January 21, 2004
The "Ragin' Cajun," James Carville, Talks Tough with BuzzFlash.com
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Okay, Okay, he's doing some commercials -- and you GOT to let a man love who he loves, whatever her political leanings. So get over all that.
The truth is that if you had any doubts about the ragin' cajun losing his mojo, just read "Had Enough? A Handbook for Fighting Back." Once again, Carville proves that it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.
Take the first two points in "Carville's Ten Rules for Progressives to Live by": 1) "Stop Apologizing for Everything; and 2) "Quit Conceding that the Other Side Has a Point."
Carville asks: "Will the election be about foreign policy or the economy? You know what -- he's the president; he's supposed to be able to do both." Then Carville launches a lacerating attack on the notion that Bush is good for our "homeland security."
For each of his broadsides against Bush, Carville proposes a "had enough" solution.
If you have had enough with the Bush Cartel and want the debate points to fight back Carville style, this is the book for you, "Had Enough?: A Handbook for Fighting Back."
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BuzzFlash: You've got a great new book and we want to talk about it. Let's start with points one and two of "Carville's 10 Rules for Progressives to Live By": Stop apologizing for everything, and quit conceding that the other side has a point. Do you want to go into those a little bit more?
James Carville: Every time that we see a Democrat, it's always, well, gee, this is kind of the best we could do under the circumstances. The Democrat says, "Well, you've got a point there, Bob." Well, no, GOP Bob you don't have a point. And it's an asinine argument.
BuzzFlash: Your life has been spent trying to convince the Democrats to be on the offense. You had the slogan, "It's the economy, stupid" in 1992. What do the Democrats do now? Because the conventional wisdom that you confront on Crossfire and in the media is Bush is sacred after 9/11.
James Carville: My answer to that is: Show me any evidence of that. By every piece of evidence, he can't get to 50 percent, all right? That's media mythology, and I can't address mythology. I can address practicality. And the practicalities are that Americans not going to trust a party to defend America that fails to defend itself. The second thing is that every piece of evidence available indicates people have fundamental doubts about the direction that Bush is taking the country in. Democrats have to offer something new, and it has to be very different.
BuzzFlash: How do you feel about the media in general?
James Carville: It doesn't occupy a lot of my thought because that's a great bitching point. And Democrats bitch about the media. They bitch about talk radio. They bitch about the religious right. They bitch about special interest power. And then it's interesting, and they have a point on each thing. But that's not the point that we want to make if we are going to get anywhere.
BuzzFlash: Let's get to the form vs. content issue. You have as point number nine in your "Carville's 10 Rules": Sometimes you've got to be willing to fight, period. The Republicans, they're street fighters -- they fight in the gutter, brass knuckles, whatever it takes. They have their eye on the goal line and nothing's going to stop them, which we saw in the Florida recount. And the Democrats get caught up in little niggling points.
Does form become content to the extent that some people, a swing voter, may even forgive Bush for lying us into Iraq? Under this scenario, they might rationalize: We're under threat, and he may be a son of a bitch, but he's a strong son of a bitch, and that's who I want in my corner.
James Carville: Well, a voter may say that, but that would be a supremely uninformed voter, because, by any standard, we're weaker today than the day before we invaded Iraq. And we're certainly no safer today. So that would be just plain wrong. And I can't tell you that people wouldn't say that, but that would just be a voter that's sort of lacking knowledge about what's going on in the world.
BuzzFlash: You had the economy message that you pressed and pressed in the '92 campaign. What's the message on national security that is that direct for a Democratic candidate in 2004?
James Carville: America is stronger when it is part of the world. America has never been a strong nation when it has stood alone against the world; it has always been a strong nation when we have stood with the world. Think of World War II, or the fight against Communism. A foreign policy and defense policy based on unilateralism and arrogance is not going to succeed. It's not succeeding in Iraq, and it's not going to succeed.
BuzzFlash: Your latest book is laced with recipes, and, of course, Carville-esque anecdotes about your upbringing in Louisiana in a working-class environment.
James Carville: Well, it was really a small merchant-class environment.
BuzzFlash: We did an interview with a with a sociologist at Berkeley, Arlie Hochschild, who talked about polls she had seen in the beginning of 2003, that almost 50 percent of blue-collar males were planning on voting for Bush at that time. In the South, which you're particularly familiar with, the Republicans, going back to Nixon strategy -- but now with Rush Limbaugh sort of as this populist instigator -- have kept a large chunk of the working class and middle class in the Republican camp through appeals to so-called cultural values issues, as the Republicans call them. How do the Democrats battle that? They keep being concerned about being populist, but really the Republicans are the ones capitalizing on a cultural values form of populism.
James Carville: Well, first of all, it is why we're not railing against 138 special interest tax breaks that have been proposed or passed by the Republicans or this President, during a time when America's at war. None of them -- not a single one -- go to a single person. They're all specifically targeted to a Republican industry or a company that supports the Republican Party.
What is it that they did to protect these average firemen from 9/11? That's coming forth. Look at the things that they're talking about squeezing so they can pay for these tax breaks. You got to get out of the weeds and get out there and fight this thing on the turf it needs to be fought on.
BuzzFlash: Number four in your 10 Rules is "Be positive," which I think is what you're alluding to here.
