Mary Matalin and James Carville. (Photo: Essdras M. Suarez)
Mary Matalin and James Carville.(Photo: Essdras M. Suarez)

James Carville and Mary Matalin

James Carville and Mary Matalin, whose improbable marriage has now lasted 23 years, agree on at least two things: they love each other and they love business jets. But on many other issues, they remain at least as far apart as America’s two major political parties.

The couple met in 1992 while Matalin was deputy director for President George H.W. Bush’s reelection campaign and Carville was a key strategist for Bush’s opponent, Bill Clinton. Carville has remained a friend and supporter of both Bill and Hillary Clinton while teaching political science at New Orleans’s Tulane University and consulting on international political campaigns for clients like England’s Labour Party and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Matalin, who recently changed her party registration from Republican to Libertarian, spent many years as a strategist with the Republican National Committee, served under President Ronald Reagan, and was an adviser to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Together and separately, Carville and Matalin have written many bestselling books and appeared often on TV to talk and debate about healthcare, climate change, the economy, and other current issues. They have also been frequent speakers at the annual conventions of the National Business Aviation Association, where they have spoken as passionately about business aviation as they have about politics.

In separate conversations, which took place shortly after the 2016 Republican and Democratic conventions, we asked Matalin and Carville about their experiences with flying privately. Then we moved on to some of the other topics with which many of us are preoccupied as the November 8 election approaches.

INTERVIEW WITH MARY MATALIN

You’ve flown on what many people would call the ultimate business jets, Air Force One and Two.
Well, they are the ultimate in terms of connectivity and comfort. I remember during the post-9/11 era, when the vice president had to be in an undisclosed secure location, I had to be with him at Christmas, and the family and I got to hop on Air Force Two, which was totally amazing. But my family likes the total convenience and flexibility of private flying on smaller planes, where you can get into and out of where you want to go.

Who’d be best for business aviation—Clinton or Trump?
If you look at their economic philosophies, it’s a no-brainer. If Mrs. Clinton follows what Obama has said he wants to do, the idea of changing from fuel fees to user fees is not very efficient and it’s a disincentive to what makes private aviation good. Fuel fees incentivize environmentalism, productivity, and efficiency. They’re easier to collect; they don’t result in additional compliance costs.

That’s a micro issue. The larger issue of the cost of doing business is not one that’s been promoted by liberal policies. I would guess that Trump would be better on that. I would also say that as an aficionado of private flight, he would understand the necessity of incentivizing that industry in an economy that needs to be more mobile to be competitive.

You said two years ago that you hoped Clinton would run because “we’ll beat her soundly.” Do you still think so?
Absolutely. They both have high unfavorables. There’s something Trump can do with his unfavorables. There’s nothing that Mrs. Clinton can do. If he hangs onto Romney states and picks up Pennsylvania, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, states like that, I think he beats her soundly. I don’t see how she expands her electoral map but I see how he can.

Would you agree that he’s survived making many statements that would have sunk a candidate a few years ago?
Yeah, but that’s his charm. What Trump has done has broken through what has really irritated people for many years: political correctness.

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In 2011, he talked to BJT about everything from business jets to what would happen if he ran for president.

What do you think are the most important issues facing the country now?
The economy. This is the worst recovery in the history of recoveries. The Democratic convention was all about bitching about how bad the economy is after they’ve been in control of it for eight years. And still blaming George W. Bush is ludicrous. This is the first president that has had a GDP average [growth] under 3 percent. That is not growth. Your home is worth less but college education for your kids costs more. Your health insurance delivers less and costs exponentially more.

You add on top of that a ludicrous resistance to acknowledge the threat of global Islamic extremism and our ridiculous immigration policies and our intelligence policies and our foreign policy, which have exacerbated the threat to us in the homeland. That is a very real number-two concern.

Three—people do not like to have random disorder in their lives, where cops are being shot and criminals are being heralded.

What do you mean by criminals “being heralded”?
Let’s just take “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” [slogan used after a fatal shooting by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014]. That never happened. Baltimore [police shooting of Freddie Gray]—all those cops were exonerated. In the Missouri situation, that kid had been reported to be in the act of a criminal activity and did try to take the cop’s guns. So that was self-defense.

Can you point to anything President Obama has done that you consider good?
I think his initial election was a testament to the optimism that infuses the American character. But I cannot think of a single Obama regulatory policy, economic policy, or foreign policy that I agree with.

