Matthew McConaughey on the ‘illiberal left’: Lose the arrogance, win the audience

Matthew McConaughey in 2020.
Matthew McConaughey wants people to meet in the middle when it comes to politics and life in general.
(Evan Agostini / Associated Press)

Matthew McConaughey has a few ideas for how to bring people together in this splintered political time — and it starts with shared values. A shared sense of humor. And tactical changes from what he calls the “illiberal left.”

The Oscar winner was chatting with comic and actor Russell Brand for the latter’s “Under the Skin” podcast on the subscription service Luminary.

“We live in a time, I feel, in my country and yours, where there’s this sort of — I have sensed a lot of condemnation and criticism of what I might describe as normal working people. A kind of offhandedness, ‘Oh, they’re dumb, they’re voting for Brexit, they’re voting for Trump,’” Brand said.


“I don’t like it, and I don’t like to hear it because of my own experiences and my own upbringing ... I spend enough time with people who have been described in this manner to feel ill at ease with it. How do you feel about that kind of judgment?”

[Warning: The video below contains profanity.]

Brand, 45, wondered whether there was a way to bring together the “liberal, professional class” and “working, ordinary people of any variety.”

McConaughey said that was his hope, that people could come together. He suggested that people invite one another to meet in the middle of the road. It’s not a place full of “yellow lines and dead armadillos,” the “Dallas Buyers Club” star said, but rather an open space where there’s room for everyone to stroll along together.

Because, the 51-year-old said, “The other two sides, the two vehicles on either side of the political aisle, are so far apart, their ... tires aren’t even on the pavement anymore.”

But he said the “illiberal left” — which some people feel has abandoned traditional liberal thinking — is going about it all wrong, with people who “absolutely condescend, patronize or are arrogant towards that other 50%.”


He noted that four years ago, many on the left were in “complete denial” that Donald Trump had won the U.S. presidential election. Now it’s the right’s turn, and McConaughey said he understands why people would be laying down their last line of defense.

Nowadays, it seems that everyone’s a self-made expert and addicted to something — drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food, tech, social media, you name it.

Oct. 9, 2018

But, as he argued for becoming “aggressively centrist,” McConaughey chided the left for clouding shared values — such as getting out the vote — with messages that make it impossible for the other side to hear.

Go ahead and make your pitch to get out the vote, he said, but don’t tag it with a hyperpartisan message. “They can’t help themselves,” he said. “At the very end of it, they go, ‘So we don’t let those criminal bastards get back in office.’ No! Don’t say the last part! You lost 50% of your audience.”

That, he said, is what makes the right side of the aisle dismiss what celebrities and other elites are saying. The left, he said, is going to have to learn how to meet people in the middle.

McConaughey also talked about what he considers shared values, where both sides can come together: basic trust, agreeing not to cheat one another and a sense of fairness.


“Even a sense of humor ... if you don’t know how to react, let’s make sense of humor our default emotion,” McConaughey suggested. “A hell of a lot more of us would get along.

“And people go, ‘Yeah, but when you laugh, it denies the crisis.’ No, it doesn’t,” he said. “It actually unties the knot in the contradiction of the crisis and allows us to go, ‘Oh, it’s a paradox.’ Yeah, I’m laughing. We’ve still got work to do to fix the problem, but we can laugh our way through that. Or the laughter can open us up to communicate that.”