In New York Friday to appear on Sean Hannity’s program, I stayed an extra day to catch an early performance of David Mamet's new play The Anarchist, now in its second week of previews. Sitting next to Marcello, a Brazilian venture capitalist, we chatted about the election just past.
"I do not understand you Americans. Dogs on car roofs? Really?"
I can't argue that our process isn't absurd or that our media isn't mired in the trivial. The day before I had interviewed Israel's Ambassador to the United States, historian Michael Oren, and had passed a pro-Israel demonstration in Times Square on my walk to the theater. The brewing war the ambassador was willing to discuss on air with me and about which the demonstrators were fully informed hadn't come up in the love-fest press conference the president held with his fan club earlier in the week, but global warming had. Egypt’s turn to Islamist extremism had barely come up in the entire presidential campaign even though it is has changed everything. What can you say to a serious foreigner about our press and our elections?
The key topics are obvious. The important guests are available. The news business doesn't have to be empty and stupid. But it is.
Then Woody Allen walked in, took a seat in the second row, and the lights went down and came up on Debra Winger and Patti LuPone. They were in a spartan room of a correctional facility, and their dialogue provided much insight into this absurd month, year and election. For Mamet has been thinking about the radical left and what happened to it after it blew itself and the country up in the 1960s. The result of his thinking is The Anarchist, and it is a very troubling commentary on the language of politics, which is the language of media.
The Anarchist won't be reviewed for a week or so, but bet on it being savaged by the usual, lefty, suspects. The actresses are wonderful, their conversation the meaty back-and-forth of two very smart adversaries who have been sparring for years, the one a convicted murderer who killed in the course of an Ayers-Dohrn-Boudin-like spasm of youthful revolutionary zeal, the other an officer of the justice system, the warden, on whose recommendation the freedom of the former depends after decades of imprisonment.
Will anyone under 50 get this? Under 60 even? Slowly, inexorably the drama builds as the voices of the Weathermen come back, coded, over four decades of obscurity.
Where did they go? The bomb-throwers and the sit-in heroes? Sure, we know Ayers and Dohrn are in Chicago, still peddling nonsense, and the Port Huron gang is spread far and wide, some of them via ash scatterings.
But where did their "ideas" go? No one in the MSM espouses that claptrap anymore, or uses the hackneyed phrases of "the movement," but very, very few people in the Manhattan-Beltway media elite talk about anything serious at all.
Here's a clue. The idiot wind of the ‘60s blew and blew and blew and ended up bottled in newsrooms and green rooms all across the land. It ended up tenured and stupid, credentialed and wholly incapable of basic economic analysis though it is very good at regression analysis applied to polling data and Twitter quips.
Ezra Klein, Rachel Maddow, Jon Chait and Chris Hayes are the heirs to and current super-egos of the great noise from four decades back, with Kos as its id. That's it: all that is left of the New Left.
But this underwhelming legacy is why the '60s radicals should be thought of as the winners of a long delayed overtime. Not because they have a certified Alinskyite lefty as president. That's a temporary problem. The president has a sell-by date. He can do a lot more damage and no doubt will, but the House isn't going to agree to anything too stupid.
No, the '60s gang won because their utterly empty language triumphed. Endless talk about quite obviously empty propositions passes for debate. It is all cliche. Read the transcript of the president's presser last week. An avalanche of cliche. He doesn't know how else to talk. The press doesn't know how else to ask questions.
The lasting damage of the New Left isn't the fiscal bankruptcy of the country, but it's intellectual bottoming out. Because they were so vacuous, everything became vacuous. This is what I loved about The Anarchist. It batters the conceits of the Left so thoroughly at no one from that land of absurd arguments can leave without knowing Mamet's got their number. Frauds, all of them. Just frauds. Marcuse. Bloch. Rubin. The whole over-the-hill gang of sloganeering hucksters. For this work I am thankful.
But Lord it is depressing.
There are some aspects of The Anarchist that will upset my fellow Evangelicals and Mass-attending Catholics. Mamet's got a nose for fraud, and my faith has its fair share of posers. That the left puts on Christ easily when it is convenient shouldn't be an insult but a warning.
Throughout I kept glancing at Woody Allen's (large) bald spot. What was he thinking? All of his art --there's a lot of it and it is very good-- and none of it challenged this biggest problem of all, the frauds around him. The enormous, giant, fraudulent media-industrial complex anchored at the New York Times and the New Yorker but spreading out like the concentric circles of a blast pattern.
(And Woody chewing on the Jesus talk –how fascinating it would be to know what he really thought of that. Constructed by an artist who had done his homework. Some very moving bits, some obvious questions.)
Woody shuffled out. Old. A few movies left in him perhaps. There had to be a shock, not of recognition, but of complicity in the whole affair, like the producer of the big benefit for the Sandy victims, knowing the music wasn't very good, the money raised not so much, the "recovery" far away and the Manhattan media bored already with their backyard devastation because it isn't going away but they want to. Their heartfelt concern isn’t going to last anywhere near as long as the damage.
Just like the vanguard of change in the old SDS: Gone, forgotten, but present in the awful wreckage they left behind.