The Dismantling of David Mamet


“Please remember that we have the secret ballot and, should you, on reflection, vote in secret for a candidate you would not endorse in public, you would not be alone.” - David Mamet So ends playwright and filmmaker David Mamet’s opinion piece "A Note To A Stiff-Necked People" published this month by Jewish Journal. Whatever one thinks of Mamet’s views on foreign and domestic policy, his advocacy for moral cowardice and public hypocrisy is crass and misguided. The necessity of the secret ballot requires no explanation, but Mamet’s assertion that there is some nobility in projecting publicly politics that one may secretly find abhorrent requires some dismantling. Mamet’s article, addressed “To those Jews planning to vote for Obama” seeks to persuade those Jews that “irrespective of your endorsement of liberal sentiments” in voting for Mitt Romney, the parents – shrugging off the yoke of anxiety about what Mamet refers to as the risk of “ostracism” – will be acting in a courageous manner, instructive for their children, who it seems Mamet believes will thereby grow up to be neocon Zionists and save America from its “personal beliefs.”

Mamet’s argument is not one for honest pragmatism against populist emotion. Mamet’s argument is for regarding Jewish voters for Romney like a conscientious fifth column. Is that escalating the language too far? Well, Mamet, according to his op-ed, does indeed regard the political climate of the United States as one plagued with anxieties born of how one might be seen in objecting to the ‘leftist’ policies of the fist African-American President (many of us on the Left might wish that President Obama was less of a centrist, in fact). For Mamet, being seen to vote against President Obama incurs some indelible shame, but have no fear, Mamet says: visible objections can be avoided, and if you vote against your public posture (your secret conscience against your public conscience) I, David Mamet, and unknown thousands of others will be with you! I’m not certain where Mamet’s evidence for either right-wing voters or quantified reactionaries being oppressed minorities in the United States comes from. Certainly, it is not evidenced in the parity of this election, nor in the number of Americans willing in ‘birther’ polls or regarding ‘the Muslim question’ to record themselves as, well, let us face it, racists.

David Mamet is profoundly disturbed that “those Jews” in south Brooklyn or elsewhere are not hawkish enough, that their liberal intellectual tradition has led them toward socialist policies at home, and a reluctance to bomb-bomb-bomb Iran (the Bush-ism that never was). He asks: “Will you tell your children that a liberal government will increasingly marginalize, dismiss and weaken the support for and the safety of the Jewish state? Will you tell them that, in a state-run economy, hard work may still be applauded, but that it will no longer be rewarded? Will you explain that whatever their personal beliefs, tax-funded institutions will require them to imbibe and repeat the slogans of the left, and that, should they differ, they cannot have a career in education, medicine or television unless they keep their mouths shut? Will you explain to them that it is impossible to make a budget, and that the basic arithmetic we all use at the kitchen table is not practiced at the federal and state level, and to suggest that it should be is 'selfishness'?" Yes, he even falls back on one of the most false analogies of all: that the budgeting of the United States can and should function like the kitchen table economy of some nuclear family in Queens. But allegedly, these questions cannot be raised in public without ostracism. This is patently absurd. Mamet suggests that “those Jews” have abandoned millennia of rabbinical criticism, discourse, and dialectics due to a climate of shame shrouding the Republican vote. A cursory survey of the American scene would reveal, even to those least willing to admit it, like Mamet, that these questions are open, public, that Americans are having arguments in bars, on sidewalks and on television, in the cinema, and on the Internet. But for Mamet, if you’re not prepared to ask those questions of your children, all will be well, because your public or familial politics are irrelevant.

If Mamet believes that his allegations - American Jews are laboring beneath a phantom of white liberal guilt, and that foreign and social policy have been corrupted by liberal sentimentality - are true, then should he not be more concerned with illuminating this with the light of day? David Mamet’s advocacy for inculcating a secret shame in Jewish life is not only horribly ironic, but also one of the worst manifestos for inauthentic existence that I have ever encountered.