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Mary Matalin and James Carville, the business of love, hate, marriage and politics

By Randall Kenneth Jones
Originally published in the Naples Daily News

I recently took a vacation from my normal editorial crusade for real human contact and posted a question on Facebook—one I frequently ask in person, too. Yes, Facebook: the technological tool that has often reduced the concept of a “friend” from flesh and bone to, often times, little known.

The question: Considering how divided we seem to be as a nation, has “hate” won? Is there hope for compassion, collaboration, discussion and compromise? Whether the answers came via cyberspace or in person, the candor was undeniable.

 “I’m not sure ‘hate’ has won, but intolerance seems to be the new normal.” Kevin Kenneally, Naples, FL

Though not included as part of my question, governmental politics received most of the attention.

“I prefer to not know the party affiliation or political beliefs of anyone in my circle of friends. What I literally don’t know can’t hurt me.” Tammy Roberts, Potomac, MD

Politics: The word most likely to induce fear, elicit groans and disengage human edit buttons the moment it’s injected into a public forum.

My favorite definition of politics comes from Merriam-Webster: “The total complex of relations between people living in society.” Why? Politics are undeniably in play practically anywhere power is desired. Political maneuvering can be found inside all levels of government and in the office, on volunteer boards and within Homeowners Associations, in the classroom and even at Little League games.

I also chatted with politics’ dynamic duo, the pair who have come to symbolize the ultimate marriage of left and right wing ideologies: Mary Matalin and James Carville. It’s not just that Matalin and Carville have successfully navigated a 20+ year marriage and raised two children, but their professional lives have provided them collective access to all corners of our nation’s political arena.

As an author, television and radio host, political contributor, pundit and public speaker, Mary Matalin is one of the most popular conservative voices in America. More specifically, she served under President Ronald Reagan, made her mark as George H.W. Bush’s campaign director, and most recently served as assistant to President George W. Bush, and as assistant and counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Her liberal husband, James “The Ragin’ Cajun” Carville, is a political consultant, best-selling author, actor, producer, talk-show host and speaker. Carville’s list of electoral successes suggests a knack for steering overlooked campaigns to unexpected victories and for turning political underdogs into winners. His most prominent victory was the election of William Jefferson Clinton to the U.S. Presidency in 1992.

If Carville is correct that part of our collective disconnect stems from members of one party not coming into personal contact with those in the other, then what happens in Matalin and Carville’s polar-opposite scenario? Spoiler alert: it ain’t hate.

“Our marriage isn’t a democracy. We have a higher calling and responsibility to our family,” says Matalin. “Considerations in marriages are way different than considerations in politics.”

Couples can certainly disagree on any number of issues, but when it comes to politics, Carville proposes: “It’s a learning process. Sometimes, you just have to understand you are going to disagree. You’re not going to change anybody’s mind so why talk about it? You just have to let things go.”

And one let-it-go method? The couple intuitively knows when to leave politics at the office: “You don’t want to come home at night and clean your own toilet,” says Matalin.

“Hate has not won but stupidity is inching up the scale and nonsense is overtaking a good portion of the country. Whatever happened to The Golden Rule?” Karen Gentry Manning, Gladstone, MO

Yes, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”: a staple of childhood education that some of us feel disappeared alongside Dick, Jane, Sally and their enthusiastic canine, Spot. So, I re-purposed “do unto others” into “what do you admire about each other?”

“I like that he’s relentlessly honest in the projects he chooses to work on. He’s ethical; he’s well humored; he’s rational. He honestly believes his opinions,” says Matalin. “What I most love about my husband has nothing to do with politics. He helps everybody. He’s a giant soul.”

And now, Carville on Matalin: “She is very smart and very loyal. She has a really broad skill set. She almost likes to go against the wind.”

Nonetheless, is cooperation dead? “Compromise has become an empty word—it means capitulation,” Matalin says. “I find that where political conversations break down is when somebody is arguing on emotion and not facts. If there is data to support your argument, I’m all ears. I have changed my mind on many things.”

And Carville? “There is a lot of acrimony and people talking through or at each other, but the public kind of demands it. Negative partisanship is pretty proven. It’s not so much that they like their own party, but that they detest the other party.”

Yet so many of us were taught to fight for our beliefs, not against the values of others.

“I travel across America. I’m in every little town. I’m everywhere. It’s not as bad as everyone thinks. The people who are

[living with respect] are just doing it every day. The people who are not doing it are just very noisy.” Pat Benatar, Los Angeles, CA

Matalin and Carville also choose to focus on areas of agreement. For example, to these two residents of New Orleans, civic responsibility has no party affiliation.

In truth, I was somewhat intimated by the couple’s intellects—but I openly admitted that and chose to listen and learn. But what about the extraordinary number of Americans who refuse to accept what they don’t know and fail to take steps to educate themselves?

The elusive ideal world aside, Matalin proposes: “There’s a reason we all believe what we believe—because we think it is right or we’ve seen it work.” That said, “hate” is not part of her platform. “The answer is to sit down and talk about it. The answer is not to scale up; it’s to sit down. Shouting doesn’t close potholes or rebuild schools. I like to light candles, not push the darkness.”

And one of Matalin’s primary decision-making tools? “You have to rely on your gut. Your gut is only as good as your preparation.” To Matalin, the best gut reactors are those who have invested time in thought.

In the end, Matalin and Carville enjoy a tremendous benefit: they automatically challenge each other’s belief system and, in turn, strengthen each other’s resolve. However, their real (shockingly simple) secret? They compartmentalize: they keep their work—and political beliefs—in proper perspective. Politics is simply one part of a much bigger, glorious household picture.

Lest we forget, a person’s politics is not the sum total of attributes that make up his or her character.

In fact, to Carville: “You don’t change anybody’s view of politics; you can only change their view of YOU.”

Now, reread this entire piece, not just as a profile of Matalin and Carville, but as a means to study your approach to compassion, collaboration, discussion and compromise—as well as politics’ influence in all areas of your life. Become a student of YOU.

“I am a believer that love always wins. Those lemons may need a lot of sugar, but there will always be lemonade on my screened-in front porch.” Ronna Rothenberger, Portland, OR

Of course, here’s the clincher: “We have an advantage over a lot of people because we’re in love with each other,” says Carville. “You know, at the end of the day, that’s kind of a big advantage.”

Besides, didn’t someone once tell us that “love means never having to say you’re sorry”?

Randall Kenneth Jones

Marketer, branded-content writer, creative-development consultant, and entertaining motivational speaker Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Florida. 

Photos: TOP — Mary Matalin and James Carville (submitted photo); BOTTOM — Randall Kenneth Jones (photo by Kevin Randall Jones).