prize, which I assume was made clear to people
entering the contest, was a subscription to the paper. What stunning

But I digress.

I’m reasonably sure that you have to actually begin writing about the
subject at hand before you ‘”digress” from it. Doesn’t this article
have something to do with… Hey! My favorite food as a kid was chicken fried steak. What stunning irony!

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.

I have pretty much no idea what you are talking about, though I even
looked up ‘jejune’ to make sure that I really knew what it meant. One
thing is for sure though, when a 100 year old man announces that he’s
just started to think about politics seriously, my money says he
probably has fresh ideas and really knows what he’s talking about.

But my play, it turned out, was actually about politics, which is to
say, about the polemic between persons of two opposing views.

Not so much, chief. I mean, you could say it, but you’d be wrong because by your definition, people arguing about Chicago vs. New York style pizza is politics.

The argument in my play is between a president who is self-interested,
corrupt, suborned, and realistic, and his leftish, lesbian,
utopian-socialist speechwriter.

Implying that Democrats are actual adherents of Thomas More… a fine
start, shit bomb. I also like how being a utopian socialist is

The play, while being a laugh a minute…

Maybe even more.

…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.

What!? Nobody can ever change their… oh wait, you already explained
why people sometimes CAN change their minds. So this is like Norman
Mailer writing a fraudulent article about a play he’d never seen then
spending a bunch of money so he would not be remembered as the guy who
hated Godot
although that’s not really changing his mind so much, because he never
really had an opinion about the play when he wrote the first piece.
Then the ad was just him trying to cover his ass with the same
selfishness that led him to write the fraudulent article. Actually,
it’s exactly like that because it is becoming clear that you never saw
the play in the first place and are now just parroting other people’s
views, with the one constant of doing what is self-serving.

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.

But establishing your political views based on sweeping generalizations
that you take purely on faith would make you an total idiot! If you
were an idiot for decade after decade and also a “liberal,” then all
liberals must be idiots. Thank God you are now a conservative.

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 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.”

National Palestinian Radio? You dumb donkey. I’ll admit that I haven’t
focused on NPRs coverage of one (mine or yours) particular ethnic
group. This is because I am not a bigot. But, the occasional “drive the
Jews into the sea” rant on “Car Talk” aside, based on NPRs standards
and coverage in general, and the fact that you are throwing out a wild,
goof fuck accusation with no support whatsoever, you were mad because
NPRs coverage has too much depth. Like maybe they explained exactly
what the Jewish settlements involve, or how the Israeli courts and
government openly assert that that God choo-choo chooses them to have
the unique right to torture other human beings. I’d also bet they
interviewed a person you don’t like and believe nobody should be
allowed to hear. You are well on the road to being a good
pseudo-conservative, though. It’s important to understand that simply
reporting facts and interviewing people with different opinions is
biased when it fails to conform to your agenda.

This is, to me, the synthesis of this worldview with which I now found myself disenchanted: that everything is always wrong.

If this was your “worldview,” it truly was your own, douche copter,
because nobody else thinks that. “Liberals hate rainbows!” Moron. Like,
who the fuck have you been talking about politics with for all of these
years? Oh yeah, people in the theater.

But in my life, a brief review revealed, everything was not always
wrong, and neither was nor is always wrong in the community in which I
live, or in my country. Further, it was not always wrong in previous
communities in which I lived, and among the various and mobile classes
of which I was at various times a part.

Wow, not every single thing was wrong in every community that you ever
lived in. I guess liberals must be wrong, since they believe that
everything, everywhere is wrong, as everyone knows. I guess that means
that the US doesn’t now imprison 1% of it’s population for mostly
non-violent crimes because none of them are from your neighborhood. I’m
detecting a trend here. Your experience, your neighborhoods, your
ethnic group… I wonder if your revelations have anything to do with
the fact that you’re rich and you’re selfish and you’re an ignoramus.

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?

It is not difficult to piece together. You were a fool and remain a fool.

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.

Mind blowing. Why have you waited so long to share these revolutionary thoughts on human nature?

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…
Again, who exactly is it that believes or believed that all people
behaved like gods? You know, there are other fallacies besides the
straw man. You might want to take one out for a test spin, because it
sounds like you are going to need them.

…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.

