By Gene Lyons
September 16, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

All's Fair: Love, War and Running for President

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At first glance, the Mary Matalin-James Carville romance looks to have all the ingredients of an awful television sitcom. You can almost hear the cheesy promos: ”He’s a left-wing weenie! She’s a right-wing shrew! He works for Clinton! She works for Bush! (Cue maniacal laugh track.) They’re the Political Consultants!”

Well, score another one for the superiority of good books over bad TV. Written with the expert help of Peter Knobler, who has previously collaborated on the autobiographies of such disparate figures as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Gov. Ann Richards of Texas, All’s Fair: Love, War and Running for President (Random House, $24) provides a lively, insightful, entertaining look at this seemingly oddest of couples, who began dating in 1990, battled fiercely as rival strategists and spin doctors through the 1992 presidential campaign, then married a bit more than a year after it was all over. Expect, however, little in the way of intimate revelations. Narrated in alternating ”he said, she said” segments, the book’s in essence a blow-by-blow account of the 1992 campaign from the perspective of the political professionals who ran it. Nobody who’s ever watched C-SPAN for more than five minutes should even think about missing it.

Party affiliations aside, Matalin and Carville clearly have a lot in common. True, her pals on the Republican National Committee had considered Carville, as she puts it, ”the new Darth Vader,” and had once dubbed him ”Serpenthead.” The acerbic Matalin’s putdowns of ”Sniveling Hypocritical Democrats,” and her personal attacks on Bill Clinton haven’t exactly endeared her to his allies either.

But they are both ethnic Catholics who grew up viewing American life from a slight remove-Carville a Cajun from Louisiana, and Matalin the granddaughter of Croatian immigrants in Chicago. Both attended unfashionable schools; both came of age by rejecting what they saw as the mindless cant all around them—racial bigotry in Carville’s case, ’70s radical chic in Matalin’s. Both abhor ideologues and stuffed shirts. And like rival baseball managers, they share a fascination with their game that transcends who wins or loses. Indeed, for all of Matalin’s acid scorn for ”crazy libs” and ”liberal scum,” if All’s Fair had a more honest subtitle, it would have to be something like ”How James beat Mary to every punch and taught her to love him.”

Not that she’s a particularly good sport. Despite Carville’s assurances that Bill Clinton is decent, highly principled, the most talented politician he’s ever known, and a potentially great President, Matalin’s first words to her beau after the election condemned him for ”electing a slime, a scum, a philandering, pot-smoking, draft-dodging pig of a man. You make me sick. I hate your guts.” She sees George Bush, by contrast, as ”the living embodiment of what it is to be an American larger than life.”

But when it comes to one topic, Carville and Matalin speak as one. That topic is the arrogance, herd mentality, cruelty, and indifference to facts displayed by the press. ”Someone in the media has an original thought,” Matalin complains. ”One. Then the entire national press corps is done for the day, or week, sometimes longer.” Carville, a Marine veteran, complains that ”a bunch of Yankee yuppie reporters” who knew nothing about the South he and Bill Clinton grew up in portrayed a man who’d begun his political career opposing segregation and the Vietnam War as a spineless opportunist. Reporters, he thinks, ”try to be honest people. A lot of them I like. But they’re so into self-justification that they have turned journalism into the one institution in America with the least capacity for self-examination and self-criticism.” Now, there’s a song Democrats and Republicans can sing in perfect harmony. A-

All's Fair: Love, War and Running for President

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