James Carville, always ready with a memorable line and never boring, not ready to retire | Local policy

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James Carville pokes fun at politics, in his unique style.

US Senator John Kennedy? “I don’t think he’s dumb, but he plays one on TV,” Carville says.

Donald Trump? “There is no bigger scammer in the world,” he says.

On what it takes to succeed in politics: “The most overrated trait is intelligence. We must be careful because intelligence does not always translate into wisdom. The real underrated trait is charm. Bill Clinton is perhaps the most charming person you have ever seen. If Clinton walked into a room of 100 people and someone’s mother had died two days before, Clinton would know. He just had a real connection with people.






James Carville visits St. Gabriel Catholic Church in St. Gabriel, Louisiana on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. (Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Lawyer)




30 years ago, Carville burst onto the national scene as the chief strategist for Clinton, the little-known Democratic governor of Arkansas who went on to be elected president. On the eve of the high-stakes midterm elections, Carville took some time to reflect, taking a reporter with him as he visited the small community where he grew up, just downriver from Baton Rouge, a place named d after his grandfather.

Although no longer at the center of the action, Carville continues to be strong, tossing out quotes on broadcast networks, raising money for Democratic candidates across the country, broadcast of a weekly podcast and serve as keynote speaker for Democratic state party rallies. He will analyze midterm results on NBC and MSNBC on election night, Nov. 8.

Everyone in politics seems to remember that it was Carville who coined the most memorable line from the 1992 campaign – “It’s the economy, stupid.” It has become the mantra of hundreds of campaigns since. Maybe that’s the subtext of the midterm reviews, though this time it’s the Republicans trying to capitalize.

Carville was adored in a 1992 campaign documentary titled “The War Room,” which portrayed him as an exotic Louisiana figure.

The “Ragin’ Cajun”, the press called him.

Carville was soon in high demand by presidential candidates abroad. He wrote books that rocketed to the top of bestseller lists. He married his political opposite, Republican campaign agent Mary Matalin.

In 2008 they moved from Washington to New Orleans.

Matalin said the city had “magic around every corner”. Carville said he didn’t want to grow old among strangers.

“The most excited I get is when I come back to New Orleans,” Carville said in an interview at his Warehouse District home on Tuesday, his 78th birthday, wearing an LSU shirt. “Everything suits me here. I know what I love: restaurants. I know how to move. I know people. It’s different than elsewhere. I’m just very comfortable here.

But Carville’s heart remains in the region where he grew up, in the parish of Iberville.







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James Carville views the Chapel of the Sacred Heart at the site of the former leprosarium in his hometown of Carville, La., Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. The site, now home to the Louisiana National Guard, was the first leprosarium in the continental United States. (Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Lawyer)




“It’s Carville,” he said with a laugh one recent morning as he drove through the community named after his family on La. 75 at the base of the Mississippi River levee. “That’s where my parents’ house was,” he said, pointing to an overgrown field beside the road.

The town was named after Carville’s grandfather, the postmaster, by the Postal Service in 1908.

He owned a country store which was a central meeting point in the community.

It is now a “Stop and Go” convenience store. Carville walked in, admired the hardwood floor, and was flooded with memories.

“That was the post office,” he said as he walked to a corner of the store. “You could buy a 3 cent stamp and a bottle of beer here.”

The eldest of eight children, Carville rode horses before he could ride a bicycle.







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James Carville visits Lone Oak Cemetery during a trip to his hometown of Carville, La., Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Lawyer)




His name is Chester James Carville Jr. His mother, known as Miz Nippy, insisted that he be called James, not Jim, Jimmy or Jr. No one questioned Miz Nippy.

Carville wanted to show a visitor the landmark of the community, the former national leprosarium.

“See that oak tree up there?” he said, driving slowly down the river road. “Every patient who has ever written about the hospital has spoken of seeing it as their final image.”

For decades, “lepers,” as people with Hansen’s disease were then called, were stigmatized and shunned by others. But Carville’s parents played golf on the hospital grounds, and young James and his buddies played softball against the patients.

“What you see is not much different from what I saw when I was 6 years old,” Carville said, as he was shown around the grounds. “I could never have been James Carville without Carville.”

