Kai Ryssdal: It’s been a good long while since James Carville helped Bill Clinton win the presidency. And this country’s changed plenty since 1992.
But if you stick around politics long enough, things start to repeat themselves. Carville’s looking ahead to this November, talking about the same themes he was 20 years ago.
He’s out with a new book called, “It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!” He co-wrote it with Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg. James, thanks for joining us.
James Carville: Good to be here.
Ryssdal: All right, I’ll you what: I’m going to pick up with the title of this thing, you call it, “It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!” It’s a riff, of course, on ‘It’s the economy, stupid,’ from the Clinton campaign in ’92. And yet here we are, 20 years later, and you’re still trying to gin up a conversation about the middle class. And you say this in the book — you guys failed, right?
Carville: We feel like the conversation, the middle class has not been an integral part of the conversation in American politics — and American policy, for that matter.
Ryssdal: Why hasn’t it been, though? I mean, you guys have been trying for a long time.
Carville: That’s a good question. A lot of powerful people don’t want it to be. If you’re dependent on low-wage workers, you don’t want the middle class to be part of this. If you’re the kind of person that you want corporate profits to go to people other than workers, you don’t want the middle class to be part of this.
Ryssdal: But is it a corporation’s job to help the middle class? Or is it a corporation’s job to help its shareholders?
Carville: Well, it’s a corporation’s job to help its shareholders, and it’s my job to help the middle class — that’s why I’m writing the book.
Ryssdal: Fair enough.
Carville: Somebody’s got to point out what’s happening. We hear personal stories about how their lives have been wrecked.
Ryssdal: I wonder how much of the Democrats’ problems this election cycle and you know, in the past couple of years, has been that a big chunk of the middle class — middle-class, blue-collar workers in the central part of the country — have decided to vote for the other guy.
Carville: Well, I don’t know. They haven’t decided yet.
Ryssdal: They decided in 2010 pretty hard, James.
Carville: Well that was a little bit different of an election in 2010, and they had reasons behind it. I actually think, you know, people moan about the Democrats’ problems. I would point out that from 1968 to 1988, the Republicans lost the popular vote one time. From ’92 to 2008, the Democrats have lost the popular vote one time.
Ryssdal: Do you actually think that both the candidates this time are not talking to the middle class?
Carville: I actually think that President Obama’s done much better. I mean, I was always going to be for the president, but I would describe myself as much more enthusiastic today than I was six weeks ago.
Ryssdal: And Gov. Romney, I’m going to guess, you say he’s not talking to the middle class at all?
Carville: Try to get ‘Romney’ and ‘middle class’ in the same sentence.
Ryssdal: Here’s the thing though: You can look at Mitt Romney, you can look at him and you say, ‘He’s not the middle class guy.’ But he’s talking the talk. He’s going out there and he’s trying to sell his program to the middle class.
Carville: What programs is he selling to the middle class? Everything, his programs are middle class as ‘I’ll do everything that Bush did, I’ll just do more of it.’
Ryssdal: Yeah, but he’s going out to the middle of the country, he’s going out to Iowa and talking to farmers, he’s going to Atlanta and manufacturing plants.
Carville: What do you expect him to do? What do you expect him to do?
Ryssdal: Well, that’s talking to the middle class.
Carville: But he’s not saying — what’s his message to these people? Romney wants to repeal Dodd-Frank. Do you think that’s good for middle-class people?
Ryssdal: How much of the problems that the president has are because he has been trying to tell the story of the national economy growing — which it is, we have to say — but people’s personal economies are still stuck four years ago?
Carville: A lot of it. You hit on the thing, and that’s the reason I’m beginning to like this campaign better. Look forward, don’t look back. That’s the key to this election, we think, from the vantage point of the president, if you will.
Ryssdal: Far be it for me to accuse a political strategist of being cynical, but the middle class in this country votes. Are you writing this to maybe get that vote out there?
Carville: I hope so. What do you think I’m doing here? Guilty!
Ryssdal: James Carville. His book with Stan Greenberg is called, “It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!” James, thanks a lot.
Carville: You bet, appreciate it.
Ryssdal: Monday on the broadcast, the other side of the aisle. Mike Huckabee and how he thinks the candidates are doing talking to the middle class, and everybody else.
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