James Carville: Rollin' back into battle and runnin' for the state lineJames Carville is beginning to sound like Lamont Cranston's evil twin. He knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, but he has no intention of using any old Tibetan mind-clouding methods to make himself invisible while tackling it. This is one up front, in-your-face Shadow, and if he is practicing a sort of verbal incantation, he's certainly doing it in public, out loud, and with a sort of deadpan folksiness that takes no edge off his words.
You know something? begins his new book, And the Horse He Rode In On: The People v. Kenneth Starr, with the sort of companionable frankness of a guy buying you your second beer. I don't like Ken Starr. I don't like one damn thing about him. I don't like his politics. I don't like his sanctimony. I don't like his self-piety. I don't like the people he runs with. I don't like his suck-up, spit-down view of the world, how he kisses up to the powerful and abuses the life out of regular people. I don't like his private legal clients. I don't like . . . well, you get the idea. And if you don't get it right off, Carville will make sure you get it a page or two farther along.
Impossibly impolitic and irresistibly quotable, James Carville is the President's most unabashed, adamant, and flamboyant advocate. His intentional lack of polish may be an anomaly in the political consultant-cum-talking head circles (and may in fact be as much pose as some people's polish), but it plays to the hilt outside the Beltway, as Washingtonians say. And Carville's hot-off-the-presses tract, with its last-minute appendix addressing the release of President Clinton's videotaped grand jury testimony, is as much an indictment of the anti-Clinton forces as it is a rallying cry for his supporters.
I'm trying to get the Democrats fired up, so they'll get out there and vote, says Carville. The press is so anti-Clinton: Where can the people who like the President go? Horse is written in the same conversational style, a mix of straight stuff and a little commentary along the way, that he used in his last book, We're Right, They're Wrong, which like Horse trumpeted the economic and social victories of the Clinton administration. It's also a mix of demonstrable fact and reprinted legal criticism with partisan argument. After all, as Carville cheerfully admits, People don't look to me for objectivity. A lot of the straight stuff is already out there, so it's sort of lists, talking points, Carville says. My readers really want to have the information; I see them all the time with my book, and the pages are dog-eared and stuff is underlined. But they like a little sizzle with their steak, too, so I have to give them some of that. And once you get beyond that thigh-smacking style, it's a horse of a different color: furious, yes, somewhat redundant and occasionally ingenuous, but also deeply disturbing in its litany of conflicts, constitutional breaches, and at best ill-considered actions he lays at the door of Starr's office. (The publicly-funded ones, that is, not his private law firm's.) It may not win him any Mr. Congeniality titles from the Republican leadership, but then, as Carville would undoubtedly say, a man is known as much by his enemies as by his friends.
Besides, Carville, the most famous Clinton advisor who has neither been impersonated by Michael J. Fox nor sucked toes in the Jefferson Hotel (well, actually, I didn't ask about that), already has a list of sobriquets to treasure. From the relatively benign Ragin' Cajun jokes (he is in fact a native Louisianan) and marital Mad Dog jibes of the early '90s (Carville is famously married to the equally blunt-spoken former Bush campaign maven and staunch Republican Mary Matalin), his critics have long since passed to Clinton hatchet man, henchman, spinner and the snider political op, Washingtonspeak for hired gun. Even the usually straitlaced New York Times, which seems to dread Carville as some type of Sherman's revenge, denounces his scorched earth approach.
But no one can accuse Carville of backstabbing, ambushing, or entrapping his prey. This army announces its campaign plan in advance. He is Cpl.