Good Communication Simple, Relevant, Repetitive: Pundit

James Carville, who has been called “America’s best-known political consultant,” described good communication Wednesday as being simple, relevant and repetitive.

The political strategist, who also is a film producer, talk-show host and Tulane political science professor, addressed a crowd of about 140 visitors, students, administrators and faculty on the subject of “American Politics in the Age of Barack Obama: Change or Status Quo?” The talk in Cook Center was sponsored by the Division of Social Sciences.

Carville shared with audience the difficulties faced by President Obama in trying to make changes in Washington. He said that rather than trying to change the culture of Washington, Obama should circumvent the culture to get things done.

He said the most effective communication device is the “sound bite,” a short, pithy comment of about three seconds. As an example, Carville noted that while many books have been written about how to live well, they all can be summed up in the biblical quotations: “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

“These sayings crop up over and over,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be complicated.”

He said that as a political strategist, he spends more time convincing people not to say something, calling it “the glory of the unspoken thought.”

Carville, who ran Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign, said narrative, or story-telling, is always more successful than a litany, or list. He said that was a problem with John Kerry and Al Gore, who wanted to list everything they wanted to change. Instead, he said, Obama in a talk the previous day, kept going back to his main message of “patience.”

“He (Obama) kept coming back to it,” he said.

Another example he gave related to movies, which he said always has a setup, conflict and resolution.

Noting that while Obama has only been in office two months and has inherited three wars and an economy as bad as the Great Depression, Carville said the best thing the president has going for him is his ability to communicate. Carville said communication is the key to everything, not only in politics. He encouraged students to think for themselves and have an opinion about things rather than having ideas and opinions given to you.

He encouraged students to get involved in politics, especially at the grass-roots level.”There are so many things you think you cannot affect, but you can,” Carville said.

He kept the audience’s attention with jokes. For example, he said he enjoyed his four years as a sophomore at LSU and that when he graduated, he had a 4.0 (as in blood-alcohol content level).

“I’m not here to give you something to think, but [rather] something to think about,” Carville said.

Carville, who received both his undergraduate and law degree from LSU, has worked in 18 countries as a political consultant. He hosts a XM Radio sports show named “60/20 Sports” with Luke Russert. Married to Mary Matalin, former assistant to President George H. Bush, the couple reside in New Orleans and have two daughters.

He and his wife starred in the HBO series “K Street,” and he co-produced the remake of “All the King’s Men” starring Sean Penn.

(Mario Martin contributed to this report.)