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Ragin' Cajun Awaits an Audience

James Carville has some ideas on politics that he'd like to share, eventually. Weekend Chat


These days, James Carville is such a famous personality that he appears in advertisements that have nothing to do with politics. The architect of Bill Clinton's 1992 election victory has not only risen to the height of his profession, he has transformed an industry that used to keep its political consultants shuttered in back rooms.

Carville is a true American character, a political genius and a natural entertainer. The Washington Speakers Bureau's suggested introduction for Carville notes that he is co-founder of the Washington Chapter of the Andy Griffith rerun fan club, he enjoys Louisiana State University football and New Orleans Rhythm and Blues and, it recommends, that audiences give a warm welcome to the "genuine Ragin' Cajun, James Carville."

Offstage, Carville is still working in campaign war rooms, but not in the U.S. He has worked to elect world leaders recently in Britain, Israel, Greece, Brazil, Honduras, Ecuador and Argentina. He is the father of two young daughters and husband to his well-known Republican counterpart, Mary Matalin. And earlier this year, Carville released his fourth book, "Stickin.' " It is about the merits of loyalty in life and politics and it describes Carville's reasons for being President Clinton's chief defender during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

On Sunday, Carville will speak at UCLA. And, as he told The Times in a recent interview, he is saving a few announcements for the event.

Question: What about our political system today . . . is there anything that is troubling to you?

Answer: Yeah, I think there is a better way to fund elections. I actually tend not to agree, for lack of a better word, with elite opinion on many issues. But that is one that I do agree on. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of Americans that are focused on it right now. But I do think there is a better way to fund elections.

Q: What is the damage done by the system as it is?

A: There is an intersection of a lot of power and a lot of money. I just don't think you can have the kind of power you have in Washington and that kind of need for money you have in Washington without it having a sort of corrosive influence on the system. You know? It's human nature. I'd rather not call people corrupt, but I think the whole way to fund political campaigns is corrosive to the way we do things and it's also been corrosive to the way the public looks at the political process.

Q: Have we reached a point where if somebody wants to do it the right way, they want to abide by what's best, they would have trouble getting elected?

A: I don't know. Who knows what is best. Maybe that is part of what democracy is, you know, to have an argument about what's best. But I think if you came up with a better way to fund campaigns you would spend more time talking about what's best.

Q: Well isn't what's best a system that attracts the best people and elects them to office with the freedom to make the decisions that they think are best for the country?

A: I don't think so. . . . Politicians should be sort of bound by public opinion. This . . . prevailing view that what's best for the country is what the country doesn't want; it's sort of the castor-oil theory. Castor-oil, I don't think is particularly good medication, nor do I think what people just sort of deem from on high is what's best is always particularly good. . . . Somehow or another, there is this sort of [feeling that] if only politicians didn't have to pay attention to public opinion they could do a much better job. That opinion is shared by everybody but the public.

Q: Do you think the election we are in, with obviously much more money than the previous election and the one before that, . . . will be remembered as part of a continuing trend or . . . as the precursor to a correction?

A: I don't know. There is just more money in the country, right now. Look, the decisions that are made in Washington have enormous impact on people and on how much money they can make. So what I'm saying is that there has to be a way; one of the things I'll probably come up to UCLA and talk about is, 'How can we, you know, judge people on the power of their ideas and not the power of their pocketbook?' And I think there is a way we can do it.

Q: Is public financing involved?

A: There is an element of it. But it's too complicated. Well, it's not complicated but I'd rather leave it to my speech.

Q: How has being a father affected your politics? Do you look at issues like the legacy we leave to the next generation differently or issues like schools or quality of life differently?

A: No. . . . I think it's more a process of getting old. I'll tell you what I'm really starting to do . . . is believe in Third World debt and that kind of stuff. I am becoming increasingly kind of liberal on that. This is just me personally; I'm not sure of much but I'm sure that a father in the Sudan doesn't love his children any less than I love my children.


"James Carville Looks at American Politics," UCLA's Royce Hall, Sunday at 7 p.m. $9 to $25. (310) 825-2101 or

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