Politics & Policy

Momma Matalin

Motherly advice from the mother of three (two daughters, and James Carville).

“You will never know a greater joy or a deeper love than the love you have for your children.” That’s not Dr. Laura or Dr. Phil writing–or Dr. Spock. That’s politico Mary Matalin, in her new book, Letters To My Daughters.

You see, when Matalin left her job at the White House at the end of 2002, she didn’t sit down to write a tell-all or a narrative about life in W. World. In fact, writing a book was probably close to the last thing she wanted to do. She told her publisher-to-be: “I can’t think, I can’t write about politics right now. I only care about my daughters. I have no inspiration in me for anything else but them.”

And so that wound up being a deal. You won’t find Letters To My Daughters on the political tables at your local bookstore. It’ll have a much longer shelf life than any “current history” pro- or anti-Bush tome. It’s more “a mother’s coffee-klatch book,” Matalin says in an interview with NRO. Its charm is not lost on the childless, however. Non-mothers, Matalin says, tell her that “it reminds them of their mothers.”

In Letters to My Daughters, Matalin writes directly to her daughters Matty (near 9) and Emma (6). She hopes the book, as she writes to the girls in it, “will serve as a beginner’s guide to life’s many mysteries and joys.” In it she opines on boys, the birds and the bees (My momma told me, she writes: “‘Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?’”), bad hair days (picture Mary Matalin sporting an Afro), and those unspeakable “monthly menace” blues.

The overarching message of the book is, “Nobody loves you like your momma,” Matalin tells NRO. The book, she says, is ultimately the story of “how deep the love of a parent is for a kid.” It’s a lesson Matalin–a woman who had an “Oops, I Forgot to Have Kids” poster behind one of her campaign desks before “settling down”–started to understand only after she was married and accidentally became pregnant for the first time. She miscarried, experiencing “baby love” in the most painful way. The joys of Matty and Emma, however, would follow.

Aside from motherhood and the current administration, Mary Matalin–a.k.a. Mrs.James “Rajun’ Cajun” Carville–has been a TV star (HBO’s K Street), a radio-talk-show host, and an expert on children with Attention Deficit Disorder (because, she tells people, she married one in 1993). Writing, however, is not one of her favorite things to do. She calls the book-writing process “an ordeal” but says she did it for her daughters (long hand), who are “the best motivators.” On a deadline, she was able to write down things Matty and Emma might otherwise never have had the chance to know (or at least fully appreciate). If other people happen to read and feel and enjoy the letters too, that’s just a bonus for Matalin.

One of Letters’s fans is the Rajun’ Cajun himself, who is “the biggest huckster for the book,” Matalin says. At heart, she adds, although the gap is wide between what she and her husband believe on political issues, they share the same values. “Different values would be if he were cynical about politics,” Matalin says. “In the end, he comes from the same place: He’s a cultural Catholic from a big family in the South. He’s very close to his family and ours. And that is our top priority–family.”

In Letters she further spells out those shared values: “Virtues are the building blocks of character; they’re how you live out your basic value system. You’ve already heard so much about the virtues Daddy and I treasure: perseverance, respect, empathy, responsibility, fairness, humility, courage, forgiveness. However, the virtue we prize above all and the one that will serve you best is honesty.”

Though an unrelenting political animal, Matalin says the wise and witty book was a nice respite from politics. Still, she couldn’t really avoid the subject.

Matalin explains: “Our kids don’t happen by accident. And our country didn’t happen by accident, to the extent that we pass on the values that were passed onto us; and to stay vigilant about it is not just good for us, it is good for the country.” In the book, she writes, “I believe that a country can only be as good as its individual citizens…. [and] before you can be a good citizen, you have to be a good person.”

So maybe it is a campaign book after all?

Well, Matalin stops far short of ending her philosophy with a “and that’s why the president should be reelected.” She explains, “It’s just that I’ve been thinking a lot about America’s place in the world…. You can’t think about your kids in this time and place without thinking about this time and place.”

“Someday you’ll thank me,” Matalin writes to her daughters. “That’s what my mom always said and she was right.” Mothers and daughters of the Right and Left will too.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.

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