STARKVILLE – Outspoken Republican consultant Mary Matalin may look like the Ice Queen on the Sunday TV talk shows.
But last week at Mississippi State University, the facade broke and tears streamed down her face after an introduction from MSU First Lady Rhonda Keenum, a longtime friend.
“See, you made me cry,” Matalin said as she came to the podium in historic Lee Hall, the Tuesday evening VIP speaker with her Democratic consultant husband, James Carville.
But it wasn’t what Keenum said in the introduction that brought the former White House adviser to tears, although that’s what she said.
It was the continuation of an emotional day on the MSU campus and the visual realization that her friends, Mark and Rhonda Keenum, were finally living their dream to lead their alma mater.
Dr. Mark Keenum will be invested as MSU’s 19th president Oct. 16 after many years in Washington, D.C., political posts. That’s where the couples met.
Known to few, strategist Carville had spent years working behind the scenes to help Keenum win the job he wanted most.
Carville and Matalin were privy many hours in intimate settings listening to Keenum’s hopes for the MSU position, which he sought three times before getting the official nod.
An on Tuesday, they were on campus as part of a star-studded lineup for the annual Leadership Summit.
Carville and Matalin have cultivated a reputation as the nation’s “hottest” political couple, especially since their politics often are completely opposite: Matalin, the Republican, a key insider in campaigns and administrations of both Presidents Bush; Carville, the architect and strategist-adviser to campaigns and administrations of Democratic President Bill Clinton and others.
They had lots to say to their Bettersworth Auditorium audience – about politics and about each other. They also met earlier in the day with MSU honors students, whom they described as smart, diverse and incredibly polite.
These days, they’re at home in New Orleans, where Carville teaches political science at Tulane University and they’re host committee co-chairs for Super Bowl XLVII in 2013.
Here are some of their observations.
On Haley Barbour as a 2012 GOP presidential candidate
- MATALIN – I am a long and deep fan of Haley Barbour. His leadership skills are unparalled. If there was a problem in D.C., they gave it to Haley.
He has the same gift as James – making complicated things very clear.
I said sign me up, (if he plans to seek the presidency).
- CARVILLE – He’s been the Republican chairman. He’s the consummate Washington insider. And he’s been very successful down here.
Few candidates from the South are taken seriously. Few go from “maybe” to “possible” candidates.
I think he passes the test, that this is possible.
That doesn’t mean it will happen, but I think Haley gets to go to the next level.
On the conservative Democratic ‘Blue Dogs’
- CARVILLE – Political parties should strive to have a lot of talent, and when they do, they pick up a lot of diversity along the way.
- MATALIN – It’s a delicious irony that the Blue Dogs are giving White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel fits, but he recruited a lot of them (to run for Congress, when he was a Democratic leader in the House.)
They’re representing their constituencies.
On their relationship with the Keenums
- MATALIN – They’re the nicest people you’ll ever meet, my dearest and longest friends from Washington.
Rhonda is a force of nature. We grew up together (as adults) – we built our careers together, had our families together.
All through those years, Mark and Rhonda never had any other vision than to come specifically here.
I am happy and delighted for them.
James and I wouldn’t be together, if it hadn’t been for Rhonda.
(During a campaign) I would be in the fetal position about how much I hated James Carville, and a bouquet would show up. Rhonda would call James and say, “I’ve had to order another bouquet of flowers.” I think she sent cards from him, too.
- CARVILLE – I’m proud of Mark and Rhonda. The students we saw today… they are as bright as any in this country.
I’m most thankful for outstanding young people. They are going to do great things for this state and this country.
On talking politics at home
- MATALIN – We just don’t do it. We stopped a long time ago. It’s just too annoying.
I don’t read his books, don’t listen to him on radio.
When I’m really insistent, I say, “I’m out of estrogen and I have a gun.”
We’re really inflexible debaters. We’re never going to change each other’s minds.
I think he’s incredibly sexy and beautiful – an acquired taste.
On politics and democracy
- MATALIN – Don’t be cynical about politics. In a democracy, it’s the only way any policy can be made. It’s designed to be messy and loud, but that’s OK.
Don’t avoid politics. Be optimistic. You are living in historic times.
We have these technological leaps, and we’re going through one right now.
We go through these cycles. We can all agree on what the larger problems are.
- CARVILLE – Washington always wins. Winners always come in and want to change things. Washington never changes.
Every revolution ends up in the ditch.
Everybody thinks they have the right answer.
In spite of that, some people are able to get some things done. You just have to deal with the system.
There’s a lot to be done, and we’ve got a lot of talented people to get it done – people who want to make this a better country.
On President Obama
- MATALIN – When Barack Obama was elected, 90 percent of people approved and the country was proud and hopeful.
Today, the president has fallen (in opinion polls) further, faster and has been more polarizing than any other president in history. But it’s not the end of his presidency.
We’re moving at warp speed. He’s just gone through the political honeymoon phase.
America is still a conservative nation, a right-of-center nation.
People want to slow down, to be heard.
I think he could be a good president.
And finally, words of advice
- MATALIN – Keep a journal every day. It will be the kind of history you’ll want to pass along to your kids and grandkids.
- CARVILLE – Never forget to be thankful.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or email@example.com. Read her blog, From the Front Row, on NEMS360.com.
Patsy R. Brumfield/Daily Journal