The Mrs. and I sat down for a few minutes with James Carville before his keynote address at tonight's Knox County Truman Day Dinner (more on that later). Here's what he had to say...
R. Neal for KnoxViews: Just to talk about the process for a minute, Sen. Obama is running more of a grassroots campaign as compared to Sen. Clinton who is doing better in states where they have an established machine like Pennsylvania. Is this a grassroots v. machine politics contest?
James Carville: Well, I don't know if there's like... well Indiana's a machine state, West Virginia... I think where obviously Senator Clinton does better in the bigger states, but the vote totals, you add them up and they're pretty similar. Obviously the more African Americans in the state the better Obama traditionally does. I think their approach is a little different. I think Senator Obama approaches it from a sort of "we can circumvent the system," and Senator Clinton is more a "we can cut through the system" kind of person. I think they have a different approach.
KnoxViews: Because she is winning those big states that Democrats have to win and he's running a more retail type of campaign, how will that work in November if he's the nominee? Can he continue that approach or will he have to change it?
Mr. Carville: Well, everybody knows everything about this election Attitudes are getting so fixed here that it's a little bit different in that sense of a campaign. But I mean he's a very good speaker, in the kind of wholesale sense, and you know they stopped doing these big rallies, they thought they'd do better if they went to smaller things. So I don't know, I think his style will be fine in the general election. I've never bought that the ability... I mean, if he wins the Idaho caucuses it doesn't mean he's going to carry Idaho.
KnoxViews: OK, moving away from the primary because I'm sure you've had plenty of questions about that, one of the things we talk about and get in a lot of disagreements about at our blog is the netroots "liberal wing" of the party if you will versus the DLC, Blue Dog wing of the party, and what's the disconnect there? Why can't... why is there this animosity?
Mr. Carville: (chuckles) Well, I think that a lot of the, and I'm just sort of surmising here, a lot of people say "the blogosphere" and it's not like one thing in the blogosphere. There certainly is a… certain group of people in the blogosphere that feel like that the modern Democrats have become sold out, that they didn't oppose the war enough, which I kind of agree with them, and certainly I think what really sparked it was the fact that we seemed to give up in 2000 in the Florida recount. We're not tough enough. I think they have some valid points there. Like most things that start up there's some validity in the inception of it. I don't think we fought hard enough in Florida, and I think we could have fought the war harder. I mean, I never was for it and fought it hard on television. But I think it's legitimate. By the same token, I think that most... a lot of them don't understand politics. I mean after you do things for a while there's a certain kind of understanding of the realities of it and I think that people are going to find that it's pretty hard to circumvent a system. You gotta be tough enough to cut through it, if you will, and deal with it. But, we'll see.
KnoxViews: Speaking of the war, do you find it strange that Sen. Obama's first attack against Sen. Clinton was about her vote on the war...
Mr. Carville: No, I think that's probably...
KnoxViews: ...but his introduction to America was at the 2004 convention introducing Kerry, who also voted for the war, and Obama supported him in that campaign. Isn't there an inconsistency there?
Mr. Carville: I don't want to defend Obama because I'm for Hillary, but no, I mean he's trying to draw a distinction on the war. He had some other statements that indicated he wasn't as opposed to it as maybe his campaign put out, but you know, you had two pro-war candidates, Kerry and Bush, and I think that Kerry would have been the better choice there. I don't know, I don't think it's necessarily a big inconsistency there.
KnoxViews: If Obama wins this nomination, do you see there is a sort of passing of the torch in the party, to younger, more liberal Democrats, a shifting back to the left that used to be the center?
Mr. Carville: Yeah, I think if he's nominated... I wrote an op-ed in the Financial Times [about this]... I do think it's going to go more toward an alliance between better educated Democrats and African Americans, maybe some more younger voters will be enthused. I think that the people that I describe that look to the Federal government to soften the harsh edges of capitalism, if you will, we've had a lot of different characterizations of these people. But the idea that the traditional kind of Harry Truman thing is there's a fight going on, and let me tell you, I know whose side I'm on in this fight. When Franklin Roosevelt said the captains of industry and Wall Street barons hate me and I welcome their hate, I mean Obama's clearly not of that ilk of Democrat. He's more of a kind of Bill Bradley, Paul Tsongas, Adlai Stevenson kind of Democrat
KnoxViews: Going back to the DLC disconnect, there's what we used to call "triangulation," and did that ever really work? Did we give up too much and not get enough in return?
Mr. Carville: I guess what I'd say is what did we get? We got a $5.6 trillion surplus, $6,000 in income growth, we had stable health care costs, we had relatively cheap energy, we had unemployment at historic lows, we had a very vibrant stock market. I don't know. Knock me over with a feather but you could have convinced me that we got something here.
KnoxViews: In this negotiation, what do you see as the core principles that Democrats should not negotiate away?
Mr. Carville: Well look, I think there's a constant kind of struggle in U.S. politics and the struggle is generally between the people who have it made and the people who want to make it. Or the people on the side of the mountain as opposed to the people on the top of the mountain. I think the very core of what it means to be a Democrat is, a Republican is always willing to take on people in the interest of power, a Democrat should never fear to take on power in the interest of people. I don't know why some of these issues… guns, I'm kind of pro gun and I've got guns myself, it's kind of an absurd thing. I think things where the party really can move, you know really has to stand strong, is first of all we've got to bring a more progressive tax code. I think we need to broaden the definition of income. I think we shouldn't give speeches about investment, I think we should actually invest in things. I think that people have to have rights to organize, I think if working people have the right to organize they can obtain power that when they're not organized they don't have. I think these are kind of really cool principles for the party. And things like the minimum wage, look at how well family and medical leave has worked, look at things like this. I think that Democrats have shown that they know how to build a prosperous economy, and I think Democrats are much better at building a more just society, too. I think we can do both.
KnoxViews: Speaking of some of those issues, it seems like the issues have been a moving target in this primary. (Last question, I promise) We started out with the war, we went to health care, now it's the economy and gas prices, what do you think it will be in November?
Mr. Carville: I think what the real issue is is our government can't control anything. They're completely… gas prices are out of control, health care costs are out of control, the war in Iraq is out of control, the war in Afghanistan is out of control, the currency has gone to hell in a hand basket, we couldn't do anything about Katrina. I mean, you just get the sense that this government, if there's not some way to make money off of it they don't care about it. We've got an entire government that the American people look at and say these clowns don't know whether to wind their butts or scratch their watches. And I think people are sick of it. OK?
KnoxView: Very good. Thanks, I appreciate it.
Mr. Carville: You bet.
Thanks to Mr. Carville for taking time to talk with us. Also, thanks to Michael Silence for putting us in touch with Mr. Carville's staff to arrange the interview .
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