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We Don’t Need To Hear From the Architect of Clinton’s “Sister Souljah Moment” on the Problems With “Wokeness”
Maybe one of the networks—PBS, MSNBC, CNN—that constantly books Carville to comment on racial justice issues should ask him about his own history of racist pandering.
Over the past couple of years, political and corporate consultant James Carville has been on PBS, MSNBC, CNN, Vox, and an assortment of other outlets with the same message: Democrats have gotten “too woke,” “normal people” “don’t like them,” and they need to “learn how to talk to Middle America.” They have to drop the “far-left nonsense” and appeal to “everyday” people. It’s a message Carville, a Simple Country Political Consultant, has spouted for years, and it frequently leads to viral moments picked up by other outlets, namely right-wing media, complete with centrist and liberal pundits nodding along in agreement. It seems so simple, so folksy, so authentic!
Here is Carville last night on PBS News Hour reciting his same go-to talking points:
What exactly Carville means by “wokeness” isn’t entirely clear. He, like virtually every high-status Democratic “strategist,” has spoken out against “defund the police,” despite the fact that this remains an extremely minority position among Democratic electeds.
But it’s obviously more than that. Like objections to “critical race theory,” opposing “wokeness” has become a catch-all for anyone’s ill-defined opposition to what is perceived as liberal excess, or political correctness “gone too far.” The tell that this isn’t just about off-putting, rarefied academic nonprofit-speak is that, in Carville’s formulation, “woke” and “far-left” currents also include free college and debt cancellation, which he says “people don’t want to hear about,” and Single Payer healthcare, which he calls “an election loser.” Never mind that free college, student debt cancellation, and Single Payer healthcare are supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans.
Indeed, it’s Carville’s opposition to robust economic populism that reveals how hollow his alleged support for bread and butter issues and dislike of anti-racist discourse really is. It’s a rhetorical sleight-of-hand popular with countless pundits and commentators: rant against a vague label like “woke” that anyone can project their own pet issues on, then pivot to why the Democratic Party needs to give up on programs that help the poor. As organizer Jonathan Cohn notes, this is what is generally meant by “appealing to The Every Man” or “Middle America.” The solution is never, “support broadly popular social programs that will materially improve the lives of workers.” It’s, “Hey man, chill on the talking about racism stuff.”
Carville practically invented this genre. Despite his everyman Southern affect, Carville is a died-in-the-wool corporatist who’s fought against anti-poverty measures his entire life. He shares a black box corporate consultancy firm Gaslight Inc. with his Republican wife Mary Matalin (they were paid tens of thousands of dollars to get Republican Law & Order actor Fred Thompson elected president in 2008). Like with all black box corporate consultants, we have absolutely no idea who Carville’s list of clients is or has been. But, whoever they are, they helped buy a $3.4 million mansion for the couple in downtown New Orleans, so we can assume he wasn’t just working for Greenpeace and SEIU. Throughout his career, Carville has worked for investment banks and made millions in speaking fees doled out by corporate clients.
Aside from the fact that Carville is an extremely rich man whose shaping of “third way” corporate Democrats laid the groundwork for the rise of Trump, Carville’s tedious rants against woke culture also have a fairly glaring conflict of interest no one wants to mention: Carville’s entire career is marked by cynical exploitation of anti-Black racism.
Carville joined the Clinton campaign in December 1991, weeks before the Democratic primaries. In February 1992, Clinton infamously took time out of the campaign trail in New Hampshire to travel back down to Arkansas to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a severely brain damaged Black man with the IQ of 70 to show Democrats “were not soft on crime.”
A couple of years later when Paula Jones accused then-President Clinton of sexual harassment, Carville went into attack mode, repeatedly accusing Jones, who was raised poor in the tiny farming town of Lonoke, Arkansas, of lying to get a quick buck. Telling reporters in 1994, "Drag a hundred dollars through a trailer park and there's no telling what you'll find."
In his most notable and involved example of race-baiting, Carville was the architect of Bill Clinton’s so-called “Sister Souljah moment.” The shameful May 1992 episode, which the Boston Globe reported Carville had “orchestrated”, saw then-candidate Bill Clinton performatively denounce musician Sister Soujah at Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition dinner. At the time, Carville equated her lyrics to the hate speech of David Duke. Today the event is broadly seen as cynical pandering to racist sentiments and punching left, namely the Black left, for immediate political gain. The event soured Jackson and Clinton’s relationship for several years and, like Clinton overseeing the execution of Rector, was motivated entirely by pandering to racists.
Despite what one may think of so-called “wokeness,” it is fair to assume that had such “woke culture” existed in the 1990s, perhaps Carville would be “canceled” for being a shameless demagogue exploiting white racism and trafficking in classist, sexist comments about Clinton’s sexual assault accusers. And this is the rub with Carville’s schtick: He wants to go back to the traditional model of corporate Democrat vote getting—don’t broaden the voting base by promising broad economic populism to working-class whites—but by playing dirty and appealing instead to their darker instincts, focusing on coded issues like “crime” and denouncing unruly black rappers. This method is much easier and power-serving—and consistent with being a corporate consultant.
Perhaps media outlets that keep inviting Carville on their networks to opine about how to discuss racial justice should note this self-serving motive. Carville made his name with shameless racist pandering, something audiences should probably be made aware of when listening to his vague, folksy bullshit mugging about “wokeness.”