Con Games: Mamet, Miller, And The Ole Hitcheroo Switcheroo

If you're like me, blognoscenti, then you might have wondered more than once how a previously enlightened smarty-pants celeb can switch so effortlessly to a philosophy found abhorrent but five minutes before.

I finally figured it out: these media converts from liberalism are all fake conservatives -- not really conservative at all.

The latest casualty is the playwright and director David Mamet, a man who glowers over all the rest when it comes to creating socko 20th Century drama. No need to belabor his chops: suffice to say a lesser Mametian work -- the script for The Edge with Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin, and a bear who snacks on homo sapiens -- is one of my favorite movies of all time.

Mamet was preceded in the conservative walk of flame by Dennis Miller, a comic talented enough to suffer the slings and arrows of Monday Night Football without pads. I am (or was) a big fan of Miller's comedy. He still has a command of the language and the lingo beyond compare--he makes glib look tongue-tied and hip look square.

Making the world safe for their conversions is, was, and will be the brutish formerly British writer Christopher Hitchens, the post-liberal slash-and-burn polymath now blessed to be both an American citizen and the petulant house pet of neoconservatives. As pundits go on either side, Hitchens is brilliant and cogent beyond belief, equally skilled in scornful sound byte and prose that glitters like swallowed glass.

Christopher Hitchens has the advantage of simply being smarter then everyone else. Attention must be paid.

A wag on the right might make the point that Mamet, Miller, and Hitchens are typical liberals who think nothing of flip-flopping when a prettier idea comes along. Someone equally cynical leftword might say Trotskyites and liberal Democrats turned out to be the testiest of neocons -- like converts to Catholicism who come to Communion late in life. Except it turns out that the conservatism of Mamet, Miller, and Hitchens are of the pick-and-choose variety who eat the Cheerios and leave the Breakfast of Champions behind. If the National Journal chose to rate them, they would all flunk the test of true conservatism faster than you can say Sean Hannity.

Mamet first. Based on his piece in the Village Voice, his conversion is circumspect at best, centering on sweeping pronouncements about the role of government, the military, and his own community based on his direct personal experience.

"Aha," you will say, and you are right," Mamet writes. "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."

No problem there, but as good as Mamet can be with the pen on screen and stage, he is routinely unpersuasive when working in plain old prose: this piece on his conversion to conservatism is no different. He eschews further elaboration or any nuggets from free marketeers, for example, and his ultimate conversion borders on the disingenuous.

"I took the liberal view for many decades," Mamet writes, "but I believe I have changed my mind."
There's a maybe in there somewhere. Like a fuzzy-headed liberal, Mamet can't seem to believe what he just said. In his favor, we can only presume the Jewish writer of Glengarry Glen Ross does not embrace all the noxious certainties of conservatism, beginning with a belief in Jesus Christ as his savior, extending to a ban on stem-cell research, and ending with the slam-dunk case for dinosaurs on Noah's ark. One can assume Mamet would flunk a conservative litmus test that includes social issues.

So too would Dennis Miller. The comedian is far more specific about his conservatism than Mamet: he's one of those "9/11 changed everything" conservatives, the kind who are forced to convert the hunt for Sunni Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan into the Shia beheading of Saddam Hussein in Iraq -- and thus to support all things preemptive in foreign policy. But he is also one of those stand-up goofballs who claims libertarianism as his true creed, thereby paving the way for a concomitant liberal embrace of things like homosexuality and even birth control.

"I'm basically a libertarian," Miller says. "I'm pro-gay marriage and pro-choice, but nobody wants to hear all that.... They determine who you are based on the war."

Of course, libertarians like Ron Paul oppose the Iraq war -- and all such wars -- but no matter. Miller hates the Clintons and thinks global warming is a joke. Add those two issues to Iraq in the conservative kitty, and that's more than enough for Miller to call Bill O'Reilly "Billy" and to embrace the Right like a long-lost friend.

Forgive me my cruelty, but I must also point out that Dennis Miller is the host of a new network game show called "Amnesia." I can forgive his 9/11 conservatism but I can't forget his palsy-walsy ways with the slugging thug on Fox.

And then there's Christopher Hitchens. His trip from the left at least has a compelling intellectual narrative: Hitchens went ballistic in the 1980s, when British labor unions let Lech Walesa and Polish shipyard workers twist in the wind in their fight with the Soviet Union.

"It just seemed to me that social democracy had much more in common with antidemocratic communism than it liked to admit," Hitchens says, "and I couldn't call myself a socialist any more after that."

His disaffection with the left took on an even more personal flavor when his friend, the writer Salman Rushdie, became the victim of a fatwa that required his death -- while most libs sat on their hands. Hitchens subsequent support of the Iraq invasion can be traced to a hatred of Islam that goes back as least as far as his friend's deathwatch.

Even so, Hitchens is not really a conservative or a neoconservative in American politics. He calls the big-shot neoconservatives his "temporary neocon allies." And he has written the book, "God Is Not Great," that is poison to Christian conservatives. Like Mamet and Miller, he too would flame out in any test of conservative doctrine beyond a discussion of "Islamo-fascism," a phrase some say he coined. His dismemberment of Sean Hannity during one televised appearance was a thing of beauty.

Here's my takeaway: fuzzy-headed liberals make lousy conservatives who are not really conservative at all -- according to the all-or-nothing conservatism that requires slavish devotion to the cause right down the line. Mamet loves free markets and Hitchens hates militant Islam, while Dennis Miller's ideas about abortion would be right at home on HBO.

Of course, once one declares oneself "conservative," a certain patina of independence does adhere to the skin, much like a balloon does when friction is applied. David Mamet, Dennis Miller, and Christopher Hitchens are entitled to their views. Call them what you will -- just don't call them conservative.