David Mamet Should Get out of Politics and Stick to Playwriting

A master playwright's new book about politics is mystifying bad.

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At my first job in Washington, in the late '90s, my coworkers introduced me to the filmmaker-playwright David Mamet.

Via .wav audio files that seemed like a technological breakthrough at the time, we listened to Alec Baldwin's mesmerizing Glengarry Glen Ross tirade on a perpetual loop, and quoted from it with a regularity that I'm sure those around us found highly annoying.

"Put that coffee down!"

"A-B-C: Always be closing!"

"First prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is, you're fired."

[See the month's best political cartoons.]

The Hollywood-invades-Main-Street send-up State and Main was more fully satisfying ( Glengarry, I thought, didn't sustain the pitch of the opening sequence).

It contained at least one immortal one-liner, delivered by a Hollywood playboy (Baldwin, again) who'd just wrecked his car while cavorting with an underage girl: "So that happened."

So that happened: That just about sums up my reaction to Mamet's mystifyingly bad political treatise, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture.

My review of the book appeared online today at The American Conservative.

Best I can tell, Mamet didn't think terribly deeply about politics until fairly recently, and he couldn't have picked a worse possible time to convert to conservatism. I like to imagine Mamet, a quintessential urban Jewish literary type, in the 1950s. He'd have fit in beautifully with the original neoconservative set: smart, skeptical, ironic, iconoclastic.

But in today's reality, Mamet fell in with Hugh Hewitt and Glenn Beck, with their unhinged and ahistorical fear of impending serfdom.

Mamet has gone all-in with the crazies, and it ain't pretty. As I write:

There's something unsettling about the intensity, the totality, of [Mamet's] post-Damascene convictions.

The literary critic James Wood once described a certain kind of freshly adopted religious commitment this way: "It is like entering prison: you must turn out your spiritual pockets and hand over all your inner belongings, even your shoelaces." Well, Mamet has handed over his shoelaces, voluntarily stripped, and appears eager for a cavity search.