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Heard on the Hill: Mary Matalin Pines for Yesteryear

Just before the death knell of the America is Super Disappointed in You Congress Committee, several dozen political experts from both parties met in New Orleans for the Bipartisan Policy Center’s third annual conference.

Heavy hitters and unapologetic partisans such as former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and former Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) joined hosts (and spouses) James Carville (D) and Mary Matalin (R) to brainstorm ways to “take the poison out of partisanship.” And also to probably trade stories about the good ol’ days.

“People that come to [the BPC conference] are highly seasoned, experienced professionals,” Matalin tells HOH. “Everyone likes exchanging war stories.”

Indeed, they do.

Conference attendees had shared experiences of either running for office together, covering the political issues of the day together or governing together.

In the 35 years Matalin has been involved in national politics, Washington hasn’t gotten more partisan but it has gotten nastier. Is this due to the influx of the baby Members and an inexperienced administration?

Nope, Matalin says: “I think that inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom is that, but I think that’s wrong.”

The problem, in her opinion, “is not the new people. … It’s the entrenched people.”

There was a time when both sides assumed “the integrity of the opposition.” And now? Not so much.

But don’t be fooled. The lady hasn’t gone soft.

“I am not a bipartisan ‘Kumbaya’ person,” she says. Matalin believes in partisanship and the courage to stand behind a party’s fundamental beliefs. That’s how she believes issues advance, she says.

“[If Vermont Sen.] Bernard Sanders [I] and [House Budget Chairman] Paul Ryan [R-Wis.] engaged in a Lincoln-Douglas debate, then I think that people would be enthused. They would be persuaded,” she says. “[The BPC is] calling for leadership and persuasion. Let’s fight this out in a civil way.”

And what does she think of the never-ending series of Republican debates?

“I don’t think that format is informative,” she says.

“There’s not enough people on either side that can articulate with eloquence. Now if everyone could talk like Paul Ryan …” she says.

The world would be a magical place, clearly.