Mamet discusses new book and conversion to conservatism

Christian Toto Contributor
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David Mamet says he can’t believe it took him decades to give the conservative perspective so much as a thought.

“It shocked me that there I was, a know-it-all … and there was a whole branch of knowledge I didn’t know existed. I never investigated the claims or the precepts of the other side,” says Mamet, the acclaimed playwright behind “Speed the Plow” and “American Buffalo.” “I know I’m not alone in that regard.”

But Mamet, 63, eventually did open his mind to right-sided philosophies, a process captured in his now infamous 2008 Village Voice column, “Why I am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal.”

Mamet’s new book, “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture,” sprang directly from that fateful assignment.

“I started reading much more after the article. I wrote essays to distill it down and explain to myself the ideas I was reading,” Mamet says, adding he hopes the new book can “change the minds of the fair-minded” regarding the perils of big government and other liberal tenets.

The book reads like an intellectual journey, hop scotching from the personal hypocrisies he once lived to the fatal flaws in a redistributive economic model. He still sounds like David Mamet, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, but now he’s marrying conservative arguments with his blunt, provocative prose.

“Knowledge” plums Mamet’s Chicago roots and describes conversations he’s had with his children about the real world implications of political thought. He also shares his views on how liberalism squelches free speech, hampers economic growth and imperils the country’s Judeo-Christian culture.

He credits time spent listening to radio talkers Hugh Hewitt, Dennis Prager and Michael Medved for greasing the wheels of his conversion.

“They kept coming back to rationality rather than attacking the other side as idiots or fools,” he recalls.

Mamet says he didn’t have a single, “Road to Damascus” moment regarding his political transformation, nor did he intend to switch teams for superficial reasons.

“My point is not to take off the blue suit and put on the red suit,” he says. In fact, his ideological shift proved painful.

“There were bumpy stages. I got extraordinarily grumpy for a couple of years. Something was very, very wrong with the world,” he says. “I spent a lot of time trying the ideas out on my family. I’d take them through my reasoning. I don’t even know if they agreed with me or not.“

Veteran conservative thinkers like Shelby Steele and Victor Davis Hanson helped Mamet along in his journey.

“I wrote them and got some lovely answers back,” he says. “I was trying to understand where this new way of looking at life would lead. I didn’t say, ‘ding, dong, I‘m no longer a Democrat.’”

Mamet’s previous work often reflected his now-discarded liberalism. “Glengarry Glen Ross,” the play which earned him a Pulitzer Prize, lays bare the injustices of capitalism by following a group of salesmen desperate to keep their jobs.

But Mamet, who also directs films and wrote the screenplay for the 1987 smash “The Untouchables,“ says his new-found conservatism won’t open any new doors for him in Hollywood. Even if he tried to pitch a right-of-center story studios wouldn’t produce it, he claims. He’s content to have helped bring “The Unit,” which involved a counter-terrorism squad, to CBS for four seasons.

To say “The Secret Knowledge” pulls no punches is kind. Mamet slams those who think spreading the wealth enriches society and Western liberals who reflexively back the Palestinians over Israel. Mamet writes that liberals relish the “contemplation of the suffering of the Palestinians.”

He didn’t flinch writing such incendiary comments, a continuation of themes explored in his 2006 book, “The Wicked One: Anti-Semitism, Self Hatred and the Jews.”

“The more I looked, the more appalled I was,” he says. “The people at the sharp end of the spear fighting every day are the Jews,” he says, adding liberals who claim Jews aren’t entitled to their own country, or that they stole the land they’re on smacks of anti-Semitism.

Mamet doesn’t care if his conversion hurts his financial status in Hollywood or the theater, or even if it leaves him isolated at the next Tinsel Town soiree.

“I don’t spend much time thinking about Hollywood. I don’t go to parties. I don’t go into these people’s offices,” he says.

Mamet, who confesses he has a “big mouth” like TV’s Ralph Kramden, doesn’t have another political book in him at the moment. Instead, he’s concentrating on an HBO feature he’s directing based on the life of music producer turned convicted murderer Phil Spector.

Those who might boycott a future Mamet play or movie because of the writer’s change of ideological heart are following a totalitarian mindset, he says. Judge art by its content, not by the voting patterns of the artist behind it.

“No one’s gonna catch cooties by seeing a play from an opposing point of view,“ he says.

Christian Toto