WASHINGTON -- Finally, some fun. Finally, in a presidential race that has had all the excitement of back-to-back reruns of "The Lawrence Welk Show," someone is firing up the dialogue.
Right now, for instance, Republican partisan and radio talk show host Mary Matalin is offering her analysis of President Clinton. Let's tune in:
"Bill Clinton's the worst human being I've ever seen," says Matalin, who was George Bush's deputy campaign manager in 1992 and now is an ardent volunteer in Bob Dole's presidential campaign. "Clinton is the emptiest suit, the most convictionless, coreless, phony baloney, take-credit-for-everybody-else's work, take-a-stand-on-nothing, commitment-to-nothing guy I've ever seen. And this guy is winning!"
She pauses. Is that a trace of foam at the corner of her mouth? No. Probably just a crumb from the bread she's snacking on.
And her thoughts on Bob Dole? How does she respond to all those political pundits who are writing him off, saying he can't articulate the issues and is a "bad" candidate. Even conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer recently called Dole the worst candidate he's seen in 20 years -- and he included Michael Dukakis and George McGovern.
It is a question that obviously annoys her. Her brows knit together under the red cap she is wearing. Her sultry, low-pitched voice rises, emphasizing the nasal twang of her native Chicago.
"I say to Krauthammer and anybody else: Would you just stop and think about what you're saying? Here's a guy -- Bob Dole -- who's had this incredible career: substantive, honorable, dedicated, accomplished, confident. He's clearly got leadership ability. So what are you looking for? Somebody who can go on a sitcom?
"This to me says something about the process; a process in which a guy as honorable as Bob Dole cannot win, because he can't give a fake speech he doesn't believe in. But a guy who can do this Geraldo made-for-TV, cry-on-command, bite-your-lip stuff that Clinton's so able to do can win. But we're not voting for a performer. You know, we've really lost sight of what this thing is about."
This is vintage Matalin -- the kind of hardball rhetoric she learned from her political mentor, the infamous Lee "Take No Prisoners" Atwater.
It should be noted that the guy Mary Matalin is married to works for the guy she describes as "an empty suit." Her husband, liberal Democrat James Carville, is a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton; in the 1992 campaign he served as Clinton's lead strategist.
He's also the guy who, during the Republican National Convention, suggested this theme for the event: "Republicans -- We're Not as Mean as You Think We Are."
The unlikely romance between Matalin and Carville, set against the backdrop of their opposing roles in the 1992 presidential election, cast them as the Tracy and Hepburn -- some said the Bonnie and Clyde -- of politics.
After marrying in 1993, having a daughter in 1995 and earning a $900,000 advance for a joint memoir based on their oddball relationship in the 1992 campaign ("Spin Doctors in Love" was the headline on Newsweek's excerpt from their book), Carville, 52, and Matalin, 43, are once again on opposite sides of the political fence. On her nightly radio show -- which airs in Baltimore on WBAL-AM at 11 p.m. -- she often refers to her husband as Serpent-head. At other times she describes herself as "someone who sleeps with President Clinton's chief strategist."
Such a description accounted, in part, for the brief dust-up that occurred last spring when Matalin announced she would work on Bob Dole's presidential campaign. Within days she withdrew because some Republicans, she says, "had this Cro-Magnon reaction about my husband. 'How could they hire her? What about pillow talk?' You know, all this stupid Cro-Magnon stuff." Her lips curl in disdain.
"So I did the honorable thing. I said, 'Dole doesn't need this. I'm just a volunteer. Tell him I'm not volunteering anymore."
But when Dole called her and asked, "Well, are you still going to work with us?" Matalin reconsidered. Without any fanfare she's been delivering speeches for the candidate and, of course, using her radio talk show as a forum for Republican issues.
Sitting in her cluttered, disorganized CBS Radio office on Pennsylvania Avenue, Mary Matalin is dressed for radio: She's wearing jeans, a T-shirt and hiking boots. It's one of the things she likes about radio -- not having to be coiffed and dressed to the nines as she had to be when she was a co-host of a daily cable-TV show, "Equal Time." She has, however, made up her strong, interesting, angular face for a photographer.
