Carville and Matalin’s Love and War’

3 minute read
Mary Matalin and James Carville doing the Naw'lins thang.
Mary Matalin and James Carville doing the Naw'lins thang.

I don’t care if all is fair in love and war, this couple and their opus should be outlawed.

Mary Matalin and James Carville seem to have both been hatched by a single egg nested on the Foggy Bottom political maelstrom delta of the Potomac River during the height of the '90s pollution. They have been rotten ever since.

“I understand why people are curious how our polar-opposite politics affect life at home,” Carville writes in the introduction, assuming that people are.

The birth of insta-news

Back in the days of the birth of the first all-news cable channel, CNN, the need for opinionated fodder to fill up air space began. Then came 1992, the end of the Reagan era, a recession, and a young upstart named Bill Clinton. Sensing a Clinton surge, the more seasoned veterans of Washington politics fled the White House staff of George H.W. Bush, leaving behind junior staffers and ideological stalwarts to defend their great leader. All of this came together with a single person, Mary Matalin. She discovered CNN, appearing on it as a ruthlessly absurd defender of Bush, trickle-down economics, and the Judeo-Christian moral code. Some would say she was a wee bit fanatical; others just thought her plain kooky.

Meanwhile, the winning camp had their own crackerjack commentator in a mad man with the face of a moon pie and the mind of a fox. James Carville practically invented the 15-second sound bite with his explanation for the young upstart Clinton’s groundswell in the polls — “It’s the economy, stupid.” But, and here is the intriguing part, unbeknownst to the viewers of Crossfire and Larry King, he and the uber-conservative Mary were snuggling up in bed like two peas in a pod. Was this a case of politics making strange bedfellows, an inside-the-Beltway ruse, or, as they say in the Bayou, “a lid for every pot”?

Whatever. Whenever I recall their supposed “great debates” on television I can’t help thinking they were laughing all the way to the bank — at the expense of honest discourse, civility, and understanding.

Out of the limelight?

Fleeing Washington, by Mary’s account because James wooed her by calling her “sugar,” this tell-all book is a blow-by-blow account of all that has happened since they moved into a New Orleans postbellum mansion.

There are endless pages of paragraphs written in memoir fashion, alternating between the two, with long, inane vignettes about their favorite subject, themselves. Never have I read more intricate minutiae about triviality.

Of her first night as a resident of the Garden District, Matalin writes, “It was a New Orleans summer night in 2007. Dusk was just ending and the air was thick, like a cocktail of air and water.” References to alcohol are ever present, even finding their way into talk about the center hall table she buys, why she needs her own space, and what school their two girls will attend.

Without political barbs, their dog and pony show morphs into hackneyed dialogue suitable for reality TV. I sincerely hope there are no plans at A&E to sandwich Love and War etc. between Duck Dynasty and Crazy Hearts: Nashville.

Not to be outdone by his wife’s ventilating, Carville’s explanation on his quick exodus from Washington is both fatalistic and as egotistical as it gets. “As much as anything, I wanted to get back home before home disappeared.” He frets that his New Orleans will all melt away into the Gulf, “like ice in a glass.”

I have the same fantasy about this book.

Mimosas, anyone?

What, When, Where

James Carville and Mary Matalin, Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home). Blue Rider Press, 2014. List price $28.95; less at Amazon.

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