Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


40 More Years

By Shawn Healy
Mark Twain once said, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." Democratic pundit James Carville is guilty of the same dire forecasts for his Republican counterparts in his new book 40 More Years. Just as conservatives were wrong to predict the collapse of the Democratic Party in 2004, Carville and his compatriots danced prematurely in the aftermath of successive victories in 2006 and 2008.

This book was published over the summer months, and by fall the fallacies of its content were all too apparent. Republican gubernatorial victories in purple Virginia and bright blue New Jersey should temper further grandiose claims and force Carville and his friends on the left to look beyond the exceptional candidacy of President Obama.

True, demographic trends favor the Democrats as the country becomes more racially diverse, and voters under thirty bleed blue. But New Jersey and Virginia are instructive of the fact that young voters remain an unreliable base, and independents are wild cards who cannot be taken for granted. Plus, political parties are not static creatures, but instead adaptive animals who adjust to emerging realities on the ground.

Carville is also guilty of the political trick played by both parties, namely equating correlation with causation. Case in point is his use of economic data to show how Democratic presidents are better fiscal managers, all the while failing to distinguish outliers or detailing the policies that produce superior outcomes.

Moreover, his proximity to the Clinton White House forces him to defend the 1993-2001 span with reckless abandon, blaming all errant trends on the Bushes who bookended the Clinton's two terms. The reality, as President Obama is fast learning, is that presidents don't enter the White House with a blank slate. More than anything, they are left to manage the legacies of their predecessors, particularly during the early years of their presidencies.

The book represents a mass of contradictions. Carville is wont to cherry pick data that justify the conclusions he reaches prematurely, yet he blames the right for doctrinaire policymaking all the while citing the need to bridge the partisan divide. He was an adament supporter of then Senator Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primary, and adheres to his belief that she would have been a better candidate and executive, preferring to play Monday morning quarterback and argue that it was Obama who ran a superior campaign. Yet Obama is the lynchpin of his argument that Democrats will dominate the political landscape for the next 40 years.

Much of Carville's book is dedicated to linking all that is evil with George W. Bush and Republican control of Congress. I was left waiting for him to detail a positive agenda for the Democratic Party, and something resembling a platform for the future emerges in Chapter 13. Dubbed the "Real Deal," Carville's cookbook for Democratic dominance hinges on environmental policy, yet he is overtly vague about what form this might take. Health care and entitlement reform receive brief mention, but more than anything, he urges the Democrats to adopt policies contrary to central GOP tenets, namely supply side economics, neoconservatism, and the social policies of the Christian right. In sum, his "big ideas" were disappointingly small.

It is clear that 40 More Years was written to profit from Democratic successes in 2008, massaging fierce partisans who want nothing more than a generation of dominance, and blinding them from the reality of a polarized, still competitive two-party system. Carville didn't anticipate criticism because this book isn't written to open minds or initiate a dialogue, but rather to cement the beliefs of a flock of folks who march with him in lockstep. It is this ideological echo chamber that breeds political excess, and will likely send our electorate searching for alternatives as soon as next fall. Carville's hypothesis is in danger of extinction even before the ink is dry.

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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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