James Carville was considered a brilliant political pro in his day. He got Bill Clinton elected twice – the second time after the president was impeached.
His famous line, “It’s the economy, stupid” – along with the Ross Perot candidacy – got Clinton elected the first time. Perhaps because he’s largely been out of politics for a while, he sees the political landscape with a clarity lacking in many contemporary Democratic professionals.
Make no mistake, Carville is a Democratic partisan who enjoys nothing more than savaging the opposition. But because he can see where the Democratic Party is going more clearly than most, he’s worried.
In an interview with Vox, ostensibly about Biden’s first 100 days, Carville commits what amounts to Democratic heresy in denouncing “wokeness.”
“Wokeness is a problem,” he told me, “and we all know it.” According to Carville, Democrats are in power for now, but they also only narrowly defeated Donald Trump, “a world-historical buffoon,” and they lost congressional seats and failed to pick up state legislatures. The reason is simple: They’ve got a “messaging problem.”
That “messaging problem” is that Democratic issues and ideas do not resonate with a majority of Americans. Nor does his description of Donald Trump. It’s hard to believe 70 million people voted for a “buffoon.”
This has been the problem with the Democratic Party since before Clinton: their failure to understand how ordinary Americans think and what motivates them.
Carville: Wokeness is a problem and everyone knows it. It’s hard to talk to anybody today – and I talk to lots of people in the Democratic Party – who doesn’t say this. But they don’t want to say it out loud.
Vox Reporter Sean Illing: Why not?
Carville: Because they’ll get clobbered or canceled. And look, part of the problem is that lots of Democrats will say that we have to listen to everybody and we have to include every perspective, or that we don’t have to run a ruthless messaging campaign. Well, you kinda do. It really matters.
I always tell people that we’ve got to stop speaking Hebrew and start speaking Yiddish. We have to speak the way regular people speak, the way voters speak. It ain’t complicated. That’s how you connect and persuade. And we have to stop allowing ourselves to be defined from the outside.
All politicians, right and left, have been cowed by the mob. Corporations, non-profits, unions — every American institution has been co-opted by internet ruffians and screeching radicals.
It doesn’t help that the Democrats are seen as a party of coastal elites.
Illing: I hear versions of this argument about language and perception all the time, James. It’s an old problem. What’s the solution?
Carville: That’s why I’m doing this interview. Lots of smart people are going to read it, and hopefully they can figure out that which I can’t. But if you’re asking me, I think it’s because large parts of the country view us as an urban, coastal, arrogant party, and a lot gets passed through that filter. That’s a real thing. I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks about it — it’s a real phenomenon, and it’s damaging to the party brand.
I know from communicating with a lot of professionals that Carville is not alone in his thinking. But all are equally at sea about what to do about it. You can’t suddenly disinvent the internet. And telling some of these people to shut up is akin to professional suicide.
The mob may be a mindless group of ignorant people but there are those who know exactly what they’re doing and have been learning how to manipulate it. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is one of them. Patrisse Cullors of Black Lives Matter is another. They have developed a terminology of victimhood to describe their “oppression” that resonates far and wide.
And they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.