What about your husband? Do you agree with him on any national issues?
The devil’s in the detail, of course, but we agree on trade policies and some economic-growth policies. Our core values are in sync; it’s just our ways to get there that differ. The thing we’re most at loggerheads about is if there’s a problem, he sees a government solution. I see sometimes a public-private partnership, but largely decentralized private solutions. I think he’s less opposed to regulatory excess than I am.

Do you think the Republican and Democratic parties could learn anything from your marriage?
No, we’re not a democracy. [Laughs.] We pick our battles, so I guess there’s a lesson in that. You’ve got to give on things you don’t care about but stand pat on the things that you do.

If you have a different view of the country, which it seems politicians do, then never the twain shall meet. In our case, I don’t care what our problems are, we’re never gonna not love each other, we’re never gonna get divorced, and we’re never gonna do anything that will jeopardize the happiness of our children. So I don’t think it’s the same dynamic [as politics].

Do you share the Libertarians’ opposition to all gun control?
Theoretically. But to me the Libertarian philosophy means responsible liberty. And to the extent that today’s Libertarians don’t understand that, I disagree with that. On guns, I’m a firm Second Amendment person.

How would you fix healthcare?
I would infuse the system with market-based, outcome-based elements. For instance, I like Health Savings Accounts. I like competition across state borders. I like decentralization but being connected through technology. I agree with the catastrophic fund. I do not agree health insurance is a right, and I do not believe demolishing the big insurance industry is an answer. Our cost [for healthcare] is 18 percent of GDP and in Singapore, which delivers more, it’s 6 percent. So there is a way to do this. There’s too much inefficiency in the system. I also think when we changed the system to be employer mandated instead of patient oriented we distorted the market. So I think those two should be decoupled.

Do you favor allowing people to opt out of Social Security?
Well, you could make more money privately and safely investing, and other countries have proved this. I don’t think opt out is the answer. You have a safety net in healthcare for catastrophic; you could have that same kind of mechanism for Social Security. But yes, people should be allowed to pay less to the catastrophic pool and more into their own savings in retirement plans.

What if, like many young people today, they don’t do that?
Then they will suffer the consequences. There was a time when you didn’t grow up thinking, “Oh, somebody’s gonna take care of me.” But I don’t think the millenial generation is as irresponsible as people think; many of them do save, though not for retirement. Also, if somebody is really in trouble, we’re a rich country; we’ll take care of those people. But we should not be forced to take care of people who are able to but do not take care of themselves. That makes everybody a victim.

What about the many people, mostly children, who simply can’t care for themselves? The Libertarians would eliminate welfare and rely on charity.
Well, after Katrina, what brought New Orleans back was faith-based and private-based solutions. Welfare systems that have been in place since the Great Society have not only not contributed to a diminution of poverty; they have contributed to ­cultural corruption.

Another Libertarian position is that private organizations should be able to set any standards of association they deem appropriate, which seems to mean, for example, that privately owned restaurants should be able to deny service to gay people—
When the government starts telling you who you can and can’t serve, I disagree. Not who you can and can’t hire—those are two different issues and they shouldn’t be conflated.

You’re saying businesses should be able to serve whomever they want?
It’s a private business and if you don’t want people like Mary Matalin there, why would I want to be there?

So you’re saying a restaurant should be able to put up a sign saying “no gays,” “no blacks”—
—or “no Republicans allowed.” I’d say that’s completely stupid and an economic travesty but it’s your private business. I don’t see where it’s the government’s role to tell you, other than in hiring practices, who you should be forced to provide your service to.
My position is, a private enterprise can pick and choose its customers. If they wish to stay in business, they would be smart to have universal services available. They should not be run out of business if they’re asked to do something that goes against their beliefs. I don’t know anyplace that says “no gays allowed” or “no blacks allowed.” Maybe there was in a bygone era.

Well, there are businesses that have refused to provide services to gay people. But they can’t legally do that now.
I don’t know what the law is on that. I don’t know that it exists anymore. So why are we even talking about this? Do you know places that say “no gays allowed” or “no straights allowed”?

Do you believe there’s no scientific consensus on climate change?
There is no scientific consensus on manmade climate change. Do I think this is another irrelevant conversation? Yes. Climate change has existed since the formation of the Earth. Secondly, the idea that CO2 is melting the Earth is absurd. That would mean we’d have to kill all of ourselves because we emit CO2.
Furthermore, we are the only industrialized country that has lowered emissions on a voluntary standard. So all of those industrialized nations that signed [the] Kyoto [Protocol, an international 1992 agreement to reduce greenhouse gases] did not reduce emissions.

