In April 2001, Sean Illing of Vox called James Carville to get his take on Joe Biden’s first 100 days in office, but Carville wanted to talk about something else: “Wokeness is a problem and everyone knows it.” He then explained that despite winning the presidency the Democrats had done poorly in the 2020 election, in large part because the Democrats talk like a faculty lounge and use words and phrases like “Latinx” and “communities of color” that no ordinary person uses in normal conversation. He went on to explain that “large parts of the country view us as an urban, coastal, arrogant party.”
I certainly had some sympathy with Carville’s argument. Since the beginning of my writing career I have deliberately opted to use plain language rather than attempt to show off my vocabulary precisely because I believe communication is my aim, not making a good impression on my peers. Political messaging should be accessible and it definitely should not alienate or exclude people. I’ve also spent years arguing that the Democrats are contributing to their own weakness by adopting an urban/suburban strategy that isn’t stable and that leaves too many working people at the mercy of right-wing populism. But I wound never describe my critiques as “anti-woke” or echo Carville’s simplistic analysis.
Overall, I found Carville’s argument unhelpful, but he didn’t stop. He’s been making many of the same points on cable television over the last two years, often as a recurring guest on Ari Melber’s show on MSNBC. On Wednesday, he appeared on Melber’s show to talk about the State of the Union address, and he seemed to violate his own advice.
“I tell people I have the equivalent of a PhD in white trashology, and we saw real white trash on display,” Carville told MSNBC anchor Ari Melber.
Carville singled out far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), saying she “dresses like white trash” and should take fashion advice from serial liar Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), in a video shared by Mediaite.
“The level of white trashdom in the Republican Party is staggering,” Carville added. “I mean, for somebody that has observed it for a long time like I have, I’ve never seen it manifest itself on a level that it’s manifesting itself.”
Now, if you’re concerned that “large parts of the country view [the Democrats] as an urban, coastal, arrogant party,” then you definitely don’t want to go viral by calling much of the country “white trash.” If you don’t want to come off as elitist, you shouldn’t make personal attacks about how people dress. If you’re concerned that lower income whites are responding to anti-Democratic, white nationalist and fascistic messaging, you don’t want to argue that they have a natural home in the Republican Party or imply that the GOP serves their interests.
And if you want to be known for your political savvy and acumen, then you should give consistent advice. If the Democrats are losing elections by alienating non-elites among the majority white population, then don’t set an example by alienating them with everything you’re worth.
I suppose Carville thinks he’s being an effective communicator by using plain language that everyone can understand. But if what they understand is that you think they’re garbage, then don’t expect them to support your political party.
Melber seemed to sense the problem and pushed Carville in another direction as soon as he could, but the damage was done. I don’t dispute that Carville is an entertaining guest, but he probably shouldn’t be a regular one.