Former Bill Clinton strategist Carville goes on the ‘Record’

James Carville, the architect of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential election victory and coiner of the now famous political line, “It’s the economy, stupid,” spoke yesterday evening to a packed Chapin Hall. Before the lecture, Carville spoke with Record editor Jonathan Galinsky.

It seems that age plays a large role in this primary election, with a lot of older people going for Hillary, and a lot of younger people going for Obama. How have the two candidates courted voters of different ages? What could Hillary have done to court younger voters better, and is that a problem for her?

Well, first of all I think a most encouraging trend is happening in the Democratic Party that younger people are turning overwhelmingly Democratic. That’s pretty good news in itself.

I think that for her, [she needs] a little bit of style, if you will, and a little bit of message. Obama has more of a reform message and his style tends to be what young people like. She relates more particularly to older women, but she can pick up younger voters in Massachusetts and California, so it depends on the state. Younger voters have different characteristics as you move from state to state. It’s not that there’s a typical younger voter. Not the most typical person is somebody at Williams – there’s not that many of them. It is true that younger voters tend to be more diverse also.

Hypothetically, if Hillary was to win the nomination and she went against McCain, who is already quite old –

You know there’s a joke that the DNC was looking for somebody to dig up dirt on McCain’s past, and they hired an archaeologist.

So if Hillary goes against McCain in the general election, how is she going to get those younger voters who are excited about Obama to come over to her side and be excited about her campaign?

Firstly, she’ll be running against McCain and not Obama, which would count for something. And secondly, she’s going to have to make a message that’s sharper and a little more inspired and campaign pretty hard. But I think they’re trending Democratic pretty good right now, and I think there’s no doubt that Obama has a certain identification with young people that’s pretty remarkable, but by the same token I guess the question, “Why is Hillary not doing better with young people?” I could reverse it and say, “Why is Obama not doing better with older people?”

So if Hillary did have to make a better message, do you have any idea of what this message would or should look like?

I always thought and still do that Senator Clinton needs to have an issue she attaches herself to and that sort of becomes bigger than she is, and I think that’s something she should have done earlier. And I think young people care. I think the biggest – I don’t want to say it’s a sleeper issue, but the one that is not getting the attention of the people you want to get – is this whole question of energy: how can we consume less of it, how can we become less reliant on it, how do we deal with every problem from national security to global warming to economic prosperity, you name it. And I think if she attaches it to a large issue that she’s passionate about, it will make a difference.

It’s interesting you mention energy because that’s a huge issue on campus right now. You also see a lot of politicians signing on to being green now. Do you think that a lot of people supporting “green” policies and saying they are environmentalists are doing it for the political points?

I guess my position is I don’t care, as long as they are doing it. I can’t tell if somebody is committed or somebody is a huckster, but if they’re doing what you want them to do: it’s impossible to, unless you have extraordinary powers that not very many people do, it’s impossible to ascertain someone’s motivation, but you can’t objectively ascertain their actions. And I would rather see someone do something I want out of expediency than see somebody do something I don’t want out of conviction.

Why don’t we switch gears now and talk about you. Your wife is a Republican strategist. I don’t want to pry too much, but what do you talk about when you discuss the campaign?

It’s so interesting – we’ve been married 15 years Thanksgiving. We don’t talk about issues, and we’re still pretty divided about the war – I’m still unable to talk about it. I’ve hated this war. The first time it was ever mentioned, and, nothing has changed my mind. I think she was more committed to it. But we learn. We live and learn. We can talk about it.

So do you try to sway her to one side, and does she try to sway you to the other?

I think that we know better. You know with people sometimes you know there are things not to bring up, like maybe your mother’s mom in front of your dad, this type of thing. Maybe there are certain things in every house you just learn to just deal with, that’s off limits.

You were in Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign and you’re very close to the Clintons. How does this play into this election?

I think lots of people know that I’m close to the Clintons and I think as long as people know, they’re cool with that. And I’ve only had anything bad to say about one Obama supporter and that was Bill Richardson.

So if things turn out badly for Hillary in Pennsylvania, how do you think the Clintons will take it if she does have to drop out of the race?

I think they’ll be disappointed, but not everybody in America gets to grow up to be president. She’s worked hard, it’s a long thing, but let’s wait and see, who knows? Maybe she’ll do better than people think.

Do you predict she’ll run again?

If somebody runs for president one time, it’s a pretty good bet they’ll want to try again. It’s an itch that won’t go away with one scratch.

You’ve become somewhat of a public icon yourself, having written many books, been on CNN’s Crossfire, TV shows like K-Street and movies like Old School. When you do consulting work now, does it ever come up sometimes that you overshadow the candidate?

That’s why I do only overseas work. I don’t do domestic work. So to avoid that I just go overseas.

So what people have you worked for overseas?

Oh, I’ve worked in Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Ukraine, Nigeria, Israel – I’ll think of some more if you give me a minute.

Are international politics a whole different ballgame than American politics?

That’s right, but a lot of the same principles apply. And it’s fun. I like it.

Do you bring things you’ve used in American campaigns to overseas work?

Some, but I’ve been able to take some wisdom that I’ve learned in overseas campaigns. I’ve never been able to understand – and there are plenty of people like this – but a lot of people you grow up with were just never really curious about what’s on the other side of the mountain. And that’s fine. Thank God we have young people who want to learn Arabic and go out and see the world – you know, proud sons of the Berkshires.

But you also want to go beyond that. And that’s good. I really do admire a person who is from a place and is proud of it in every way but also have this sort of insatiable sense to find out what’s going on in the world. And that’s the kind of young people I like. I grew up in Louisiana. I’m actually moving back at 63 years old. But I had to get out, stick my head out of the hole and see what’s going on out there.

So what do you see as your future after this campaign? Are you going to stick with CNN and do what you’re doing?

Yeah, I’ll do a little commentary, I’ll live in New Orleans, I’ll probably work on another book, teach a little bit in Tulane – I like being around young people, I enjoy that. I’ve got two little girls. My family is from there.

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