- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2009

HOW DEMOCRATS WILL RULE THE NEXT GENERATION

By James Carville, with Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza

Simon & Schuster, $24, 209 pages

REVIEWED BY JOHN R. COYNE JR.

“Every four years,” James Carville begins, “Americans hold a presidential election. Somebody wins, and somebody loses. That’s life.” True enough. And every four years, journalists and politicos involved in the campaign, no matter how peripherally, flood the market with books that quickly hit the resale bins, especially when written by partisans for the losing side.

That’s the problem here. Mr. Carville seems at times a man of good instincts and taste, having served in the Marine Corps and having persuaded Mary Matalin to marry him. He’s also a leading Democratic consultant, known to all cable viewers, and thus is guaranteed a certain number of pre-remainder sales. However, he’s also a famously fierce defender of both Clintons. Thus, even though the Democratic candidate won the election, Mr. Carville’s campaign ended with the primaries. His candidate lost; and this book, probably conceived when the outcome was uncertain, comes close to irrelevance.

Also, it does not reflect sustained editorial effort. There’s a scant 189 pages of text, with a final chapter about surviving Hurricane Katrina by Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, whose contribution to the book reads as if it wandered in from another book proposal; 21 pages of notes consisting primarily of media clips; long attacks on George W. Bush; a disproportionate attack on Fox News; a throwaway chapter with charts and graphs proving little or nothing; a padded-out chapter of one-paragraph sound bites knocking down Republican straw men; sections settling old scores with fellow Democrats; and a chapter on his candidate. (President Obama doesn’t get one.)

“When I’m out and about around the country,” Mr. Carville says, “people like to ask me who of the people I’ve met in politics I admire the most … today the obvious answer to that question is Hillary Clinton.”

That’s where his heart lies. Mr. Obama didn’t win the nomination. Mrs. Clinton’s Senate vote to invade Iraq and her inept campaign staff lost it for her. Mr. Obama didn’t win the election. Mr. Bush lost it for the Republicans. Nor is any credit given to Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean; there’s no acknowledgment that the 50-state Internet campaign he pioneered was key to Mr. Obama’s success: “[T]he revitalization of the Democratic Party occurred despite, not because of, Howard Dean’s disastrous tenure as DNC chair.”

“Obama created a new party,” Mr. Carville says.

True. But he did so by refining the tactics developed by Mr. Dean and successfully applied in Iowa, where those young people now lionized by Mr. Carville, but then demonized by the Clintonistas, carried the state, and ultimately the nation, for Mr. Obama. It may well be that the 2008 election demonstrated that the Democratic establishment, personified by Mr. Carville’s candidate, had lost touch with those young voters they tried desperately to prevent from caucusing, and Mr. Obama represented a non-party option.

But that’s not how Mr. Carville sees it. His thesis is that because young people turned out in record numbers to vote Democratic in 2008, young people can be counted on to vote Democratic for the next 40 years. Perhaps. But 40 years from now, there’ll be several new crops of young people, with a whole new set of ideas and attitudes. The chances of fielding another unique, once-in-a-lifetime candidate like Mr. Obama will be highly improbable. And given demographic trends, 40 years from now, candidates may speak less to the passions of youth and more to the anxieties of the old.

As voters age, one demographer points out, “support on issues like Medicare and retirement security will be just as key for continued Democratic success as the party’s hold on younger minority voters.” This will be especially true in those states with increasing senior voting rates, key states like Ohio and Florida on which elections turn.

Youth will be served, no doubt. But surely not by the tired menu of old Democratic programs and policies Mr. Carville dutifully trots out toward the end of this book. Nor will the clunky tin-ear phrase he’s pushing for the administration to adopt, “The Real Deal,” lift young hearts - or Mr. Obama’s, for that matter. Does the future of the Democratic Party lie with the youth vote? It’s not something to bet your Real Deal on. Young people of one generation aren’t the young people of another, nor are today’s role models the models of tomorrow.

In a recent article, young people were asked about their reactions to Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of “Catcher in the Rye,” still an existential hero to aging generations of English teachers. “Oh, we all hated Holden in my class,” one young student is quoted as saying. “We just wanted to tell him, ‘Shut up and take your Prozac.’”

Kids change, don’t they? And so do their heroes, whether literary or political.

John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author with Linda Bridges of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley and the American Conservative Movement,” published by Wiley.

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