By James Carville
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Last Friday the New York Times asked me to comment on New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama for president. For 15 years, Richardson served with no small measure of distinction as the representative of New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District. But he gained national stature -- and his career took off -- when President Bill Clinton appointed him U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and later made him energy secretary.
So, when asked on Good Friday about Richardson's rejection of the Clintons, the metaphor was too good to pass by. I compared Richardson to Judas Iscariot. (And Matthew Dowd is right: Had it been the Fourth of July, I probably would have called him Benedict Arnold.)
I believed that Richardson's appointments in Bill Clinton's administration and his longtime personal relationship with both Clintons, combined with his numerous assurances to the Clintons and their supporters that he would never endorse any of Sen. Hillary Clinton's opponents, merited a strong response.
I was fully aware of what kind of response calling someone a Judas would evoke.
Certainly, it didn't take long for the resign-renounce-denounce complex to kick into high gear.
In a bit of bloviation that brought joy to my heart, Bill O'Reilly pronounced himself "appalled."
Keith Olbermann, about two degrees shy of the temperature necessary for self-combustion, quipped, "So if he's Judas in this analogy, who's Jesus?"
Even Diane Sawyer took the analogy to the extreme, questioning, "Are you saying that he made a deal of some kind when you talk about 30 shekels?"
Others opined that my remark was "tactless" and "ugly."
Heck, I give myself some credit for managing to get the Clinton and Obama campaigns to agree on something -- that neither wanted to be associated with my remarks.
I know enough to know that comparing a former Cabinet secretary and sitting governor to Judas is inflammatory and provocative. I expected the coverage that it evoked.
Was it a desperate gambit for attention? Was I just trying to prove my point that both Samantha Power's resignation from the Obama campaign for calling Sen. Clinton a monster and the Obama campaign hysterically promoting Geraldine Ferraro's misguided statements were equally silly and superficial?
Not really. I was saying what I felt as an individual who -- with no encouragement from the Clintons but as someone who is proud to consider himself a friend of theirs -- thought that Richardson had done something deeply disloyal.
Earlier this month I decried the political environment in which, by whining about every little barb, candidates seem to be trying to win the election through a war of staff-resignation attrition. Politics is a messy business, but campaigning prepares you for governing. It prepares you to get hit, stand strong and, if necessary, hit back. I've worked on enough campaigns to know that the most aggrieved candidate rarely emerges victorious. And for all of the hypersensitivity we're seeing this cycle, this campaign has not been particularly negative or nasty compared with previous elections.
Fully aware of this supercharged environment in which the slightest slight is elevated to the most egregious insult, I waded in -- okay, dove in -- by demonstrating what constitutes a real insult.
I believe that loyalty is a cardinal virtue. Nowhere in the world is loyalty so little revered and tittle-tattle so greatly venerated as in Washington. I was a little-known political consultant until Bill Clinton made me. When he came upon hard times, I felt it my duty -- whatever my personal misgivings -- to stick by him. At the very least, I would have stayed silent. And maybe that's my problem with what Bill Richardson did. Silence on his part would have spoken loudly enough.
Most of the stuff I've ever said is pretty insignificant and by in large has been said off the cuff and without much thought to the potential consequences. That was not the case in this instance. Bill Richardson's response was that the Clinton people felt they were entitled to the presidency. In my mind, that is a debatable hypothesis. But, even more than that, I know that a former president of the United States who appointed someone to two Senate-confirmed positions is entitled to have his phone calls returned.
If Richardson was going to turn on the Clintons the way he did, I see no problem in saying what I said. Because if loyalty is one virtue, another is straight talk. And if Democrats can't handle that, they're going to have a hard time handling a Republican nominee who is seeking the presidency with that as his slogan.
James Carville, who managed Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, is a political commentator for CNN.