We can put money into less-polluting energy production. I’m talking about real pollution, not carbon dioxide. And those options like nuclear energy and natural gas are also rejected by the climate-change extremists, because it’s about power and controlling people’s lives. There’s no cleaner energy than nuclear and they’re against nuclear. There’s no cleaner energy than natural gas and they don’t want fossil fuel. No scientist that’s using real numbers can claim credibly that wind and solar and renewables can ever produce more than 2 percent of our energy needs. If we all stopped using fossil fuels tomorrow, that would not stop climate change. Because there were no cars in the Ice Age and no cars when ice melted.

Can you think of anything about yourself that would surprise people?
I play a mean accordion and I cut my own hair.


INTERVIEW WITH JAMES CARVILLE

Can you give me an example of when flying privately has been helpful to you in recent years?
It’s helped on any number of occasions. We’d speak in [Florida in], say, Orlando and then have an appearance in Myrtle Beach. You can only do that through business aviation. When my father-in-law passed away, we obviously had to get there fast and we were able to do that by flying privately. My wife and her sister were able to visit with him shortly before he passed away. Time and time again, when something has to be done, business aviation is the go-to place.

You’ve flown on Air Force One.
It’s quite an experience. It does what it’s supposed to do: it projects the power and the prestige of the presidency. It’s a kind of moving billboard, if you will.
Look how Trump uses his plane. Always puts it in the backdrop of his events. The crowds love it.
I worked in ’87 for the governor of Kentucky, who had a helicopter, and part of our thing was, we would have a rally and we’d circle a couple of times. It adds a lot of drama. Kind of swoop in, you know.

Who do you think would be best for business aviation—Trump or Clinton?
The one thing that business aviation wants is the same thing that every other business wants: demand for their product. And I think, as most economists that I see think, that Hillary’s economic ideas are more sound. I would bet anybody that business aviation has greater growth revenues under Democratic presidents than under Republican presidents, because the economy is doing better. As to one specific regulation, one tax deduction, I can’t address that. But on overall demand, I’m very confident she would be better.

When Bill Clinton first ran for president, you famously proclaimed, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Would you still tell a candidate that?
I would. I think it’s something that affects people day in and day out.

Another of your points to Bill Clinton was that he should communicate change versus more of the same. But isn’t Hillary basically a more-of-the-same candidate?
Well, you couldn’t be more change than Bernie Sanders. And you can’t look at Trump and say, “That’s gonna be more of the same.” But when you look at Trump, is this the change you really want?

I do think Hillary has to convince people that she wants to change things. One thing I always tell people is nobody has ever run saying the next four years are gonna look like the last eight. Even when Bush Sr. ran after eight years of Reagan, he was talking about kinder, gentler and how he would change things. That’s understandable. But you can’t out-change Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. It just can’t be done.

Given that Hillary Clinton is a world-famous former first lady, senator, and secretary of state, how is it that a little-known Democratic socialist from Vermont was able to mount a serious challenge? And how is it that in recent months at least, she’s been in a close race with someone who has alienated big portions of the electorate?
Because in modern American politics, given the degree of partisanship we have, no one’s gonna get 60 percent of the vote. She beat Bernie Sanders pretty good—like eight points or something. She won.

She did solidly win, but at the beginning, he was considered a fringe candidate, if not a joke.
Yeah, and he tapped into a certain segment of the Democratic Party, but if current polling is to be believed, a lot of people have come back into the fold. And she’s running for a third Democratic term, which is not the easiest thing in the world to do.
We can always say, well, she didn’t do this or that, but right now she seems to be doing pretty good.

But her unfavorable ratings are still about as high as Trump’s.
For most of the year, the flow of information from the Republicans, from Bernie Sanders, and from the press has been pretty negative. Now if you look at the latest Washington Post poll, her favorability rating is only two points under water where Trump’s is 29. The truth of the matter is, here’s a woman who’s had a brutal one-on-one primary and who’s emerged with a significant lead. That’s pretty good.

How do you explain the decline in Democratic turnout in the primaries?
It indicates nothing. More people will go watch a train wreck than a traffic signal. If you have 16 people running, you’re obviously gonna have a higher turnout than if you have two people running. Ask me to explain the overall unity of the Democratic Party right now or why the Democrats put on a much more successful convention than the Republicans.

