It's the Middle Class, Stupid!

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9780142196953: It's the Middle Class, Stupid!

Government has really screwed things up for the average American. Work has been devalued. Education costs are out of sight. Effort and ambition have never been so scantily rewarded. Political guru James Carville and pollster extraordinaire Stan Greenberg argue that our political parties must admit their failures and the electorate must reclaim its voice, because taking on the wealthy and privileged is not class warfare—it is a matter of survival.

Told in the alternating voices of these two top political strategists, It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! provides eye-opening, outspoken, and provocative arguments on where our government has gone wrong and what Americans can do about it before it’s too late.

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About the Author:

James Carville is a political consultant and political science professor at Tulane University. He and his wife, Republican political consultant Mary Matalin, live in New Orleans.

Stan Greenberg is a leading Democratic pollster and political strategist who has advised the campaigns of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry, among numerous others. He lives in Washington, D.C., and Connecticut.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1.

WE ARE WRITING THIS BOOK BECAUSE WE FAILED AND THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH

There’s no other way to put it. We failed. It is as simple as that. Both of us have spent our lives focused on what’s happening with working people and seeing them get a fair shake for a hard day’s work—seeing them get the chance to move up the ladder and be honored. We put the middle class at the center of the world, because you can’t have an America without a middle class.

Well, we failed, and we have got to do better, and that’s why we are writing this book.

You need to understand the Democratic Party and why people have been drawn to it over many decades and through so much of our history. Some joined because it was the party of working people that would stand up for the little guy against the big shots. Some joined because it was the party that stood up for the poor. Some because it was the party of rights for women, Latinos, immigrants, gays and lesbians, each in their time—the party tolerant of the country’s growing diversity. Some joined because it was more supportive of abortion. Some because of the environment and climate change. Some because of spending on the arts or whatever.

Those are all good and important reasons to embrace the Democratic Party, but they are not what has animated us through all the years of struggle. Our passion for Democratic politics began with race and racial equality. That shaped us like no other issue and upended the political world like no other. But, like Robert Kennedy, we quickly came to believe that our party would only succeed and have purpose if we put work, work values, and hardworking people of whatever color at the center of our efforts. Given our country’s history, that might take a lifetime.

The two of us could not be more different. James is tall and bald. Stan is a short guy who had a ’fro. And you could not have constructed more divergent personal journeys to our common passion. Stan grew up in working-class big-city neighborhoods and galloped through Harvard and Yale before putting his spotlight on the Reagan Democrats, the disaffected working class that felt betrayed by the Democratic Party. James grew up in small-town Cajun Louisiana, joined the Marines, and barely got passing grades in law school before he started running and winning campaigns. Both of us became convinced that Bill Clinton was the extraordinary politician who was trusted by African American voters and instinctively understood he had to honor and win over the “forgotten middle class” to lead the country.

James I grew up in Carville, Louisiana, in Iberville Parish, sixty-five miles north of New Orleans. Carville was barely a blip on the map back then, and the only thing that stopped folks passing straight through was the stop sign in the middle of town.

Carville was named after my paternal grandfather, who was accorded that honor because he was the postmaster, one of the three generations of our family to hold that position. He also owned a country store, which was a big deal in a place like Carville. The store and the post office were adjacent. I remember in my daddy’s time when he ran the store, if you wanted to buy a three-cent stamp, which was what a first-class stamp cost for most of the fifties (it went up to four cents in 1959), my dad would say, “Fine, here’s your stamp.” Then if you wanted a loaf of bread and a quart of milk, he’d walk you next door and sell you that. My momma, Miss Nippy, worked selling encyclopedias door-to-door. They were hardworking people.

My dad reckoned up two tills each night, one in the store and one in the post office. I think Washington got what was coming to it and the Carville kids got the rest. Mom and Dad could never make a lot of money when they had eight kids going in and out of the store: we pretty much ate up everything they had. I helped myself to a lot more soft drinks, candy, cookies, and sandwiches than I did stamps. I didn’t have much use for those.

It’s my guess that Carville was about 85 percent black, and for the first ten years of my life it was segregated. Whites and blacks went about their business separately. It might have been hard for an outsider to figure that Carville was divided along racial lines, because there weren’t actually any amenities to segregate. My father, Chester, employed a black man in his store—something you never saw in the South—and we never used racial slurs in my family on instruction from my parents.