James Carville: I'm saying speak up and fight. But you got to say they're for this; we're for that. Okay, what is the "that" that we're for? The first "that" we're for is we're going to tear up all 138 special interest tax breaks -- all the special interest groups are going to be put on notice when the next Democratic president's there in the White House: "You're not running the country any more, the people are." We got big problems to deal with here. That's got to be our message.
BuzzFlash: How would you advise the Democrats -- and certainly you address this in your book -- to deal with the rather ironic situation that the Bush administration is running us into a deficit that's going to bankrupt the future of our children?
James Carville: First of all, it's not just down the road that's going to be a lot of trouble for our children and grandchildren. It's a deficit that's going to cost you right now. They're talking about cutting everything down from Veterans' benefits. They're under-funding education. Right now, the idea that somehow or another there's a future price tag is true. And there's a huge current price tag for this deficit. Look at what we can't do for the states, and all the tuition increases and everything that we see coming up.
BuzzFlash: Why don't Democratic politicians in general speak like you? I'm not saying there aren't any, but most of them don't. Why do they have such a hard problem speaking to the common person?
James Carville: I don't know. You know, all my whole life, I've been trying to get people to talk straightforward in communications. I think people feel like they invested in or have an interest in making things more complicated than they are. And my interest has always been in trying to simplify things. I think we get too sort of bogged down into nuances, and we kind of forget to talk to people in a way that they can understand, and turn an argument back on people.
I mean you got the RNC making a flap about some little videos among a thousand or more in the MoveOn.Org contest. I love this flap about this Hitler thing. I mean the Republicans ran a spot comparing Tom Daschle to Saddam Hussein. Dick Cheney himself refused to condemn it. What the hell are they talking about with MoveOn.org? You know?
It's not just to stand up and fight. The gist of it is to stand up and it's to turn a phrase. It's to turn an argument around. It's to contrast a policy. It's to tell a story. It's all these things we got to get a lot better at.
BuzzFlash: The Clinton administration was an open administration. If anything, staffers freely talked -- not completely freely, but they were open with the press, and that often got Clinton himself in trouble.
James Carville: Right.
BuzzFlash: A trivial issue became a cause celebré for impeachment.
James Carville: Right.
BuzzFlash: We have an administration that we can't conclusively say has committed any violations of the Constitution or crimes, but there certainly are a lot of indications and there's the need to explore some of them.
James Carville: Well, we know about the CIA agent. We're going to find out -- this 9/11 commission -- this thing is not going to be pretty at all.
BuzzFlash: But they're masters at controlling things.
James Carville: They are. But we're not good enough at exposing things.
BuzzFlash: Why is that?
James Carville: It is the nature of a Democrat, I think -- okay? Somehow, for reasons I don't understand, it is the nature of modern Democratic politicians to be equivocal. I always say we see six sides to the Pentagon. And sometimes when there are basic questions to be asked, we need to ask them. And we need to ask them again and again and again.
BuzzFlash: Don't the Republicans demand process and use process to create factoids and press issues?
James Carville: Right.
BuzzFlash: And the Democrats are very reluctant to use press...
James Carville: We need more people like you because we need an infrastructure out there. The Republicans have an echo chamber that picks accusations up, whether they are true or not. They have an echo chamber -- we have a bitch chamber, okay? We need to turn our bitch chamber into an echo chamber.
A lot of Democrats on the Hill say, look, you guys come up here, and you ask us to do this, and we do it. And then there's nothing behind us. And everything the Republicans do, they got that -- the Wall Street Journal, talk radio, et cetera. We need guys like you guys who are doing really good work to, in essence, you know, bitch slap the bitches, and say: Look, here's what you can do, and now here are some things you can do.
I think one of the things that's happening to the Democrats around the country is they're so frustrated and so angry. And you got to give Dean a lot of credit. He channeled them into something, right? But there's a lot more that supporters can do out there, and there's no reason that they can't call the Hill. There's no reason they can't send letters in. There's no reason that they can't support places to send money. There's a thousand. There's plenty out there.
My message here is I've heard enough. I've had enough of the f***** whining and bitching and complaining, and I want to do something. That's what this book is really about. I know how bad Bush is, and I don't mind saying it in the book. And I go through all of it. But it's also what we can do to get back on our feet.
BuzzFlash: It's titled "Had Enough? A Handbook For Fighting Back." I saw you on the Jay Leno Show. The book's got you on the cover, and I think he said that at some point you were voted the sexiest political advisor or something. You kind of blushed at that time, James...
James Carville: Twenty-five sexiest men alive. Don't limit it, now.
BuzzFlash: ...and you do address it in "The Handbook," particularly going back to that point about being positive. Reagan, as you know, in 1980, had that famous commercial, "Morning in America" -- great, great visual television advertising that played on the heartstrings of the myth of the American plains, American innocence, and hope in the future. You emphasize in the book the Democrats are going to have to go beyond anger, to provide a vision of hope.
James Carville: Right.
BuzzFlash: What is that, in essence?
James Carville: People want a country that does not plunge itself into debt, okay? And people want a country that has not taken a deficit of trust involved and turned it into distrust and anger everywhere in the world. I think people want a country where the people run the country, not special interest groups. They want an America that stands for and promotes good things about our country that we love. And this is not what this administration is doing.
BuzzFlash: James Carville, thank you.
James Carville: I appreciate it very much. And any time I can help you guys -- let me tell you, you know, it's better to light one candle than it is to curse the darkness. And you guys are the candle-lighters out there.
BuzzFlash: Thanks, James.
James Carville: You bet.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
otherwise noted, all original