Political strategists and media personalities Mary Matalin and James Carville have had front-row seats – across the aisle from each other, that is – for many of the major events of the last two decades, from the election of 1992 to the Iraq War to Hurricane Katrina. The political odd couple’s new book, “Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home,” chronicles their public and personal lives and their move from Washington to New Orleans post-Katrina. Matalin, a Republican, and Carville, a Democrat, recently spoke with U.S. News about what’s kept their marriage intact and how Washington could take a lesson. Excerpts:
What has kept you both together for all of these years?
Matalin: Our basic philosophical thrust about the level of government interaction is diametrically opposed, but our love for policy and politics and the need for informed citizenry and participatory democracy is the same. That we disagree on policy was tough, but it’s not one of those deal-breakers. We’re very practical in our local politics, and we’re philosophically opposed on the role and scope of government, but we love each other. What can I say?
Carville: I just think that at the end of the day, it’s one of those kind of unexplainable things.
Do you talk politics at home or is it off-limits?
Matalin: We don’t. We have pretty vigorous and active lives. We like to fish. We like to cook. We like history. We like church. Talking about the impact of the minimum wage is just not something that is high on our list of fun things to do. We don’t mind talking about strategy and such and news of the day, but it takes its priority in relationship to what else is going on that day.
What’s the most divisive issue now?
Carville: I guess, if we brought it up, Obamacare, what constitutes good economic policy. [That’s] if I wanted to provoke or discuss it, [but] I have no desire to do that. I’m not going to change, and she’s not going to change.
Matalin: We formed a kind of a pattern. We got in such horrible fights over Iraq that James just decided we weren’t going to discuss it. My presumption is that if we got into it about Obamacare, we’d get just as loud and as angry. I just think it’s an atrocity in every conceivable way. I’m sure he disagrees. We kind of agree on energy policy. We agree on local politics.
Why did you leave Washington?
Carville: I was more about going somewhere than leaving somewhere. I never hated Washington. But it just wasn’t home. I think the storm, and I talk about it a lot in the book, really drew me back. I have my own kind of views about Washington, the culture, whatever it is. I just love the sense of place and the fragility of [New Orleans], and the storm and everything just made me really push toward going home.
Have any lessons from your time in politics had an impact on your family life?
Matalin: One of the things every parent learns early is that kids can’t at young ages distinguish between debating – what we thought was a healthy debate – and fighting. So that was the initial curtailment of talking about politics. And then, secondly, in our particular case, [our children] didn’t like public displays of opinions about politics. They took them too personally. Complete strangers attacking their parents – that was strange to them. But on the flip side, they really understand the connection and the impact of being an involved citizen.
Any early predictions for the midterms?
Carville: Most prognosticators would say that it would be more difficult for the Democrats to win the House than it would be for Republicans to win the Senate. I probably agree with that. I think the Democrats probably have a 20 percent chance to win the House. That’s conventional wisdom, and I would put myself somewhere in there.
What are your thoughts on – and for – polarized Washington?
Carville: First of all, make sure that you do in fact disagree on everything. Because there might be things you find out that you can agree on. And then, sometimes people have to disagree. Washington has something that marriages don’t: [the] enormously powerful and wealthy influence of lobbies, government relations offices, super PACs.
Matalin: The premise and the presumption … is that if it’s not happening in Washington, it’s not happening. I’m a believer in the states being the laboratory of innovation. I can see it literally every day in New Orleans. I think Washington being in gridlock to my mind was envisioned by the Founders, and it’s not a bad thing. When they get out of gridlock, when they do something, everything they do is bad, like the trillion-dollar business they just passed through. That’s really what our book is about: The essence of it is how public policy and politics can work without giving up your principles amongst people who are outcome-based.