It is now the Gillis W. Long Center, named after the late congressman, and it houses wayward minors as an alternative to prison, run by the Louisiana National Guard.

“Damn, this place isn’t dead after all,” Carville told Colonel John Angelloz, who oversees the facility. “It’s really rewarding.”







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James Carville tours the former leper colony in his hometown of Carville, La., Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. The site, now home to the Louisiana National Guard, was the first leper colony in the continental United States . (Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Lawyer)




Carville believed he would spend his entire life in Baton Rouge, where he attended LSU and LSU law school and worked for then-mayor Pat Screen.

But something told him he had to go. At 38, heavily in debt, he succeeded in his first political campaign, in Virginia. His candidate lost. Just like another candidate two years later. Carville seemed unsuccessful as a political consultant before he had even fully started.

He pledged to work for Bob Casey, who had run for governor of Pennsylvania three times and lost each time.

“We were like the ugliest guy and ugliest girl the night before prom,” Carville said. “So, bingo! »

Casey won. The same was true for three other Carville candidates. Then Clinton came calling.

Clinton’s director of communications, like the future president, was a Rhodes Scholar. Its media director was a Harvard graduate. His investigator taught at Yale. Carville barely made it out of LSU, where he lifted more beers than textbooks.

He first worried about being in over his head when the Clinton team held its first meeting in 1992.







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James Carville checks his phone as he tours the former leper colony in his hometown of Carville, La., Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. The site, now home to the Louisiana National Guard, was the area’s first leper colony continental United States. (Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Lawyer)




“After five minutes,” Carville recalls, “I said, ‘They don’t know any more than I do.’ I probably had more experience than any of them because I had raced so many races in those days. Coming to Louisiana is good training, to say the least. I thought about it and decided it was a non-factor. Some of the smartest people I know can’t do politics. It is an ability to work under pressure, to see things and to synthesise.

These skills and Clinton’s landslide victory made him a cultural and political phenomenon. He raced in Greece, Brazil and Honduras. National networks hired him as a commentator. Trade groups and universities flooded him with invitations for paid speeches.

“Someone once said that once you’re a famous person, you can make money being famous. Since 1992, I’ve been a famous person,” Carville said.

Minutes later, he was walking into the Fiery Crab restaurant in Gonzales when a man shouted, “Hey, are you okay?” – and paused as Carville smiled – “that political consultant?”

Besides his ability to understand the thinking of ordinary voters, Carville believes two traits are critical to his success. One is its notoriously short attention span.

“It forces you to think in short bursts,” which leads to his legendary one-liners.

The other character trait: “People never care if you’re wrong. They care if you’re boring. I may be a bit of a circus artist. What I realized very early on was that my difference made me heard.

Carville steps out on the proverbial wire as he makes a prediction.

“Trump is in so much legal trouble that he’s going to apologize and admit guilt,” Carville said. “Biden could give it to him.”

Told that Trump, like Edwin Edwards, used to avoid one legal trap after another, Carville replied, “Yeah, but look what happened to Edwards in the end.”

The four-time Louisiana governor was convicted of bribery and spent 8½ years in federal prison.







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James Carville exits the Stop N Go during a visit to his hometown of Carville, La., Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Lawyer)




Carville quickly moves from Trump to the latest scandal: The liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus released a letter on Monday calling on President Joe Biden to engage Vladimir Putin in negotiations to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“A human being couldn’t have such a stupid idea,” stammered Carville. His voice rose in tandem with his growing indignation. He wrinkled his nose and squinted his eyes while spitting profanity. “Don’t these people know how many Ukrainians vote in Ohio and Pennsylvania?

Progressives are a sore spot for him. Carville praises the political skills of U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, but otherwise lashes out at what he calls “the overeducated, woke white elite.”

He wonders if their support for the Democrats drives away even more centrist voters.

As he approaches his ninth decade, Carville’s days of round-the-clock political strategy are behind him. But he is not ready to retire from politics anytime soon.

“I wasn’t a particularly good athlete,” he said, slumped in a chair at home. “I was not a particularly good student. I’m not particularly good at any type of hobby. I have no artistic skills per se. What else would I do? I love it.”

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