Living with your political beliefs


Bernie Sanders has been fun to watch the last few weeks as he struggles to run a campaign under the principles he claims to believe. Either you’re a hypocrite (as Sanders has often been on socialism) or you try to live out its principles and it costs you a ton (as Sanders is running into now).

Will the reality check make a difference to him and his followers — or to similar candidates in the Democratic primary field? Sadly, probably not; they’re likely to stick to their magical thinking (“good intentions” and greed).

About a decade ago, David Mamet reached a similar fork in the road — and took the road less traveled. The resulting book, “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture,” created a firestorm when it was published in 2011, but I didn’t read it at the time. After seeing it mentioned over the years, it finally got on my reading list. And I’m glad it reached the top of my pile.

Mamet is the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of the Broadway play “Glengarry Glen Ross,” as well as screenplays for notable movies including “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “The Untouchables” and “Wag the Dog.”

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What makes Mamet’s book particularly interesting is that he’s a political convert in show business. His thoughts are helpful in understanding “the left” in general and the “Hollywood left” in particular. As an adult convert, he’s a fervent believer, and because he’s a writer the book’s approach is an interesting mix of analytical and creative.

Mamet explains his political journey, starting from the hypocrisy between how he acted and what he claimed to believe. “I never questioned my tribal assumptions that Capitalism was bad, although I, simultaneously, never acted upon these feelings. I supported myself, as do all those not on the government dole, through the operation of the free market.” From there, he began to read a lot, starting with Friedrich Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom.”

Mamet is particularly in tune with the views of actors, writers and directors — and sees a connection between their work and politics. Directors need to make projects work, dealing with a range of constraints. They tend toward a realistic view of life and politics. In contrast, Mamet observes, “Actors, thriving on publicity, have historically (looked to) champion ‘causes.’” Moreover, he says, the actor will typically “see himself as the Hero … his professional indulgence in fantasy is a boon to the community; its elaboration into do-gooderism is, perhaps, inevitable.”

Writers are likewise prone to fantasy — in particular, frequently envisioning things as Good versus Evil. In sum, to quote Mamet, “writers have traditionally been the dupes of totalitarian propaganda” and actors “are easily manipulated.” The result: “No wonder, then, that these two subgroups of my particular racket, show business, have been trotting the globe for 100 years, petted by and championing the causes of tyrants.”

Mamet talks at length about “conservatives” and “liberals.” His use of both terms is more social and cultural than political — although his use of the terms certainly has political implications. In regard to politics, it’d be more accurate to use terms like “the left” and “the right.”

As I’ve grown fond of noting, there aren’t that many actual liberals or conservatives in politics. If we had many such creatures, we’d see different policies under serious discussion, if not actually enshrined into law. Most notably, we’d see fiscal conservatism from the GOP. And from Democrats, we’d hear fervent advocacy on civil liberties and non-interventionism in military affairs, while refraining from crony capitalism and from pounding the working poor with payroll taxes.

For Mamet, “conservatives” are interested in “strict rule of law”; “liberals” want an “increase in the granting of rights.” Conservatives hold to a “tragic view” (as per Hayek) or the “constrained view” (as per Thomas Sowell), focused on budget constraints and the limits of human nature. Liberals hold more utopian views with far less attention to constraints — other than the deficient people, insufficient time and inadequate funding that supposedly prevent their plans from being successful. (As a recent example, think of how “the left” treated Obama’s historically abysmal record on the economy and his lack of policy accomplishments.)

Mamet has fun with “lefties” who laugh at religious fundamentalists and their belief in a young earth. But “this supposed intransigence . . . is far less detrimental to the health of the body politic than ‘the Left’s’ love affair with Marxism, Socialism, Radicalism and the Command Economy, which … leads only to shortages, despotism and murder.”

Mamet concludes that in contrast, “the honest man might observe … that no one gets something for nothing; that politicians go in poor and come out rich; that the government screws up everything it touches; and that the Will to Believe is best confined to the Religious Venue, as, to practice it elsewhere is just too damned expensive.”

D. Eric Schansberg, Ph.D., is an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation and a professor of economics at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany and the author of two books on public policy. Send comments to [email protected].

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