Love, War And Running For President
By Mary Matalin & James Carville with Peter Knobler
493 pages, Random House/Simon & Schuster, $24
THE OSTENSIBLE PREMISE of this book is to share
behind-the-scenes glimpses of the Republican and Democratic
presidential campaigns of 1992, while at the same time giving
inquiring minds their fill of gossip regarding the authors'
James Carville, chief strategist for Bill Clinton's successful
run, and Mary Matalin, political director for George Bush's losing
effort, somehow managed to sustain an intimate relationship under
highly contentious circumstances. The two were married Nov. 25,
Fortunately for readers, both writers are so utterly enamored
with the political process that they devote most of the text to
chronicling their respective campaigns. In alternating voices, the
duo fills page after page with extensive passages that contain
little more than passing reference to their courtship. Curious
observers expecting a kiss-and-tell memoir would be better off
Carville is still on the Democratic payroll as a highly
compensated consultant, and Matalin works as a political
commentator for NBC and CNBC. They may be clever campaigners, but
both register rather low on the charisma scale. This mutual
deficiency seems especially ironic when viewed in a campaign
context, a setting in which a candidate's perceived charm may count
more with voters than the substance of his or her platform.
Carville, perhaps sensing his inadequacy in this area, colors
his conversation with forced folksiness. This tendency manifests
itself most often in double negatives, as in "I just can't think
about it no more, man."
Still, Carville is able to produce timely thumbnail sketches
with cutting clarity. Consider these gems inspired by Ross Perot's
quixotic candidacy: "As far as being a man of substance, he wasn't
that much of a man." And, "Perot is very astute politically, but he
has a coordination problem: He can't talk and tell the truth at the
Matalin comes off as a quick thinker with a knack for
formulating caustic phrases. Thus the Democrats become "pandering
purveyors of empty emotionalism," and their leading candidate a
"silver-tongued straddle pander."
The buzz words both authors spout with regularity amount to a
rudimentary primer in spin doctoring. Phrases such as "off
message," "talking points," and "stepping on your story" appear as
regularly as some of the real-life figures in "All's Fair."
For Matalin, George Bush's defeat can be blamed on a number of
factors, foremost of which was a schism between the White House
staff and campaign operatives such as herself. This split was
exacerbated by then-chief of staff John Sununu, who, says Matalin,
"had the political acumen of a doorknob."
After the GOP convention, Matalin writes, the Republican
moderate majority failed to contain damage caused by Pat Buchanan
and his fellow "proponents of jihad rhetoric. …