To that end, the Constitution separates the power of the state into
those three branches which are for most of us (I include myself) the
only thing we remember from 12 years of schooling.

No, only idiots. Twelve whole years of schooling! I’m very eager to read
more of your constitutional scholarship. I bet it’s brilliant.

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.

You are joking. You seriously did not learn all of the above in about
the eighth grade and know it from that point forward? Look, I’ll be the
first to admit to not knowing all of the amendments or whatever, but
you should realize that everyone who is reading this is laughing at you
and that is probably what The Voice intended by publishing it. Let me
guess, they offered, at most, cursory editorial advice.

VV–“The article is… mnnnn…hhhhhh… fantastic, David”

DM–“Whats so funny?”

VV–“Oh, I was just thinking of something I saw on ‘Herman’s Head’”


Rather brilliant. For, in the abstract, we may envision an Olympian
perfection of perfect beings in Washington doing the business of their

I like how you are a famous playwright and don’t know anything at all
about Greek gods. “Olympian perfection?” Yeah, my pie in the sky,
liberal, Pollyanna perception of government fits with the press
secretary saying, “Sorry, but the secretary of energy is unavailable
for comment because the president has chained him to a rock forever so
that his liver might be newly eaten by a vulture every day.” And,
assuming that it were even a sensible phrase, who is it again that
envisions “Olympian perfection” in Washington?

…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 bullshit and go straight to firearms.

So the Constitution is a rather brilliant compact that divides
government into three branches to curb power and the consequence of
this is that our government is worthless, politicians are horrible and
you should shoot them. I mean, that is my best guess at what you are
saying, but for the second time I don’t really know you are talking
about. Was it a joke? In this context it is hard to tell.

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 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 the election in
Florida; Kennedy stole his in Chicago. Bush outed a CIA agent; Kennedy
left hundreds of them to die in the surf 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.

And this just now dawned on you.

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 we could not live.

You are such a puerile dick tree. Like, corporations are not 100% evil and provide goods and services we need? No shit?

Nobody over the age of 13 is even arguing that. The leftist criticism
is mostly that corporations have way too much influence in the
government when it should be the government that is making the rules
for them. Of course, as an expert on free market economic thought (see
bellow) you know that Adam Smith himself was very worried about these
issues. Just kidding. No you don’t.

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.

Yeah, Iraq, Panama, Grenada… so much we need to be protected from.
The world is just a box of scary chocolates. Thank God our military
budget is literally larger than the rest of the world’s combined. Thank
God some kid is being eviscerated by shrapnel so that Saddam couldn’t
come to New York and hummus-fart in your general direction.

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.

Did you cereally used to go around asking if everything is perfect or are you just lying?

Do I speak as a member of the “privileged class”? If you will—but
classes in the United States are mobile, not static, which is the
Marxist view.

Who’s a fucking Marxist? I mean, independently of anyones assessment of
Marx and the fact that there is no fucking way you, in particular, have
even a rudimentary understanding of Marxism, there are no significant
political figures in this country who are Marxists. You know, I think
you should rejoin the “liberal” segment of society because American
heads of state are chosen through an electoral process, unlike in a
That is: Immigrants came and continue to come here penniless and
can (and do) become rich; the nerd makes a trillion dollars; the single
mother, penniless and ignorant of English, sends her two sons to
college (my grandmother). On the other hand, the rich and the children
of the rich can go belly-up; the hegemony of the railroads is
appropriated by the airlines, that of the networks by the Internet; and
the individual may and probably will change status more than once
within his lifetime.

I really can’t believe this shit is just hitting you and you think that
there might be one single person who is not already aware of most of
what your are saying. It feels dumb to even discuss things that are so
obvious, but moving up in class is difficult and often requires as much
luck as work or skill. Jesus, you’ve never heard an actor talking about
his “big break?” The point is we do not live in a meritocracy, so left
leaning people think it is fair to redistribute a certain amount of
wealth and try to give poor kids a chance in the race, to facilitate
the mobility you are so fond of. Stop just pointing out obvious,
obvious shit as though it backs up your point. I mean so far your
argument is that liberals are all simultaniously Marxists, nihilists
and utopians, but puppies are cute, so not EVERYTHING is wrong and
therefore, liberals, are wrong and and sometimes poor people get rich.

