The subtitle of the book by Mary Matalin and James Carville is “Twenty years, three presidents, two daughters and one Louisiana home.” That offers a hint of the pressures and rewards faced by the couple with a quirky charisma and two of the nation’s best political minds.
They were married in New Orleans in 1993, but they were living much of the year in the fiercely partisan atmosphere of Washington, D.C. They served presidents on both sides of the political divide. Matalin advised President George H.W. Bush; Carville helped Democrat Bill Clinton oust Bush in 1992; and Matalin returned to White House duty after the difficult and incredibly close election and recount of 2000, working as a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney for a couple of years.
Such events as the election recount and the Iraq War created tensions in their marriage, but their determination to preserve the union, willingness to avoid debating politics and mutual dedication to raising daughters Matty and Emerson helped sustain them.
After almost two decades of living at the eye of the political hurricane, Matalin and Carville were ready by late 2006 to consider other options. They decided to move their family to New Orleans, which had a rich mix of offbeat culture, delicious food and fascinating history. Carville’s native Louisiana was far from the increasingly partisan political atmosphere of Washington.
Carville writes: “I never was going to be that guy in his seventies, living out his last days in some apartment building on Connecticut Ave. I was coming home.” Carville said he wasn’t mad when he left: “I was just losing interest in the conversation.” He shifted in recent years to advising political campaigns overseas.
Matalin recalled how she was in the Washington area buying school supplies with her daughter when a woman in line said: “You were such a bitch on Meet the Press yesterday.” She came home and said to Carville: “I don’t think I can raise my kids here.”
Ironically, the first day they were in their new home in New Orleans in June 2008, they learned that their close friend, NBC’s Tim Russert, had died. They returned for his funeral, a mix of grieving close friends and those who wanted to be seen at a big Washington event. The experience reinforced their decision to move.
The book is told in alternating passages by Matalin and Carville, recounting their experiences in politics and their transition to a richer personal life in New Orleans, where discussions could center on matters like Matalin’s need for lots of dogs and cats or Carville’s love for teaching at Tulane and his need to park in front of his TV to watch his beloved LSU Tigers. The alternating technique works well and feels like an extended conversation in their living room.
Much of the book is a charming love letter to New Orleans and its recovery from Hurricane Katrina and its unique character. It’s also a celebration of family.
Will Lester reviewed this book for The Associated Press.