OK, why?
I think that Trump’s campaign is nonexistent. People say, “Does he have a bad campaign? A messed-up campaign? A dysfunctional campaign?” No—his campaign doesn’t exist, as evidenced by the convention. He said he didn’t do anything but show up. I can’t imagine a candidate that has a chance at four nights of dominance in the media that doesn’t prepare and get ready for it. It’s vexing to me.

Why doesn’t Clinton just release her Wall Street speeches?
She would be delighted to release the Wall Street speeches if Trump releases his tax returns. No candidate has ever been called on to release speeches. He is the only candidate since 1976 to not release his tax returns. It’s kind of ironic that when he refuses to do something that everyone’s done since 1976, everybody’s asking about her Wall Street speeches.

Well, she said during the primaries that she’d release her speeches when everybody else released speeches. Why doesn’t she just say—
Let me answer you very clearly: he releases his tax returns, she’ll release her speeches.

Yes, but—
Can I repeat myself? He releases the tax returns, she’ll release the speeches.

But why does her action have to depend on his? Why can’t she just say, “I have nothing to hide. Here are my speeches, and I think he ought to release his tax returns as every other recent candidate has done.”
Again, she’s released I don’t know how many years of tax returns. Have him release his, and she’ll release her speeches. OK?

In April of last year, you predicted that the issue of her emails would amount to nothing. Do you still think so?
I think what she said is it was a mistake. The FBI says no reasonable person would bring charges in this. I don’t know how much further you can go than that.

If Obama couldn’t get Congress to cooperate with him, how will Clinton?
Well, it’s gonna be tough. No question about that. Let’s wait and see how this election turns out. Maybe she’ll have a Democratic Congress. I don’t know that for sure. I’m confident that she’s gonna win but by how much or who goes with her I don’t know.

If you were advising Trump, what advice would you give him?
I would probably say that you’ve got to develop a little bit of a political instinct that POWs, Gold Star mothers, crying babies, are off limits. You know, it’s OK to attack but you gotta learn to attack power, not people. You gotta learn the art of taking a pitch. He seems to swing at every pitch that comes by.

Could Washington politicians learn anything from your marriage?
Well, I don’t know, because the way we deal with it is we don’t talk about it, which is probably not a good model to run a country. [Laughs.]

What’s your position on gun control?
I will never understand why someone can walk in and buy a 40-clip magazine. I mean, I own guns, I was in the Marine Corps, but I’ve never received a satisfactory explanation for that.

And climate change?
Very little in this world I’m certain of but I’m about as certain as a human being can be that the climate is getting warmer and a leading cause of that increase in temperatures is the release of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere.

You and Mary disagree on that.
Yeah. Yeah, vehemently. [Laughs.]

How do you feel about Obamacare?
You know, there is no government policy—none—that is all good or all bad. It’s gradations of good or bad. And to me the record is pretty clear that Obamacare has brought about more good than bad. We have more people today that have health insurance and we have a flattening of the cost curve in terms of what we spend on healthcare. That’s a lot of good. Are some people forced to buy health insurance that don’t want to? Are some businesses having to fill out some extra paperwork? Yeah, and I can understand that people could disagree with that. There’s nothing that’s all good or all bad.

One problem in this country is that every argument is pitched in apocalyptic terms. Climate is probably close to one that should be pitched in apocalyptic terms. Most issues don’t measure up to that. It’s always, “If not us, who? If not now, when? We’re on the precipice; it’s the abyss or prosperity.” Usually, choices aren’t that clear-cut. I’m adamant with young people about that. One reason the country is so divided is that all arguments are presented as the abyss versus prosperity.

What other reasons would you point to?
I think constantly going to places that sustain your own point of view is a very damaging thing. I read a lot of conservative periodicals. Sometimes I’ll listen to talk radio. I don’t want to get stuck in a validating cycle, which I think is a big problem in America.

Also, Democrats overwhelmingly live in cities and Republicans overwhelmingly live everywhere else. What that’s produced is a situation where, particularly in congressional districts, there’s not a competitive race between a Democrat and Republican. It’s just Republican against Republican or Democrat versus Democrat. So the public is treated to internal debate. Do you have Obamacare or do you have single payer? Or do you repeal Obamacare and go to something more market oriented or do you get the government totally out of healthcare? We don’t interact with each other because we don’t live in the same places. A lot of times I’ll give a speech to Democrats and I’ll say, “What can you do to help the party?” and my answer is, “Move.”

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