Political big shots gather

James Carville and Mary Matalin chair summit.

By Elyse Toplin | Section: Nov 13th, 2009 Featured Articles, Issues, News, November 13th Print Edition

The Bipartisan Policy Center hosted the inaugural Political Summit Monday and Tuesday in the Kendall-Cram Ballroom of the Lavin-Bernick Center.

Members of both parties were invited to New Orleans to debate potential national issues.

Members of both parties were invited to New Orleans to debate potential national issues.

The summit featured four panels made up of political strategists and consultants from both the Republican and Democratic parties.

James Carville and Mary Matalin co-chaired the conference. Carville was the strategist and adviser for Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign and for several other Democratic campaigns, while Matalin has managed several Republican campaigns, including George H.W. Bush’s unsuccessful reelection bid against Bill Clinton in 1992.

Carville said he was happy with the summit and hopes that it will benefit Tulane.

“The big news is that the quality of the panelists is breathtaking,” Carville said. “I’ve been to many of these things and the competence of these panelists is unbelievable… It’s important to expose students [to this] and have this kind of a discussion on a college campus. We’ve got some of the most influential people out of Washington and into New Orleans.”

Matalin was also happy with the summit, but said she wished more students could have attended.

“I was completely fascinated,” Matalin said. “I’ve never seen anything like this where so many people came and were so candid. My only regret is that more students couldn’t come enjoy it. You will never get so many people in the same room doing this.”

Students said the speakers could have been less partisan.

“Carville and Matalin did a great job of bringing in an impressive, unique group of speakers,” Lewis said. “However, I was expecting more bipartisanship and for more sides to be more self-critical. It’s not a good sign when a bipartisan conference has partisanship.”

Many of the panelists said they were happy to come to New Orleans and participate in the summit.

“We don’t often get to spend time with our colleagues on the other side in non-confrontational, non-election settings,” said Kiki McLean, who has worked on campaigns for Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.

Tad Devine, a media consultant and a senior strategist and adviser for Al Gore and John Kerry’s campaigns also said events like this are important for him and his colleagues.

Strategic adviser, pollster, and author Stanley Greenberg spoke on the panel.

Strategic adviser, pollster, and author Stanley Greenberg spoke on the panel.

“I came because James and Mary invited me, because I wanted to see New Orleans after Katrina — it’s great to see the vitality of the city — and because participating in these events is important so we can all step back and talk about the impact these campaigns have on our country,” Devine said.

Tulane President Scott Cowen opened the summit by explaining the importance of having the event in New Orleans.
“Politics is one of our favorite pastimes in this great state,” Cowen said. “Whether it’s parish, state or national politics, a New Orleanian will have an opinion and will be happy to share it.”

Provost Michael Bernstein opened the second day of the summit by talking about Tulane students and how the summit was applicable to them.

“The actions of Tulane students speak directly to the discussions at this conference,” Bernstein said. “What we’re witnessing here at Tulane is not the me-generation anymore but the we-generation. This is a group of people interested in public service, community engagement and social progress. It’s our students who have been the muscle of that recovery [in New Orleans].”

During one panel, entitled “What to Expect in 2010 and 2012,” the panelists discussed their predictions for the upcoming elections, and what advice they would give to their party leadership. Democratic consultant Joe Trippi predicted that there will be many primaries in both parties held against incumbents who voted the wrong way on key issues like health care. He also predicted the emergence of more independent candidates, and that the Democrats will need to focus on bringing independents and progressives back into the fold.

Democratic consultant Steve McMahon said that he would tell President Obama that he needs to remind the country that everything he has done was in its interest.

“Obama needs to remind people that he inherited the deficit,” McMahon said. “We did the things to bail out Wall Street, for health care reform, because we had to and it was the right thing to do. The president has to find areas where he can take a stand that the progressives will applaud him for, because right now the progressives feel that they are not being listened to…[and] if they don’t show up in 2010, whatever the Democrats lose will double.”
All of the republican consultants mentioned that their party needed to broaden their base to be successful in the next two elections.


“The Republican party needs to embrace the passion and energy of its heart,” said Tony Blankley, who previously served as a press secretary and speech writer for Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan. “Don’t walk away from that passion because you’re not going to win anything without the passion.”

Republican consultant Alex Castellanos who has worked on several campaigns, including Mitt Romney and John McCain’s presidential campaigns echoed Blankley in saying that the Republicans need to expand and appeal to more people.

“I know they say that when your opponent is busy destroying himself you shouldn’t interfere, but believing that is a prescription for permanent minority status,” Castellanos said. “People want solutions to lead us to a better place. You don’t need to compromise your principles to win.”

Freshman Michael Lewis attended several panels in the summit. He said he was disappointed by the number of partisan arguments but was impressed by the quality of the speakers.

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