Because the biggest employer around was the federal government— the National Leprosarium in town was the nation’s premier center for the treatment of Hansen’s disease—Carville was a different kind of place, and it’s safe to say I grew up in one of the more egalitarian places in the rural South, which might not be saying much.

But after the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954, everything changed. Once segregation was declared unconstitutional, people paid more attention to what had been the norm around town for many years. After taking segregation for granted for generations, whites became fearful of what a newly empowered black minority might mean, because we knew that black people were going to assert their constitutional rights. Perhaps the prevailing sentiment was that if blacks weren’t so pushy, life would continue as it had before.

Few times in life can you pick out an experience that forced you to alter an opinion you held. I can identify one right here. When I was sixteen I borrowed a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird from the mobile library. I’d asked for a book about football but I guess the lady could tell I needed some educating. I got so engrossed in Harper Lee’s classic that I stuck it inside a different cover and read it under my desk during lessons at school. When I finished, I realized that whatever preconceptions I had about race, I was wrong—dead wrong.

My great-grandfather was born in Ireland; he came over to Wisconsin when he was twelve years old and he was in a regiment at the end of the Civil War. As a Republican in the era of Reconstruction in the South, he was with the good guys; Lincoln, the Great Emancipator himself, was of course a Republican. My great-grandfather actually served in the Louisiana legislature and in the very short administration of P. B. S. Pinchback (1872–73), the first African American governor of any state.

The Republican inclinations of the family at that time have left a legacy that lives on in me. Don’t be alarmed, my Democrat friends: that legacy is just my name. My daddy’s name was Chester and my actual name is Chester James Carville. We were both named in honor of Chester A. Arthur, the twenty-first president of the United States—and a Republican—who assumed office in 1881 after the assassination of President Garfield. Presidential names are a Carville tradition. In my great-grandfather’s day, people who were pro-Union tended to be very patriotic, and they would show this by naming their kids after presidents. My great-grandfather was John Madison Carville (after the fourth president) and his brother was Garfield (after number twenty, the assassinated one, and another Republican).

By the time I was growing up, Democrats and Republicans were standing for very different principles, and I could see which side was going to represent me. I understood from reading To Kill a Mockingbird that things had to change and I knew that the federal government had to make things change. It wasn’t as if Congress could pass a law in Washington and segregation would simply wither away. There were riots when James Meredith tried to enroll at the University of Mississippi in 1962 and it took five hundred U.S. marshals and a detachment of Army engineers to allow this brave pioneer to take his rightful place at school. My already existing interest in politics had a point on which to focus, and my views have remained the same ever since.

My understanding that black people were getting a bad deal ensured that I became a national Democrat because of the party’s commitment to civil rights. I helped organize the first chapter of college Democrats at Southern University, the historically black university in Baton Rouge. A group of us went up there to help students start their chapter in 1964 when I was at LSU and we may have been the first LSU students ever to set foot there. I campaigned for Hubert Humphrey when he passed through our mutual alma mater in 1964 and I still have a letter he wrote me at the time.

In 1966, ahead of being drafted, I joined the U.S. Marines. Whenever there’s a war, the Carvilles join up; that’s just what we do. Serving in the Corps was very formative. The military doesn’t tolerate any racial BS and there wasn’t any institutional segregation, although the white guys hung out with the white guys and the black guys hung out with the black guys, by and large. I was in the Corps through 1968. When I left the Corps, integration was moving forward, especially in the schools, and I wanted to be a part of the deal. So I taught science, about which I knew little, at a public school for boys in Vacherie, Louisiana, in 1969, which was the first year of complete integration in the state. The ratio of white students to black students at the school was maybe 60:40.

I developed a fascination for the machinery of politics from what

I saw at the Louisiana state legislature, in Baton Rouge. I had a summer job running checks around town for a local bank, and it was a treat to get assigned a delivery to the legislature, which was part theater and part circus. I’d watch a session for a few minutes from the gallery, and one time I saw Governor Earl Long marching down the halls, trailing cops and reporters and functionaries behind him like he was the most important man in the world. It was the coolest thing I’d seen in my life.

