PLAINS TWP. — It didn’t take political strategist and commentator James Carville long to get an area crowd of about 250 laughing, reacting to and anticipating his every word.
“I know you all had a flood up here not too long ago and that reminds me of an old saying about my home of Louisiana, where we’ve had a pretty big flood ourselves thanks to Katrina,” Carville began in his trademark Cajun drawl. “They say half of our state is under water and the other half is under indictment. I guess you can say that about Wilkes-Barre, too.”
Carville, 68, known as the “Ragin’ Cajun,” was the featured speaker at the Volunteers of America’s ninth annual Celebrity Benefit Dinner on Thursday night at The Woodlands Inn and Resort. Charles Barber, president and CEO of the Luzerne Foundation, was presented the organization’s “Spirit of Youth Award.”
No stranger to Northeastern Pennsylvania, Carville mentioned his friendship with U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and the Casey family. His biography notes “his winning streak began in 1986, when he managed the gubernatorial victory of Robert Casey in Pennsylvania.”
Carville was hired as the late governor’s campaign manager during a heated primary battle. After winning the Democratic nomination over Ed Rendell, Casey Sr. went on to defeat Bill Scranton Jr. in the general election. Casey won by nearly 80,000 votes.
“The Caseys are very dear friends,” Carville said before the dinner.
Carville called Pennsylvania “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in the middle.” He said coming back to the region brought back many memories and he was pleased to see the progress of the area. “I’ve driven that Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike many times,” Carville said. “And it’s still as narrow as it was 27 years ago. And it’s still under construction. Ain’t you ever going to finish it?”
Casey called Carville “a great man and a great friend from a great family.” Carville and Casey each have seven siblings.
“We keep in touch, but frankly not enough,” Casey said from his car while driving home from Washington, D.C.
Carville did not disappoint the crowd, displaying his intellect and wit on topics from health care reform to parenting to the proliferation of information in the media.
“Life seems to have become about validation,” Carville said. “There’s so much information out there — so many channels, radio stations, blogs and websites. You can validate yourself if you just look hard enough. It’s the racket we live in. All this information is used like a drunk uses a lamppost — more for support than illumination.”
Carville teaches at Tulane University and he said he tells his students that it doesn’t matter what he thinks.
“What matters is that you think,” he said.
Carville said everybody wants to know if Hillary Clinton is going to run for president in 2016. He never offered his opinion on that. He said politics today is about logistics; that people running for Congress are becoming more fearful of challenges from within their own parties rather than the opposing party.
“If you’re running for Congress in Philadelphia, no Republican is ever going to beat you,” he said, adding, “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.”
Carville said the GOP “isn’t in love with anybody right now (Romney screwed everything up),” and Democrats don’t care.
“We just want Hillary to run,” he said.
Carville did talk about the economy and he told the crowd “we’re not living in a Ward and June Cleaver world anymore.” He said people should stop saying they want to go back to those good-old days “because they ain’t ever coming back.” He said, “The steel mills aren’t coming back and the anthracite mines are flooded. We need to start thinking about the kind of country we’re going to be living in in 2013.”
Carville said America has to “rethink how we educate people.” He said students are racking up debt and Americans are faced with real problems, real struggles and real issues.
“But if you follow the news, you would think gay marriage, background checks on guns and immigration are the issues that drive the country,” he said. “But to people like you and me and most Americans, those issues don’t come across our doorstep much.”
In addition to his expertise in domestic politics, Carville said he has worked on international campaigns in more than 23 countries including those of 14 heads of state.
Carville said he was glad to move out of Washington and back to Louisiana, where he lives with his wife Mary Matalin and their two daughters.
“I think I now have a better sense of optimism.”