IV. THE “CARVILLE FACTOR”
If The Dems nominate Hillary, expect James Carville to have a prominent role in the campaign. Otherwise, the Democrats will continue to act out the chorus to “Send In The Clowns.” In 2004 John Kerry amassed the second highest number of votes in U.S. history and still lost. Carville, the mastermind behind Bill Clinton’s ascension to the White House needs to take charge of a party in shambles. Carville predicted that Kerry would defeat Bush 52 to 47 percent and said if Bush was re-elected it would be “the signature political achievement of my life.”
After Kerry’s defeat he said, “I think that the Democrats should have won. (Kerry received the second highest number of votes in U.S. Presidential election history). We didn’t…I was disappointed Election Night. I’ll be honest with you.” Carville believes, “The Democratic Party really is at a precarious moment here…Now, we don’t control any branch of government. I mean, we’ve won three out of the last 10 presidential elections…I think this is a message to the Democratic Party: We need to produce a narrative. We need to be more about solving problems as opposed to managing them.”
James was born October 25, 1944 in Carville, La., a town near the Mississippi River and named for his grandfather. Currently he is married to Republican stalwart Mary Matalin, who was the deputy campaign manager of George Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. He got his first job in professional politics in 1982, managing a Senate race, sixteen years after he flunked out of Louisiana State University in 1966. (He returned after a two-year hitch in the Marines, to complete his law degree). The following year he headed the Texas Gubernatorial campaign of Lloyd Doggett. Six years later he teamed up with Paul Begala to form the Carville & Begala political consulting firm.
In 1992 the two managed Bill Clinton’s campaign. Prior to that Carville headed the successful 1991 Pennsylvania U.S. Senate campaign of Harris Wofford, Zell Miller’s 1990 gubernatorial bid and the 1988 reelection of Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg in New Jersey. He also managed the 1987 Gubernatorial victory of Wallace Wilkinson in Kentucky and the 1986 gubernatorial victory of Robert Casey in Pennsylvania. In 2000 he looked on and as Al Gore lost a controversial Presidential election to current President George W. Bush.
Several months later Carville noted wryly, “A Republican friend warned me that if I voted for Al Gore and he won, the stock market would tank, we’d lose millions of jobs, and our military would be totally overstretched. You know what? I did vote for Gore, he did win, and I’ll be damned if all those things didn’t come true!”
“America is getting ready to learn a lesson,” says Carville. “And that is that very minor shifts in voting can produce policy earthquakes…unbelievably rapid loosening of environmental regulations and fundamental restructuring or attempted restructuring of both the tax code and the Social Security system, and you’re going to see a PAC right-wing federal judiciary, and you’re going to see an administration and a Congress that is 100 percent representative of corporate interest. You’re going to see a diminution of any protection for workers or anything like that. You’re certainly going to see a huge legislation passed and signed to limit products’ liability, defects products and medical malpractice…All of that is coming.”
This must be the Democratic message in 2008, assuming these things don’t come to fruition beforehand.
The Dems will probably need an issue to latch onto as a “pet cause.” That issue might be homelessness, a growing problem across the country. It seems to me that you can’t convince a woman sleeping under a bridge, or in an inoperative automobile that Bush’s energy policy, high gas prices or whether or not prayer should be allowed in schools is relevant. Homeless children wonder where their next meal will come from and could care less about terrorism, WMDs or other political optical illusions.
Annual homelessness figures exceed 1% percent of the total U.S. population and may represent as much as 10 percent of all poor people in this country. A large number of those with adequate and affordable housing are hanging by a thread and if that sounds oxymoronic, examine these facts:
More than three million people face homelessness each year, including single and two-parent families, single adults (the largest group) and a rapidly-increasing number of the elderly. With escalating housing prices, working people are being priced out of the housing market. With large numbers of these people clamoring for the few available apartments, those price rises as well. In some areas of California (such as Solano County), bidding wars are driving up the price of this type of housing.
Certain factors are precursors to homelessness. Families with incomes half or less than the federal poverty level, drug and alcohol abuse, abusive environments (sexual or physical), and “graduation” from foster care–that is, foster children who turn 18 and literally have nowhere to go. Even with assistance from shelters and transitional housing, the average length of homeless exceeds 30 months. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, housing is considered affordable if it costs no more than 30 percent of a family’s income. When housing costs exceed that level families face major decisions, often having to choose between paying rent in full and eating. For the record, between twenty and thirty percent of homeless families surveyed in 1996 said they had gone without food for part of the previous month (Burt, Aron, and Lee, National Alliance to End Homelessness).
