The Ragin’ Cajun – Eccentric and Controversial; Authentic and Effective

James Carville

Carville, Louisiana is located in Iberville Parish just south of Baton Rouge.  The town was given its name in the late 1800’s in honor of its postmaster. It is home to the National Hansen’s Disease Museum – located at the site of a former sugar plantation which in 1894, became home to the now closed Carville National Leprosarium. On October 25, 1944, Carville  also became the birthplace of the first grandson of its namesake

The boy was the first of eight children born to Chester – who owned the general store and had become postmaster – and Lucille, “Miss Nippy” – who sold encyclopedias door-to-door. By all accounts, the nicest description of the boy is that he was ‘a handful’. If there was trouble, he would find it – drinking, gambling and more. He jokes now that he graduated with a 4.0 – not grade point but blood alcohol level.

But graduate he did and he went off to Louisiana State University. He struggled at LSU, eventually flunking out. He enlisted in the Marine Corps where he served two years and reached the rank of corporal. Whether it was the discipline learned in the military, natural maturing or a combination of both, he returned to LSU where he earned an undergraduate degree. He didn’t stop there – he went on to graduate law school.

He practiced law in Baton Rouge through the 1970’s – eventually training as a consultant under the tutelage of Gus Weill, whose ad agency focused on political campaigns. His first noteworthy success as a political consultant came in 1986, when he managed Robert Casey’s successful campaign for Governor of Pennsylvania. Casey had lost three previous attempts and was dubbed the “Three time loss from Holy Cross” by a cynical media.

The following year saw his second major success. Wallace Wilkinson began his bid for Governor of Kentucky with only 1% of the vote in preliminary polls but ultimately won a seemingly impossible victory. Another year saw another win – this time he directed Frank Lautenberg’s successful campaign to become the U.S. Senator from the state of New Jersey. Next was directing Zell Miller’s victory in Georgia’s gubernatorial bid.

It was back to Pennsylvania in 1991 where he led Harris Wofford to victory in his U.S. Senate bid – after he trailed in the polls by forty points. Key to the turn-around was his strategy of focusing on the differences in position between Wofford and then President George H. W. Bush.

It was that aggressive approach which had led to the success of his campaigns – but it was how he executed the strategy which defined him as campaign manager. He was still a handful – though his opponents and detractors weren’t that kind in their descriptions. He was brash, bold, attacking, loud, persistent, tireless and unflappable. He used his distinctive Cajun accent and Southern charm to his advantage – which was to benefit his candidates. He was the kind of person that you loved if he was on ‘your team’ – but despised if he was your adversary.

His success – his winning streak – was to continue. The next campaign he managed resulted in the former Arkansas Governor being elected President of the United States of America. For his efforts, he was named the Campaign Manager of the Year by the American Association of Political Consultants.

That was the last domestic campaign he managed. However, he went on to consult on international politics, be a political commentator for several networks, write six best-selling books, star in documentaries, feature films and television shows, marry the campaign manager for George Bush and raise two daughters and become a university professor. His efforts have had an enormous impact on the politics and direction of the country on both the national and state levels. Yet that is not what defines a fearless brand.

Chester James Carville, Jr. has driven these results because he is a fearless brand.

Fearless Brands follow their passion and leverage their talent to achieve impressive results

James Carville is a polarizing figure. Democrats and those with a liberal perspective appreciate his talent and efforts – conservatives and Republicans find him abrasive and boorish. Regardless of political bent, there are those who like the man and those who really don’t. He is as genuine as they come however. Hillary Clinton said of Carville – “A lot of people think James is a normal person trying to be eccentric. The truth is he is actually desperately trying to be normal.”

Carville married Mary Matalin in 1993 – the year after they faced off professionally in the Clinton – Bush election. While their relationship began prior to the start of the presidential race – they successfully kept their professional and personal lives separate. They have successfully remained true to their vastly differing political views, often appearing on the same show(s) to share their beliefs and support their respective parties. They have also been happily married for over twenty years and have raised two daughters. In 2008, the family moved to New Orleans where Carville teaches political science at Tulane University and both he and Matalin continue to make appearances as political commentators.

Shortly after his marriage, James was at an airport waiting for a flight when a fellow passenger approached him. The man was a medical doctor who had been observing Carville. He told James it was his opinion as a doctor that Carville had Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). After extensive testing, the doctor’s opinion was proven to be correct. Carville not only began to receive treatment for his ADHD, he became very transparent about the condition, speaking publicly about its effect and the opportunity to receive successful treatment.

As you work to upgrade your brand, there’s much to learn from James Carville –

Be true to your convictions – Carville knows his beliefs and he knows his talents – he knows his value…but that’s not enough. He knows his value and his purpose and does not waiver in either – regardless of people’s opinions of him. It’s that conviction which helps define a fearless brand.

Relationships demand mutual respect – Carville and Matalin both understand that differing opinions – even on major topics – can peacefully co-exist in a relationship based on respect and empathy. It’s not a question of not bringing work home – it’s a matter of keeping things in perspective and in their place.

Always remain receptive – Bob Burg often discusses the Law of Left Field which states that the greatest gifts will come to you at moments, and from places you least expect. Carville’s quality of life improved dramatically when he was open to hearing – really hearing – that doctor’s supposition of ADHD. Be open to life’s gifts – there are plenty of them.

You needn’t be brash or aggressive to be a fearless brand. You don’t have to shape the political landscape of the country. Becoming a fearless brand is really quite simple – embrace your passion, leverage your talents, be relevant.




Friday's Fearless Brand

Coach, International Speaker and Thought Partner - Bill’s mission is to add value to the world – one brand at a time. Bill guides individuals and companies alike in building what he refers to as a ‘fearless brand’. This is the process of discovering, embracing and delivering their greatest value – which allows them to realize greater profit. Read More

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