Her feet up on the desk, swigging bottled water, Matalin comes across as a complex woman. She is: smart, honest, abrasive, intensely partisan, argumentative, warm and engaging. She has a tendency to interrupt, sounding at times like Ross Perot: "Can I just say this? Can I finish? Can I just say something?" she'll ask -- rhetorically, of course.
And speaking of Ross Perot, here's Matalin's spin on the Dole campaign's failed attempt to talk Perot into dropping his presidential bid: She suggests that the Perot camp had a deal with the Dole camp and then backed out.
"I think what happened -- and the story I've been told since -- is that the deal was pinned down and it only blew up after it broke in the press. That's why everybody was so upset the day after, trying to figure out who leaked it. I don't know if that's true or not. But I have a personal history with Perot that suggests the guy is a nut. And I just couldn't believe he would ever" quit the campaign.
And ask not what she feels about the headlines that arose from the Perot debacle, headlines like: "Dole in Desperate Bid Goes to Perot; It's All Over."
"Well, the press wrote Dole off about two months ago. So what's the question? What should Dole do?" Matalin's voice has taken on an annoyed, impatient tone.
No, the question is
She interrupts, suggests her own version of what Dole should do: "Should he line up the press and put them in a big ditch?" she says, coating each word with heavy sarcasm. "Yeah," she answers, smiling slyly.
So. Is it all over?
"NO," she shouts. "IT IS TOTALLY NOT OVER. IT IS TOTALLY NOT OVER."
When it is suggested to her that many in his own party think it's over and are distancing themselves from the Dole ticket, she goes ballistic.
"Can I just say something?" she says, anger palpable in her voice.
"When we do the postmortem on this [campaign], one of the worst things I think happened is our own side saying 'It's over' and turning tail. And it started happening like right away -- wimpy congressmen running away from their ticket. Then you've got these governors running away. It's the difference between a candidacy that looks like an underdog, and one that looks like a loser."
Matalin, known and admired for her loyalty -- she stood by Bush to the very end -- cannot understand the kind of person who does not have that kind of loyalty.
"What is it about people in politics? What compels them to think they're going to be better thought of if they trash the campaign, if they trash their candidate, if they turn coat, if they jump ship? There's something psychotic about that," Matalin says, suddenly sounding a bit down about the outcome of the election.
When it is suggested that Dole also has been abandoned by women voters, Matalin, uncharacteristically, doesn't try to knock down this assessment. She agrees that women are backing off the Dole message -- because of the way it's being delivered. Women, she says, need to be communicated with in a special way.
"It's the whole Deborah Tannen thing," she says. "We take in a lot of visual clues, we're very intuitive, we're very busy. You know, when you walk through solutions with women, they always gravitate to the conservative solution, the conservative proposal. Then you put a Republican tag on it and they back off. So we've done something in the translation that's offensive to women. And it has to do with communication."
Matalin says that having a child has changed her political views.
"It has made me much more conservative. Prior to having my daughter Matty, my conservatism was philosophical and somewhat abstract. Now I'm just obsessed with it. Here she is -- only 15 months old -- and I obsess literally at least twice a week on where I'm going to find a university that's just not some communist bastion, that's not just all about women's studies and all this stuff."
She says she likes both Elizabeth Dole and Hillary Rodham Clinton. "I understand Elizabeth less, but I love her more. Because I'm not a Southerner and I don't have that kind of ambition that it took to be a woman of that age from that region who's done what she's done. First at Harvard and all that stuff. That's really tough.
"Hillary I really like but I feel sorry for her. I think she has deep convictions, and I hated it when they rolled her out as First Mommy. I liked it when she was a liberal. It doesn't bother me when people are liberals. It bothers me when they cannot defend their views."
Matalin, however, will trash to the end Hillary's husband. "He's amoral, and it will make me sick to lose to this guy."
L She brightens when she considers the up side to such a loss.
"My new favorite thing is: I hope he does get re-elected. Because he's going to get impeached. The history of this is when you're immersed in as many scandals as he is, he's going to get impeached."
The thought pleases her. It was good for her, thinking about this. She asks for permission to smoke a cigarette.
She smiles. "He's going to get impeached. It's going to be great."
Pub Date: 11/01/96