Washington insider and former presidential campaign manager James Carville visited his homestate Tuesday, April 2 when he spoke before an audience at the Spring Honors Convocation.
Carville answered reporters' questions before his speech and spoke on topics ranging from the upcoming presidential elections to Louisiana culture.
Carville was uncertain just what his role will be in President Bill Clinton's 1996 campaign, but he indicated that he would be speaking with the president within the month.
"I'll be working for (Clinton), but it won't be the same thing I did in 1992. I'm gonna go speak to him. ... I suspect I'll be doing some of this, going around the country raising some money, maybe saying things ugly about the Republicans. ... I won't have to be so restrained," Carville joked.
Carville's pointed humor and tough strategic maneuvering turned a political unknown into the first Democratic president the nation had seen in 12 years.
Carville is also the author of two books, the most recent, "We're Right, They're Wrong," a bestseller.
"Number one bestseller, I might add," Carville laughed.
Early in his career, Carville did not seemed destined for fame and fortune. He was kicked out of college and joined the Marines. He later returned to LSU and completed his degree. After a brief teaching stint, he worked for a law firm in Baton Rouge. He eventually became interested in political consultation, managing his first Senate race in 1982. In 1983 he managed his first, albeit unsuccessful, gubernatorial bid, and soon after started a consulting firm.
Carville said he believes President Clinton will be re-elected, and cited the Republican's unpopularity as one factor for his re-election.
"I think the country's gotten a good look at these guys -- thank God. I think that's a reason for their fall in popularity," said Carville. "I think the president's gonna win. In the end (voters) will focus on the incumbent, and they will conclude that the incumbent is doing the job. ... By and large, he's doing the job--and doing rather well, I might add."
He also predicted that the Democratic party will fare well in the 1996 elections. "The bad news is that we've had some deterioration," said Carville. "But the good news is we'll do better than we did in '94, and I think we'll even do as well as we did in '92 ... I think we have a chance to carry every Southern state in '96 that we did in '92.
Carville also said he believes the Democratic party will "carry" Louisiana in both the Senate race and the presidential election.
Carville was candid on a number of issues concerning the elections, particularly with Texas billionaire and 1992 presidential candidate Ross Perot. Perot has not, as of yet, made a commitment to enter the elections, but Carville maintains that Perot is simply biding his time.
"(Perot)'s gonna run -- he's addicting to running," said Carville. "Personally, I think he's loony as a tune. I don't think he's got both oars in the water ... I think he's loony as a damn tune."
Carville was just as outspoken about Republican presidential hopeful Bob Dole, R-Kan. The Democratic party is already questioning Dole's health and will likely make the age factor a central part of the 1996 campaign.
"Bob Dole has been in Washington longer than Castro has been in Cuba," said Carville, "So, if you can remember Baptista, you can remember Washington before Bob Dole. ... The last new idea he heard, you know, was circle the wagons."
The penultimate issue with the Kansas senator, Carville insists, "is how long he's been in Washington."
"He's just a Washington guy. He's not particularly happy about anything."
Carville noted that democratic elections always leave room for numerous candidates and surprises, but insisted, "I'd just as soon have a clean contest between Bob Dole and the president."
Republicans are likely to make the Whitewater investigation a central part of the November elections, and Carville became defensive about questions on the subject.
"You know what I say about Whitewater? Here's a quarter. Call somebody who cares. ... It's a joke. It's a joke."
In response to recent surveys suggesting that college students are wary of partisanship, Carville responded, "If you're tired of partisanship, try giving Newt Gingrich and Jesse Helms, Pat Robertson and that whole crowd everything they want."
Carville suggested that students' frustration with the political process is often indicative of a larger problem.
"Oftentimes, quite frankly, (students) use it as an excuse not to get involved," Carville said.
He added that Democrats traditionally have been strong in a number of social programs that directly or indirectly affect students, including environmental programs, school lunches and student loans. "These programs have all been -- I think -- fabulously successful programs that have been under attack and under assault (by Republicans)," said Carville.
Carville maintains that students need to become involved with the election process and even offered some areas that students should watch.
"I think what college-age students should be most concerned with is ... right now you need skills on top of skills to compete in this world. (Students) also need to be concerned about the country. ... Frankly, not everyone is fortunate enough to go to a school like this one," he said.
Carville's more recent political advice has not been nearly as successful as his 1992 presidential campaigning. In 1993, Carville headed a series of unsuccessful campaigns, including Gov. James Florio's losing battle in New Jersey, Richard Katz's unsuccessful Los Angeles mayoral bid, and the Clinton's struggle to gain public approval for the ill-fated health-care plan. In 1994 he signed on as Sen. Harris Wofford's, D-Penn., consultant. Wofford spent $25,00 a month for Carville's help, in a re-election effort that was ultimately a failure.
Moreover, Carville's recent book, which was penned by a team of writers, has come under considerable scrutiny and criticism. The work is typical Carville, taking shots at all things right-wing. Carville writes, "The Contract With America is a direct assault on black people. Period." Yet, when asked to explain this and other statements in the work, Carville became flustered.
"Most of the things in there (Contract with America) -- educational opportunities, school lunches -- tend to be -- the black people are beneficiaries of these programs," Carville insisted. "Not to mention the assault on affirmative action."
Carville also criticizes Rep. Fred Heineman (R-N.C.) for labeling himself as "lower middle class." Heineman makes an annual salary near $200,000 according to Carville. Yet Carville has called himself "decidedly middle class"--this from a man who earns almost $1 million in speaking fees annually, a figure that doesn't even begin to touch upon his six-figure book deals, his $300,000 consultation fee for the Democratic National Committee, and his individual political consultation fees. Confronted with this inconsistency, Carville was also somewhat vague.
"I don't equate money with class. ... Only Republicans equate money with class," Carville explained. "Rosanne probably makes $20 million a year. I certainly would not call her upper class. ... That is a uniquely Republican thing is to equate money with anything."
"I don't think anyone would look at me and say, `There's a blue blood.'"
Carville's presented his Honors Convocation speech to a packed house in Angelle Hall. Although Carville normally commands $15,000 and upwards per speech, he received approximately "$1000" to speak at USL--a fee that covered his airline, hotel and rental car.
Carville's speech focused largely upon Louisianians, whom Carville said have a "crisis of confidence."
He said people often ask him why he returns to his homestate, to which Carville replied, "I got news for you : you inhabit the finest piece of real estate there is."
"Our culture is a precious thing," insisted Carville.
Carville said he believes that Louisiana is a remarkable state with much to offer. The solution to our problems, said Carville, is in the individual. "Love and confidence in yourself ... is much better and much more important than anything else."
Carville added that Louisianians should be proud of who and what they are.
"You are the best. You have accomplished something significant and something remarkable."
Jason Kaliszeski/The Vermilion
President Clinton's 1982 presidential campaign manager James Carville spoke before an audience at the Spring Honors Convocation. Beforehand, he answered reporters' questions on a number of topics.