What James Carville Knows | The American Conservative
The Clintonista writes a comment warning Democrats not to neglect rising crime. His political realism may have a moment.
James Carville speaks on stage during the 2019 Politicon at Music City Center on October 26, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Kempin / Getty Images for Politicon)
I first met James Carville in the early 2000s when he was up Crossfire. That was the show’s Thunderdome days, when the cameras flew over the co-hosts and tense music was booming in the background and the entire setup seemed like an answer to a question never asked in human history: “What ? The McLaughlin Group were directed by Michael Bay? ”Carville was one of the“ left wing ”hosts while I was a young Conservative, and I remember being irritated by his willingness to fight. I also remember noticing that he sometimes wore jeans under his desk.
Today Carville is something of a grudger eminence grise the Democratic Party. No one can deny that he won the 1992 election for Bill Clinton, but the Democrats are about as interested in reviving the Clinton years as they are in looking to Grover Cleveland. The party has moved on. But Carville is still there and has developed a penchant for telling difficult truths. He has that in the Wall Street Journal Last week when he took up a subject that no one else on the left wants to talk about: crime.
There is a lot to object to in Carville’s article, starting with the headline “Democrats Are Anti-Crime” (uh-huh). Carville credits Bill Clinton for the steep decline in crime in the 1990s, although the reasons for this slump are still not fully understood. He attacks Donald Trump because the crime rate has risen under his surveillance, although Trump had little control over it and violent crime in some places has been rising for years (Baltimore’s murder rate, for example, rose after the Freddie Gray riots in 2015). . He claims that Trump is an integral part of this crime wave, that he “broke the law that hinders the judiciary,” which is … rich because he came from a diehard Clintonista.
Still, it’s hard to argue with Carville when he is warning the Democrats not to focus on crime. Own the problem or the problem will own you. ”The man certainly remembers the hard defeats of the Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s, when the extreme left exerted influence and the party was viewed as too soft on social pathologies. And with Trump injecting some steel into the GOP’s law-and-order plank and violent crime spiking across the country and getting worse over the summer with the lifting of COVID restrictions, Carville fears this is a possible path to the Recovery for an ailing Republican could be partying.
“Own the issue or the issue will own you” – that is just one of the maxims that Carville has shaped over the years. During the 1992 presidential campaign, he was known to hang a sign on the wall of Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Little Rock that read, “The economy, stupid.” Staff were encouraged to take this to heart and laser-like the economic recession at the expense of then-President George H.W. Bush. There were also two other commandments on the wall: “Change vs. more of the same” and “Don’t forget your health”. That all of this could have been applied to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign or even Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign should signal that Carville knows something about election victories. His thinking may be aphoristic, but simple wisdom is often the easiest to forget.
American politics is now entering an idealistic phase, perhaps the most idealistic since the 1960s. That’s partly because so much seems so broken, partly because of the social media that separates our conversations from real life, and partly because Donald Trump acted as a kind of projection screen for all of our myriad desires and hates. The result was a hell of a wild time. Leftists talk seriously about the abolition of sex and the disempowerment of the police. The Conservatives open the book to almost every catchphrase they’ve ever had: free markets, originality, even the American founding.
What James Carville knows is that voters don’t just because the activists and experts talk like that. The laws of politics were not suspended. Not a single swing voter cares about white fragility or justice training. It’s still the economy, stupid, after all these decades. What Americans want are the usual things: a good job, stability for their families, low taxes, reliable health care, no pushing around, and of course, safe sleep at night.
Because of this, for the past 50 years, Democrats have tended to win elections on economic issues, while Republicans have tended to win them on promises of security. Both are of immediate and immediate importance to the everyday life of voters. Issues like abortion, say, and national debt are still important – in fact, they are immensely important – but they don’t affect people on the same visceral level as an IRS form or a tuition bill.
The American electorate is Burkean in character, a feeling that practical improvements are preferable to social change, that it is better to go slowly and in search of the familiar. “The spirit of innovation is in general the Result of a selfish temper ”and so on. Carville seems to understand this, although it’s difficult to imagine him wearing a powdered wig. For the same reason, he told Vox.com that radical wakefulness “is a problem and we all know it”. For the same reason, he said in the same interview that the Democrats should chill with the “abolition of the police” stuff because “almost no one wants to do that”. Small democratic politics is the art of meeting people where they are and getting them where you want to go; Expand the void too much and you will never erase it.
So is Carville right? Could crime ultimately hinder the Democrats? Initial signs suggest that they are safe for the time being, if only because voters are so polarized and city centers are already leaning to the left. Earlier this week, New Mexico’s First Congressional District held a special election to replace Deb Haaland, whom Joe Biden had appointed to be its home secretary. Although the first is deep blue, Democrats were concerned because it covers much of downtown Albuquerque. Crime is high there, and Stansbury’s Republican opponent, Mark Moore, led a campaign that focused monomaniacally on law and order.
You didn’t have to worry. Stansbury beat Moore with 60 percent of the vote. However, Moores was also woefully underfunded by the Republican National Committee and did not benefit from the kind of national dynamism that can arise during a mid-term election. The GOP may very well be able to craft a successful fuller narrative around the subject of crime next year along with critical racial theory and alertness in general. Carville understands that. He regrets that politics has become infected with what he calls “faculty lounge bullshit.” Both the left and the right should remember that he is right.