What about the role of government? Well, in the abstract, coming from
my time and background, I thought it was a rather good thing, but
tallying up the ledger in those things which affect me…


…and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see an
instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond

You’ve made no actual argument for this, other than one time you were
afraid a zoning commission was going to take your $3 million house,
which happens all the time. The government is great at creating sorrow
with things like the war on drugs and actual wars, but presumably you
now like these things. If you’re talking about college scholarships and
aid, section eight housing, the Hubble telescope, the useful aspects of
law enforcement, providing roads, putting out fires, health and safety
in everything from building codes to food and drug standards, minimum
wage, employee rights, food stamps… all of the things your new posse
wants to stamp out or privatize (i.e., stamp out), I don’t see all that
much sorrow. Most, if not all of these things could stand to be
improved significantly but I don’t see how they inflict fucking
“sorrow.” “I’m driving on public roads, eating a safe burrito to buy
safe drugs and pick up my kid from a pretty crappy, but still free
school. Oh the goddamned humanity!”

But if the government is not to intervene, how will we, mere human beings, work it all out?

I wondered and read, and it occurred to me that I knew the answer, and
here it is: We just seem to. How do I know? From experience. I referred
to my own—take away the director from the staged play and what do you
get? Usually a diminution of strife, a shorter rehearsal period, and a
better production.

Well, obviously things seem to work themselves out. Was your
expectation that, if your governor made enough poor decisions, the
state would suddenly be spring launched into the sun? I mean, I’m sure
day to day shit just kind of works itself out for most people in Mexico
too. Iraq, probably not so much. “Well, my entire family my home and my
business were all blown up, but at least I have a sturdy pair of shoes.”

The director, generally, does not cause strife, but his or her presence
impels the actors to direct (and manufacture) claims designed to appeal
to Authority—that is, to set aside the original goal (staging a play
for the audience) and indulge in politics, the purpose of which may be
to gain status and influence outside the ostensible goal of the

So now you are an anarchist? What in the fuck are you rambling about?

Strand unacquainted bus travelers in the middle of the night, and what
do you get? A lot of bad drama, and a shake-and-bake Mayflower Compact.
Each, instantly, adds what he or she can to the solution. Why? Each
wants, and in fact needs, to contribute—to throw into the pot what
gifts each has in order to achieve the overall goal, as well as status
in the new-formed community. And so they work it out.

See also that most magnificent of schools, the jury system, where,
again, each brings nothing into the room save his or her own
prejudices, and, through the course of deliberation, comes not to a
perfect solution, but a solution acceptable to the community—a solution
the community can live with.

It’s hard for me to believe that you do not understand how irrelevant
all of this is and that, if anything, it is an argument for
collectivism of some kind. I mean, your bus example is basically Rawls
run through the monglanator. And the jury system… I can’t really see
what it pertains to. Like, in your analogy the jurors represent what
exactly and the decision they reach represents what exactly? If it’s
not an analogy, what does it relate too, considering how contrived and
controlled juries are?

Prior to the midterm elections, my rabbi was taking a lot of flack.

Oh my fuck, you actually believe in Captain Invisible. I like the part
where some shrubbery tells this guy that it is God and he believes it
and then tells everyone about it and they believe him. You believe the

The congregation is exclusively liberal, he is a self-described
independent (read “conservative”), and he was driving the flock wild.
Why? Because a) he never discussed politics; and b) he taught that the
quality of political discourse must be addressed first—that Jewish law
teaches that it is incumbent upon each person to hear the other fellow

You and the rest of the flock are obviously idiots. I mean, you can
sort of feel for a guy who is born into a Pentecostal family in
Arkansas. But New York Jews have no excuse for shrubism , so I assume
your congregation is made up of some real schmucks. And what kind of
idiot wants their clergyman to expound on the pork projects or
something. Like, why not the ice cream man, or your doctor or a fading
play write who started examining politics seriously for the first time
shortly after his 84th wedding anniversary.

And so I, like many of the liberal congregation, began, teeth grinding,
to attempt to do so. And in doing so, I recognized that I held those
two views of America (politics, government, corporations, the
military). One was of a state where everything was magically wrong…

Nobody fucking thinks that “everything is magically wrong!” Argh! It’s
just a bullshit straw man that a selfish fuck like you can use to avoid
addressing or accepting any responsibility for real problems.

