PLANO — James Carville was an equal-opportunity barb-slinger at the 2021 UNT Kuehne Speaker Series on Thursday afternoon. The series is one of the University of North Texas’ biggest donor-funded scholarship programs.

Several hundred guests and donors attended the event at the Renaissance Dallas at Plano Legacy West.

Carville called U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “naive and idealistic” but said Texas Republican Louie Gohmert “is nuts.” For good measure, Carville took a lighthearted jab at the people who gathered Wednesday on Dealey Plaza in Dallas hoping that John F. Kennedy Jr. or his father would come back to life and restore the presidency to Donald Trump.

Mostly, though, Carville considered the deep costs of the country’s deepening political and cultural divide and shared his thoughts on how Americans might find some common ground.

Carville, a Democratic political consultant best known for his work on the winning campaigns for President Bill Clinton, joked and answered questions from G. Brint Ryan, for whom the UNT business college is named. Carville wore sneakers with bright orange soles and casually silenced his cellphone when it rang during his conversation with Ryan, and generally appeared utterly at home in the limelight.

Ryan said Carville was the perfect speaker for politically fractious times and asked Carville to talk a little about his personal life. Carville is famously married to Republican political consultant Mary Matalin. He reminded the attendees that he and Matalin tied the knot on Thanksgiving in 1993 — meaning that, yes, the two were dating while Clinton was challenging George H.W. Bush for the presidency.

Carville and Matalin have often been asked if their marriage might mean a big shift in their political philosophies.

“I got married for the first time when I was 49,” Carville said. “And I always tell people I’m not changing wives, political parties or sexual orientation. I’m pretty much who I am now. … I believe it was Woody Allen who said being bisexual doubles your chances of getting a date. Well, I can’t do that, but being bipartisan doubles your chance of getting a date. When you look like me, you can’t be too picky.”

Carville said neither he nor Matalin have converted one another politically, and he doesn’t try to persuade her.

“It’s easier to be married to someone who hates my politics than who hates my mother,” he said.

Carville’s criticisms of Democrats indicted the party’s habit of communicating by condescension, calling it a “faculty lounge” method of talking to people. Most Americans don’t understand political-speak of the party, he said, citing terms like “Latinx” and “communities of color.”

“I’m a communicator,” he said. “If you want to convince people, you have to communicate with them in the language that they speak. They come up with all these coded words. My pronoun is human being. That’s what I am. And I want to be treated as a human being. I want to treat others as a human being.

“It should be irrelevant what your race is, your ethnicity, your sexual orientation or anything else. I know that’s an aspirational way to look at life. But if we want to keep advancing, and I do think things are hardly perfect — I think they’re improving. But the idea of the faculty lounge, if you tell two-thirds of the country that you’re inherently evil and racist, you’re not going to win elections with that.”

Carville denounced far-left priorities such as defunding the police — “No one wants to do that. You put that on the ballot, and you’ll get slaughtered,” he said. His take on some leftists’ push to penalize iconic historical American leaders and thinkers: “People want to take Abraham Lincoln’s name off of a building? Are you crazy?”

Carville also defended the foundational philosophies of the Democratic Party.

“I’m not a conservative Democrat, I’m not a moderate Democrat — I’m a liberal, all right?” he said. “I believe in progressive taxation. I believe in total equality before the law. I believe in vigorous funding of education. I think climate is a gut-wrenching, nauseating issue that we live with in Louisiana like you wouldn’t believe. I think inequality is a terrible problem that [will] really, eventually cause division in this country like you can’t imagine. But I’m not a leftist. Even Lenin wrote a book Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder. If Lenin couldn’t take these people, how can I take them?”

Carville pondered a host of other questions, including the end of the war in Afghanistan: “The exit wasn’t the problem. The entrance was the problem.” He also spoke about the eroding trust in American institutions, a phenomenon he lays at the feet of the church, Wall Street and causes that have been turned into profit centers. He said he believes in mask mandates during COVID-19 and questions the religious commitment of Christians who resist the COVID vaccine and refuse to mask up and love their neighbors.

“People slugging waiters? That’s crazy,” he said.

The luncheon wrapped up with Carville and Ryan musing over the future of the Louisiana State University football program now that Ed Orgeron is leaving. Carville said if he knew, he wouldn’t tell.

“People get upset and say all you guys think about is winning,” he said. “Well, what else are we supposed to think about?”

LUCINDA BREEDING-GONZALES can be reached at 940-566-6877 and via Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.

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