To this day, Earl Long remains one of my great American political heroes. Earl was governor three times, elected in 1939, 1948, and

1956; the last of these terms coincided with my teenage years, and the rebel in me liked his iconoclasm. In Louisiana, you were in one of two camps with regard to Earl and his brother Huey, who’d died in 1935: while my family was against Earl Long, I appreciated his sense of humor and his cleverness. Earl’s every instinct was populist, and he distrusted corporate power with every bone in his body. That point of view appealed to this young man.

In 1959, William Shawn, the editor of the New Yorker, sent the great reporter A. J. Liebling down to Baton Rouge to write about Earl because the governor had been committed to a mental hospital. Among the issues politicians had with Earl was that he was insufficiently dogmatic on the question of segregation. About an hour after arriving in Louisiana, Liebling proclaimed that in fact the only sane person in the state was the governor and that everyone else was nuts.

Liebling wrote five pieces about Earl for the New Yorker, and they were published in book form as The Earl of Louisiana in 1961, after

Earl had died. That book had a profound effect on me. Earl’s story unfolds before your eyes, and it’s like a Greek tragedy. His political demise was largely centered on race. Liebling writes a wonderful account of Earl having a set-to in the legislature with a really odious character named William Rainach, who Earl called “pinhead Willie.” Rainach was blatantly removing blacks from voter rolls, and

Earl called him on it. Earl was very drunk at the time, but he told

Rainach that one day, when he’d gone back to where he came from, he’d sit out on his porch and look up to God. “And when you do,” Earl yelled, “you got to recognize that n——s is human beings.” Despite the crassness of the language, and Earl’s mental state, Liebling wrote that Long was protecting black voters’ rights in a way no other southern politician of the time would have dared to do.

My political career started that same year I saw Earl Long in the flesh: 1959. Using my newly minted driver’s license, I motored around Iberville Parish, stumping for a state legislature candidate named Price LeBlanc. Not for the last time, the guy I campaigned for lost the race. I lost a lot more races once I finally graduated from LSU undergraduate and law school and went to work in the law. I helped a guy at my law firm run for the public service commission, but he lost. I campaigned for a woman running for judge in Baton Rouge, and for E. L. “Bubba” Henry, who ran for governor of Louisiana in 1979, but they lost too.

My lack of success (if that’s the word) didn’t deter me from jumping out of the law in 1980 and going to work for the political consulting firm of Gus Weill and Raymond Strother. I assisted on the campaign of Billy Tauzin, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1980, and was campaign manager for Baton

Rouge mayor Pat Screen, whose office I went to work in. But I realized what I really wanted to do was run political campaigns, and in 1982 I told myself I was either going crazy, going to jail, or going out of town. Option three looked a little more attractive than the others, so I left. Peter Hart and Mark Shields, two well-known Washingtonians, got me a job running the 1982 Senate campaign of Virginia lieutenant governor Richard Davis, which we lost by only a few thousand votes.

By now I was nearing forty and hungry for success. I was hungry, period. I was out of work and I got a job managing the Senate campaign of Texas state senator Lloyd Doggett. We won the primary, won the runoff, and got slaughtered by Phil Gramm in the general election.

Then I was out of work again, and getting desperate, when I was hired by Bob Casey Sr.’s 1986 campaign for Pennsylvania governor against Bill Scranton; it would be my first big come-from-behind win. I ran Casey’s campaign with Paul Begala, and I think it was during this gubernatorial race that my liberalism underwent a major shift toward economic issues. It was a kind of turning point. Casey was pro-life and socially conservative, but he was a strong union supporter and very liberal economically. Casey sympathized with the people in Pennsylvania who were losing their jobs in the steel industry, and he had a very detailed plan to put people back to work.

Casey had already stood for governor three times and lost, and

Scranton was saying that the state of Pennsylvania needed a winner, not this guy who’d lost three times. To which Casey said that he knew what it was like to get knocked down and get back up off the canvas: the view from down there could teach a man a lot. There were plenty of people in western Pennsylvania who were on the floor but were showing great courage and determination in trying to get up. Casey wasn’t the most articulate guy, but he really connected with people with that.

Another campaign that shifted in my focus was Harris Wofford’s special Senate election victory over Dick Thornburgh following John Heinz’s death in 1991. Wofford was a very soft-spoken guy who told us about meeting an ophthalmologist from suburban Philadelphia who said, “You know, I want to tell you this: If a criminal has a right to a lawyer, why doesn’t a working person have a right to health care?” Boom: we ran that right into the Senate, and that’s when I got a cal...

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