“Mr. Mamet, we are working to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, many of whom are still being neglected, and…”

“Oh, so you think everything everywhere is wrong, do you?”

“No, but in New Or…”

“Then explain this to me. If everything, everywhere is wrong then how do you account for my beautiful marble flooring?”


“No, I will not fall for your Marxist ruse. Good day.”

…and must be immediately corrected at any cost; and the other—the
world in which I actually functioned day to day—was made up of people,
most of whom were reasonably trying to maximize their comfort by
getting along with each other (in the workplace…

“Workplace,” that’s pretty fucking rich my friend.

…the marketplace, the jury room, on the freeway, even at the school-board meeting).

Um, the freeway, the jury room and even the school board meeting are
heavily regulated creations of the government. The market and workplace
would obviously revert to total savagery without government regulation.
And again, what is your point? Some guy waved you into his lane on the
freeway so Regan wasn’t a terrorist?

And I realized that the time had come for me to avow my participation
in that America in which I chose to live, and that that country was not
a schoolroom teaching values, but a marketplace.


Actually, it’s pretty simple to see what’s going on here. You openly
admit to not having thought or read about politics with any seriousness
at all from the day you were born until like last month which is
probably why you have no idea what you are talking about. You read like
four books that went way over your head by themselves, never mind any
understanding of the context of those books or the actual positions of
other thinkers (hint; that position is not that everything everywhere
is wrong). Now, you think that people should listen to your obvious,
yet incoherent thoughts on politics because you are famous.

“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 that idealistic vision I called liberalism.

So, it only took you a few weeks of reading serious and semi-serious
books on politics to figure out who our greatest contemporary
philosopher is. You must be so smart!

At the same time, I was writing my play about a president, corrupt,
venal, cunning, and vengeful (as I assume all of them are), and two
turkeys. And I gave this fictional president a speechwriter who, in his
view, is a “brain-dead liberal,” much like my earlier self; and in the
course of the play, they have to work it out. And they eventually do
come to a human understanding of the political process. As I believe I
am trying to do, and in which I believe I may be succeeding, and I will
try to summarize it in the words of William Allen White.

White was for 40 years the editor of the Emporia Gazette in rural
Kansas, and a prominent and powerful political commentator. He was a
great friend of Theodore Roosevelt and wrote the best book I’ve ever
read about the presidency. It’s called Masks in a Pageant, and it
profiles presidents from McKinley to Wilson, and I recommend it

So it is the best book you’ve ever read about the presidency, AND you
recommend it unreservedly? Well, you definitely pass the windbag test
for your new affiliation.

White was a pretty clear-headed man, and he’d seen human nature as few
can. (As Twain wrote, you want to understand men, run a country paper.)
White knew that people need both to get ahead and to get along, and
that they’re always working at one or the other, and that government
should most probably stay out of the way and let them get on with it.
But, he added, there is such a thing as liberalism, and it may be
reduced to these saddest of words: ” . . . and yet . . . “

Jesus Christ, you’re not so great at sharing the spot light are you.
Anyway, that is pretty clearly a stupid thing to say. It’s hard to
believe that you are arrogant enough to write an article about
fundamental political issues when you so obviously don’t understand
anything at all about politics. Like, you have made no distinction at
all between social liberalism and economic liberalism. How is NOT
wanting to throw people in jail for being gay intruding on their lives?
I mean, I don’t want to go on too much because anybody reading this can
see what a fool are and what an intolerable person you must be, but I
will congratulate you on being spectacularly misinformed and not making
a single correct or even plausible assertion, beyond stuff like “the
government is divided into three branches.” That’s why you, David
“whoopteedoo” Mamet are a hack. For writing about a subject you do not
understand at all, for spewing out nonsense that many school children
would recognize as trite and for somehow being unable to string these
simplistic and obvious statements into anything coherent or relating in
any way to planet earth. Congratulations, you suck.

The right is mooing about faith, the left is mooing about change, and
many are incensed about the fools on the other side—but, at the end of
the day, they are the same folks we meet at the water cooler.

Not really. I mean, Hillary is running in hope of twenty-eight years of
rule by two families. The overwhelming majority of Senators are
millionaires. When the CEO of Raytheon sends me a Vermont Teddy Bear on
my birthday, I’ll see these fucks as folks like me.

Happy election season.

Fuck you.



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