In short, the lack of housing is the number one issue affecting Americans. The Dems could paint the picture that Republican policies stagnate wages to the point where they do not keep up with the rate of inflation. Consumer power has thereby been weakened, especially when contrasted with skyrocketing housing costs. Working families must spend a greater percentage of their income for housing, oftentimes in excess of 50%. The Urban Institute supports this idea, stating that market trends indicate that, “The situation is getting worse rather than better. Current levels of housing costs, coupled with low-wage jobs and economic contraction, could push even the working poor out of their homes.”
The Dems must push the fact that there is a lack of affordable housing. In 1970, there were 300,000 more affordable housing units available than there were low-income households in need. In 2001, there were 4.7 more low-income households than available affordable housing units. (B. Alexander, “The State of the Nation’s Housing,” June 2000). More telling, millions of families are faced with the prospect of living in substandard or uninhabitable conditions.
So what can be done? The National Housing Alliance states that “Housing vouchers have been shown to end family homelessness. Additionally, inadequate housing is a major contributing factor to the placement and retention of children in foster care. Nationally, the average cost of placing the children of a homeless family in foster care is $47,608, while the average annual cost for a permanent housing subsidy and supportive services for a family of equal size is about $9,000.” (R.A. White, C.M. Seth, “No Place Like Home,” Children’s Voice. Child Welfare League of America, March/April, 2003). The Republicans are against such entitlement programs, which could help the Dems, if they can prove such programs are essential.
The problem is not just confined to the inner cities. In Nebraska the problem is exacerbated in rural areas by “A shortage of builders, contractors and laborers, compounded by a lack of workers trained and being trained in construction trades, especially in rural areas…A shortage of buildable lots, lots with infrastructure in place and/or vacant land that can be developed for housing, is being experienced by many Nebraska communities.” Dr. Dennis Shockley, executive director of the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency stated that “…in many rural areas there is no research proving that a market exists for new housing developments, and that the price of new construction is significantly higher than the cost of an existing home. He said builders and lenders are justifiably concerned that buyers will not pay the price difference.”
In short, the Dems need a charismatic Presidential nominee and would be wise to choose a Latino for the Vice-Presidential slot. In this case, Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson. James Carville will be needed to navigate the choppy waters, major fund raising must take place and the party must move to the center, finding a pet cause to promote along the way. If the Dems can present clear cut differences between their platform and that of the Republicans, they have a chance to garner the majority of Latino votes. This would give them the push they need to recapture the White House in 2008 and perhaps again in 2012.
Stewart M. Powell, “Hispanic Political Importance Growing,” Hearst Washington Bureau, October 1998
Biography of Cruz Bustamante, Wikipedia
Biography of Brian Schweitzer, Wikipedia
Biography of Bill Richardson, Wikipedia
Terry M. Neal, “Bush’s Message Reflects Hispanic Demographics,” The Washington Post, p. A3, September 15, 1999
Leo Brown, “Western Democrat: Interview with Bill Richardson,” Democracy Now! Interview published by Kari Chisholm at Mandate Media
“Richardson: N.Korea talks ‘positive, frank and candid’,” CNN/com, Jan. 10, 2003
“Extensive UC Berkeley report documents Latino demographics and voting behavior in California,” University of California policy seminar, October 22, 1998
Micael Grunwald, “Bob Graham,” The Washington Post, p. W08, March 4, 2003
Bob Graham Interview on “Face The Nation,” CBS Television, no date available
Biography of Bob Graham, Wikipedia
Ken Herman, “Politicians trying to mobilize Hispanic vote,” Deseret News, February 1, 2004
Jim Burns, “Republicans Rising in Black Voters’ Estimation,” CBSNews.com, July 30, 2002
“U.S. presidential campaign spending triples,” CBS News, 2004
Joan Walsh, “Interview With James Carville,” Salon, March 11, 2002
“Meet The Press,” transcript of November 14, 2004, MSNBC.com
By Jennifer, “What Went Wrong,” Newsweek: Elections 2002, Nov. 6, 2002
Danny Duncan Collum, “Beginning of the Middle of the Muddle,” Sojourners Magazine, March-April 1997
“The ‘Ragin’ Cajun’ James Carville, Talks Tough,” BuzzFlash.com, January 21, 2004
National Alliance to End Homelessness
Martha Burt, Y. Laudan and Edgar Aron, Helping America’s Homeless:Emergency Shelter or Affordable Housing?
Kevin Fagan, “Shame of the City Sacred Sheep,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 27, 2005
Dale Turner, “Task Force Identifies Lack of Affordable Housing As Obstacle to Rural Development,” 2003.
John Patterson, Craig Helmstetter, Lila Moberg, Susan Von Mosch, and Jo Vos, “Affordable Housing (01-03)”, Pp. 8-9, January 30, 2001 Affordable Housing?
Heidi Sommer, “Homelessness in Urban America: A Review of the Literature,” Prepared for Urban Homelessness and Public Policy Solutions: A One-Day Conference, January 22, 2001, UC Berkeley Alumni House