Second Thoughts, by David Mamet

I’ve always liked David Mamet (the writer). He hits hard and he isn’t afraid to use profanity. I mean, he really isn’t afraid to use profanity. Nor is he afraid to walk headlong into a minefield and produce something that makes everyone on all sides of an issue stop and really question things again. He can also be quite funny and create a ton of tension, and he wrote one of the best lawyer movies yet made. (David Mamet the director, well, that’s a subject for another day.)

Anyway, he’s just written a play called November, which is running on Broadway right now. The primary characters are a bumbling and unethical President running for re-election, and his idealistic lesbian speechwriter. Mamet researched the script — not for left versus right kinds of politics, but rather into the simple exercise of power. He emerged with a new take on left versus right politics, and decided that it’s really about the interplay of optimism and realism, and that the realists are not evil. I’m a big sucker for “second thoughts” kinds of stories, after all.

As is his style, he describes the process in colorfully unappetizing ways, like his realization that people behave like swine when under stress and liberals are “brain dead” because they’ve never thought about why they are liberal. I actually disagree with him that people behave like swine when stressed; I think reality demonstrates that some behave with grace, courage, and moral rectitude. Nevertheless, his larger insight is correct – in politics (not just the politics of public policy and government, I might add, but any time power is exercised) we all strive to balance “should” with “is,” “self” with “group,” and “perfect” with “practical.” That’s the nature of the beast, and that’s why it is so endlessly fascinating.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. and he wrote one of the best lawyer movies yet made.admit it, that’s because he decks the women at the end.

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