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New Republic - February 10, 2020

Ahh, 1994. What a time to be alive. Ill Communication,Monster, and Superunknown were blaring from every boom box and Chevy Cavalier cassette deck. Final Fantasy 3 had a generation of socially awkward kids glued to a Super Nintendo. Forrest Gump was spinning a Boomer fever-dream of American history on the big screen, and Pulp Fiction was about the coolest thing imaginable.

To news junkies of that era, there was James Carville: omnipresent and unquestionably brilliant, with a quiverful of colorful Cajun quips. Disregarding the fact that the 1994 Gingrich-led “Republican Revolution” represented a sharp setback for Democrats, Carville was nevertheless among the unlikely personalities to ride Bill Clinton’s 1992 election to notoriety, credited as the architect of Clinton’s rise from no-name governor to president. Never mind that on Election Day the incumbent, George H.W. Bush, had an approval rating of 30 percent or that Ross Perot siphoned off 18 percent of the popular vote with a populist anti-deficit message. Carville and his “It’s the economy, stupid” tagline were treated with something approaching awe by CNN and the Sunday panel shows.

Times change, however. At present, Carville represents much that’s wrong with the Democratic Party—its refusal to learn from its mistakes; its obsession with appealing to wealthy suburbanites while telling its traditional base of the working class and people of color to suck it up because the Republicans are worse; its preference for the performative over the substantive (Pelosi ripped the speech!); and, above all else, the belief that “operatives” and “consultants” know the pulse of the nation and can soothsay the will of the common man.

Last Tuesday, in the wake of the Iowa caucus on February 3, Carville emerged from MSNBC’s cryochamber to deliver a “fiery rant” against Bernie Sanders, to which the most common reaction among people who do not obsessively watch cable news was, “James Carville is still alive?” In a lengthy follow-up interview with Vox’s Sean Illing, who asked challenging and direct questions throughout rather than the fawning softballs to which Carville has grown accustomed, the Ragin’ Cajun trotted out all the greatest hits of people whose political worldview has not been updated since 1994 and for whom the takeaway from 2016 is that Hillary Clinton lost because of Jill Stein and Russian hackers.

Carville is the most skilled practitioner of a hobby common to his social and political stratum: ascribing to “the working class”—or simply “voters”—a resistance to any kind of change that inconveniences people like James Carville. Simply put, his performances seek to demonstrate the remarkable coincidence that “voters,” particularly of the central casting Average Joe variety, dislike all of the same things he dislikes.

This is endemic among liberals of the Clinton 1990s vintage, the insistence that their caricatured ideal of the working class cannot stomach the sort of change the left wing of the party prefers. A decade after Clinton’s second term ended, this idée fixe was trotted out to excuse liberals’ refusal to champion marriage equality (Barack Obama ran explicitly opposed to it, and Hillary Clinton famously was “a big fan of civil unions” until it was safe to flip). Sophisticated and urbane liberals like Obama and Clinton were allies to the LGBTQ community, of course! But as a matter of pragmatic politics, neither one could afford to risk alienating that guy in the hard hat, could they? ...
Read full commentary at New Republic