Ever since James Carville achieved celebrity status as one of the masterminds behind Bill Clinton's 1992 win over George H.W. Bush, his name has become virtually synonymous with the word pugnacious. As a TV talking head, Carville is cable-news directors' go-to guy when they're looking for a Democrat ready and able to throw a rhetorical punch. His nickname—the Ragin' Cajun—sums it up (the Cajun part is a matter of ancestry; Carville was born in Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1944). So who better to take on Karl Rove? On May 26, the two will step on stage together at Radio City Music Hall in a no-holds-barred political battle, hosted by Charlie Rose. Carville phoned TONY to discuss current events, and to give us a taste of what to expect when he goes mano a mano with the "boy genius" of the most recent Bush administration: "I suspect there will be a dustup or two along the way."
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So, you and Karl Rove... Can we expect fisticuffs?
I expect verbal-ticuffs. I've done a couple of events with Karl. I mean, he's a smart guy; he's passionate. You've got to bring your A-game with him.
What kind of a job do you think Rove's been doing as a Fox News commentator?
One of the things is that Karl's actually accomplished something. He worked in the White House—he won one presidential election, and got close enough to steal the other one. A lot of people out there that are commenting have never done anything. So I give him a lot of credit for actually having been in the arena.
How were President Obama's first hundred days compared with your old boss's?
He's doing a lot. But the big difference between now and '93 is that we have an economic meltdown plus three wars going on. And back then, you still had a viable Republican party. The big news today is that there has been a total collapse in the GOP brand.
Tell that to Dick Cheney! He seems to think he's still Vice President.
I don't care much for what he did, okay? But at least if you're a Republican, when you see Cheney, you see somebody with some kind of maturity. Most of the rest of the party leaders are just clowns. Sarah Palin is a clown. Michael Steele is a clown. Rush Limbaugh is a clown. Which is odd since Republicans have always passed themselves off as the party of competent white guys. I mean, Cheney plays that role on TV now. He just didn't do it while he was in office.
I want to get your opinion on a couple of things. First, the release of the torture memos and how people are arguing over what to do about it. How do you think we should deal with it?
We ought to figure a way that we can deal with it where it doesn't become just an obsession and a distraction. I think we should look at what they did with apartheid in South Africa, but I'm not sure the country really wants to have this as a criminal process.
Do you think waterboarding is torture?
Well, I don't think it—everybody knows it is! We executed the Japanese for it!
Assuming Al Franken finally wins his race in Minnesota, do you think Arlen Specter's defection to the Democrats means that the President will now have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate?
I think on paper he may have it. In execution it's going to be really difficult to get 60 people to agree with anything. As for Specter, he's basically gone from being an unreliable Republican vote to being an unreliable Democratic vote.
What do you make of all this secessionist talk coming from certain quarters in the GOP?
The more that the secessionists and the teabaggers and the Michele Bachmanns and the Rushes—the more that these people talk, the happier I am.
Speaking of teabagging, did anyone in D.C. have a clue as to what it really meant?
You know, I didn't. I had to ask someone. [Laughs] I can't say I was plugged in on that one.
Charlie Rose interviews James Carville and Karl Rove at Radio City Music Hall May 26. For info, go to speakerseries2009.com.
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