Maybe he’s not the greatest lawyer that LSU ever produced, but James Carville is one of the most astute political operators in America and a keen student of leadership. That is the quality that he feels is lacking during this listless season of campaigning for the new governor and Legislature.

The primary election is Oct. 24, and Carville says the public is not pushing the candidates hard enough about the steep challenges facing the state.

“I tell you, our survival is not a given,” Carville warned a hall of Baton Rouge’s leading citizens at a luncheon for WRKF public radio. “Dallas will be here 75 years from now. Atlanta will be here 75 years from now. You can’t say that about South Louisiana.”

Carville noted that when his family returned to New Orleans in 2008, the lack of leadership was compounding the problems after hurricanes Katrina and Rita three years before. New leadership helped to make the city better.

Yet bad leadership “makes a difference the other way,” a clear allusion from the Democrat about political leaders in the state over the past few years.

Coastal land loss is one of the existential threats to Louisiana, Carville said, but he is also as passionate about his alma mater, LSU.

The severe cuts to LSU under Gov. Bobby Jindal — although he did not mention the governor by name — represent an existential threat to the intellectual infrastructure of the state, Carville said.

“This is not some little thing we have seven Saturdays in the fall,” he said of LSU football. “What we have (in LSU) is essential to the survival of our culture.”

How can Louisiana deal with coastal land loss when LSU is faced with budget cuts: “You tell me we won’t fund the school of engineering?”

The leading candidates for governor propose a special session to deal with Louisiana’s chronic budget problems, but what specifically will be in the leadership’s agenda? Carville said community leaders have not yet pushed the candidates for enough information about what they will actually do, and we think he is right.

“You have to force things, you have to be part of it,” he told the Baton Rouge audience, but it would be true for any large community gathering across the state today.

Jindal’s eight years end in dismal approval ratings and chronic budget shortfalls — as Carville pointed out, a billion dollars or more every year. Who is going to be selfless enough to make hard choices, the very definition of leadership?

“Political leadership matters,” Carville said. “It matters profoundly.”

That it does.