Strategists Share Keys to Success

Former "Crossfire" hosts argue for a more cogent and coherent party

Democratic strategists and former Clinton aides Paul Begala and James Carville led the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on a whirlwind tour of the problems facing their party last night, promising the “election of a lifetime” in 2008.

Almost exactly a year after CNN announced the cancellation of their talk show “Crossfire,” Begala and Carville released a new book in January, “Take It Back,” a strategy guide for Democrats to oust Republicans and restore Clinton-era politics.

“The Democrats are confused,” Carville said to the packed forum that included former Senator Bob Graham, D-Fla. “They sit and don’t know [whether] to wind their butts or scratch their watches.”

Begala advised troubled Democrats to ask, “What would Clinton do?”

Begala cited the Democrats’ docile response to Republican fliers distributed in West Virginia during the 2004 election that suggested Democrats would ban the Bible. He said that his former boss would have responded more aggressively to that charge.

Begala broke out in a full-blown Clinton drawl and said that—if confronted by those charges—the famously plain-spoken president would have stood up, pointed to the Bible, and declared, “I need this book more than any of you in this room.”

The charismatic Clinton might not be back for the ’08 election, but another Democratic candidate with the same last name could stand in his place, Begala said.

At first Begala only said that he would back a certain female senator in the 2008 presidential race. But he eventually proclaimed, “I’m for Hillary.”

An early front-runner for the Republican nomination in ’08, Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., will be a far more conservative candidate than many expect, according to Begala.

“He’s gonna be unrecognizable,” said Begala. “Watch this, he is moving so far to the right.”

He noted McCain’s recent support of President George W. Bush’s calls to teach intelligent design alongside evolution.

McCain said in a interview with the Arizona Daily Star last August that “all points of view” on the origins of mankind should be taught in school.

Begala said of the Arizona senator: “Maybe he’s had a mid-life conversion, or maybe he’s going for the Falwell-Robertson wing of his party”—referring to religious conservatives Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

In a poll last week by the Cook Political Report, McCain tied for frontrunner status in the Republican race with former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani—at 30 percent each.

“This is going to be the most interesting presidential election of our lifetimes,” said Begala. “It’s gonna be completely wide open.”

Since Vice President Dick Cheney is not expected to run in 2008, neither party will have an heir-apparent at the top of its ticket.

The last time that neither party had a sitting president or vice president on its ticket was 1952.

The always-animated Carville grew especially emotional late in the event after a student asked about the Democratic Party’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

Carville, a Louisiana native, spoke passionately about the need to rebuild New Orleans.

Citing the significant flow of trade over the Queen City’s docks, Carville said, “You got to have a port at the Southern part of the country.”

Referring to suggestions that below-sea-level portions of New Orleans might not be worth rebuilding, Carville said, “When I hear the stupidity, I just wanna jump somebody and literally choke them.”

Katrina was the sore spot, but Mardi Gras was the happy ending—before leaving, the celebrity duo shot beads into the audience.