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April 3, 2008

Carville and Matalin deliver energized, insightful Lyceum; Carville praises ULM's national championship debate team

James Carville, a ULM Presidential Lyceum Series speaker April 3, expressed his admiration for Louisiana's incredible progress and talent, specifically ULM's national award-winning Speech and Debate Team.

Carville said, "The debate team is one of the most inspiring things I've seen in a long time. I look at what's happening right here on this campus. You pick up the paper this morning, and this is a remarkable thing. The debate team won the national championship. Not the Divison II, but the whole deal. People come up to me, friends I have in Monroe, say 'You look at the improvements,' you can see them right here, look at things that are happening. Do we have problems—sure we do. Do we have progress—absolutely."

ULM's Presidential Lyceum series featured speakers Carville and Mary Matalin, who shared their political expertise with a sold-out crowd of ULM students, faculty, staff, and community members.

ULM President James E. Cofer, Sr. opened by remarking that, "This is a series that promotes intellectual curiosity. We don't always agree with our speakers, but we enjoy them, and that's the most important part of a university—enjoying intellectual interchange. Tonight's guests bring new meaning to the axiom 'Politics make strange bedfellows.' At least one of them does not consider the other strange, and they have remained together in spite of politics rather than because of them. Each is not only a champion of their party's convictions, but a leading voice in advocating strategies and tactics, and each has become renowned for extraordinary intelligence and uncanny political perceptions."

Matalin then took the floor, taking a moment to thank ULM junior and football player Chance Payne for listening to her radio program when he was 10, recalling a positive letter he sent her then. "You are our future. What you students do today is going to determine the way our kids live tomorrow, so thank you in advance for your great stewardship."

After much teasing and quoting Bill O'Reilly and Dennis Miller's criticisms of her husband, Matalin affectionately clarified, "I think you're beautiful, honey. Politics is our first love, and I love that each other loves politics. I think James is right—there is honor in this profession, and there are honorable and noble people who serve in politics. I am very invigorated that we can share this incredible election . . . It's a unique election, it's more than exciting. There's so much at stake, it's such a transitional era. . .We've just never seen anything like this."

Matalin noticed that there's not one campaign strategy that they recognize from previous campaigns. "These are all unique candidacies."

Even for professionals who have worked in this field for years, "We don't have any more predictive powers to guide us than some sort of guts about the thing."

In that context, Matalin said there were a few things worth watching, like open field politics. Elements are shifting, regarding issues, states, and voters. Projected electoral votes are shifting, particularly in 13 states with 159 electoral college votes—it seems like a toss-up.

She said there are key voter groups to watch, particularly independents, disgruntled Democrats, women voters, and young people. "Every cycle, they're supposed to be the determining constituency, but this time Obama is having a phenomenal impact, not just on young people, but the way young people are, if not converting, convincing and energizing their parents. . .Will they stay involved? Will they vote, will they turn out in the numbers that they have in the primaries? We don't know, and that's a really hugely important factor in this cycle. . . Whoever comes on the Democratic side is going to be formidable. John McCain is formidable. The issues are so important . . .Communities can come together to make something happen, where maybe government can't."

Carville opened with his own good-natured ribbing of his wife and a few high-profile Republicans before switching to the political topic so prevalent in the public interest. "We talk about this political cycle—we've never seen anything close to what we've seen in this cycle. By every measurement that you look at, this is not something that the human mind can really get around . . .This is an unprecedented field."

As examples, he cited factors like the sheer amount of money raised for political campaigns. Concerning elevated voter turnout, he said, "As the guys in the superb political science department here can tell you—there's no historical reference point for what we're seeing here. We're talking about high turnout up and down demographic lines, across racial lines if you will. This is compelling stuff."

He advised the audience to take a step back, observe the political scene and enjoy it.

"People talk about politics—I enjoy it. I love every minute that I've been in politics . . .I've seen and observed and done things that frankly I never dreamed I would get a chance to do. . ."

In response to questions about why his family would move back to Louisiana, he replied, "To be completely truthful, why wouldn't I?"

He praised the exciting things happening in Louisiana. "We are making progress here. We have an incredible story to tell—there are incredible people here."

The challenge is to recognize our accomplishments, develop more self-confidence and make the kind of state that children don¹t have to leave for economic prosperity, Carville said.

"A large part [of the progress] is happening right here on this campus, and that can happen all across this state. If our kids can go and beat the best intellectuals anywhere, and I'm talking about Harvard, Cornell and Michigan and all that—it didn't matter. The University of Louisiana at Monroe won."

"We need to spend half as much time talking about our successes as we do whining about our failures, and I just have the sense that the Matalin-Carville family is moving because Louisiana's on the move."

The speech concluded with a political question and answer session conducted by ULM professors Dr. Kevin Unter and Dr. John Sutherlin.

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