One of the unlikeliest marriages in American history—between a staunch conservative and a diehard liberal—is still going strong after 20 years.

In their sparkling and revealing memoir Love & War, Mary Matalin and James Carville recount the ups and downs of their very public life together: the 2000 presidential recount, Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina (Carville is a Louisiana native). Throughout it all, the pair has stayed together while remaining on the opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Matalin comes across as a sharply funny and deeply intelligent woman, a fiercely loyal friend and a wonderfully supportive mom. But she also, improbably, manages to make even the famously over-the-top Carville sound measured:

“James led the charge for the wayward, I-never-inhaled, Southern-fried-but-elite-educated, liberal-in-centrist’s-sheepskin candidate, Bill Clinton,” Matalin writes about their time on the 1992 presidential campaign trail. “I was the one who stood by the ultimate statesman, an honest man and lifelong public servant, George H.W. Bush—aka ‘Poppy’ to me—the fantastic, accomplished incumbent who deserved victory but had it snatched away by a perfect storm generated by a next-gen Southern stud and an old-gen crackpot, Ross Perot.” 

Carville still works in a few zingers of his own: “Conservatives—and I know this because I live with one—literally view it as a kind of a weakness to talk to people other than themselves,” he writes. “The conservative media landscape is the biggest echo chamber going. They love to reinforce their beliefs, day after day.”

Despite their big lives at the center of American politics, Love & War is at its heart a lovely he-said, she-said exchange on the ordinary struggles of marriage in the modern age: Negotiating on which features they wanted in a home in New Orleans, where they moved in 2007. Carville’s hurt feelings when his middle-school daughters suddenly found him embarrassing. The pain of losing parents and friends (granted, in this case, the friend was Tim Russert).

Their genuine affection and respect comes through even when they’re skewering each others’ political beliefs. And Carville sums up neatly their secret to success: “I’d rather stay happily married than pick a fight with my wife over politics.” 

 

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