The famously politically-at-odds couple James Carville and Mary Matalin urged an auditorium full of teenage girls at St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge to follow their example and seek out people they disagree with and learn from them.
“Always test the way that you think,” Carville said at the Wednesday event. “At the end of the day, you may very well conclude that you were right in the first place, but at least you came to that conclusion yourself.”
Carville went further, saying to hang out not just with people who disagree with you, but also with people who are smarter than you.
“If you’re the smartest person in the room, get out of that room; there’s nothing there for you,” he said.
Matalin bemoaned that political mixing like theirs is so rare today that their marriage probably wouldn’t have happened if they had been born to later generations.
“Democrats and Republicans don’t speak to each other, which is anathema to me,” Matalin said.
Clearly brains was part of Republican-turned-Libertarian Matalin’s attraction to Carville, a Democrat.
“He is a genius,” Matalin said. “He is frequently wrong, but that doesn’t make him not a genius.”
For his part, Carville, who was the campaign manager for Democratic President Bill Clinton, crossing the political aisle to date the deputy campaign manager of Clinton's opponent, George. H.W. Bush, was in part a necessary strategy.
“If you’re as ugly as I am, you can’t just date anyone,” he quipped. “You’ve got to expand the playing field. And, I think I did pretty good.”
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The couple had their share of disagreements Wednesday. Matalin, in particular, joked repeatedly at the expense of her husband, who was unfazed. They differed over whether girls these days are doing better in society at the expense of boys, and on the merits of President Donald Trump.
Matalin, who has been married for 25 years to the man she affectionately calls “Serpent Head,” said she takes the lead in many aspects of the relationship.
“People frequently suggest that our marriage is some type of solution for the partisanship that ails us, to which I say our marriage is not a democracy, it’s a mom-o-cracy,” she said.
Carville and Matalin’s talk was the last in a speaker series the all-girls Catholic school has held for its 150th anniversary.
The school had an inside track in booking the New Orleans-based couple; Carville’s younger sister, Pat Hoffman, sits on St. Joseph’s Academy’s board of directors and is a 1973 graduate of the school. Carville, for his part, went to Ascension Catholic School in Donaldsonville.
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Matalin, a native of Chicago, took her first tour Wednesday of St. Joseph’s Academy and came away impressed: “This is truly an amazing place.”
The tour clearly stirred the couple, who have two daughters who also went to Catholic school. The couple were bullish on the opportunities the girls at the academy have ahead of them, thanks to what they are learning now.
“There is no reason that any of you girls cannot succeed to the extent of your dreams,” Carville said. “This is a world that’s welcoming of you, welcoming of your talents, and you go get ‘em.”
He added that “boys gotta game up.”
Matalin took issue with that line of thinking.
“I want to disagree with my brilliant husband,” she said. “I’m more concerned. I don’t think this is a ‘buck up boys’ time. I think it is a facet of feminism that has gone awry.”
She said feminism in the #metoo era has created a “very, very disturbing time for men,” leaving men in a quandary about how to act: “We’re not teaching them in the way that they need to accommodate girls.”
She pointed to suicide and dropout rates among boys as signs of the problem.
“It’s time for us to help bring young men into our future with us,” Matalin told the girls. “Because, I say again, we’re leaving you with a very big mess, and we need all hands on deck.”
Carville was unmoved.
“The boys are going to have to catch up,” he said. “It’s just a fact of life. It’s competition that I never had to deal with when I entered the workforce.
“I’m happy I’m a male, and I never wanted to be anything other than a male,” Carville went on. “I kind of like it. I’m partial to it, but I don’t run the world anymore.”
“He never ran the world,” Matalin jabbed back, sparking laughter.
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On Trump, the couple were even more at odds. Matalin change parties from Republican to Libertarian in 2016, largely she says because of her dissatisfaction with the Republican Congress at the time, but she said Trump is different.
“We have the best candidate, and he’s going to win in 2020,” Matalin said, adding “MAGA!”
Trump "is not an ideologue. He's not a conservative,” she said looking at her husband. “He just wants to get things done. We just have to agree on what those things are. Infrastructure? … I’m not going to fight.”
“I’m not going to fight, either,” Carville said. “Whatever you think I think of Donald Trump, you have no idea. You can multiply it times a hundred.”