In Washington, love is blind - and so is loyalty

STICKIN': THE CASE FOR LOYALTY By James Carville Simon & Schuster 222 pp., $16.95

At Fort Benton, Mont., lantern-jawed men of the Great Northern Railroad used to choke up when they'd see an orphaned collie named Shep waiting by the tracks.

Lore has it Shep's owner was sent east on a train to be buried. For years, the loyal hound returned each day to meet the train, looking for his beloved master until he met his own untimely end under the wheels of a locomotive.

After just a little bit of "Stickin' - The Case for Loyalty," you realize James Carville doesn't have the soft and fuzzy Shep loyalty.

This is eye-poking, sticking-with-the-one-that-brung-'ya loyalty forged in the swamps of the Clinton confidant's native Louisiana.

It's 213 pages of "why I was bred to be as loyal as I am," written by a bald-headed junkyard-dog version of Shep with a keen disdain for Republicans.

Through the lens of classic conflicts, including but not limited to the Battle of Thermopylae all the way up to Kenneth Starr vs. Bill Clinton, Carville postulates on the importance of sticking with the battle at hand - and friends and family.

He bemoans the lack of loyalty in today's power centers, particularly Washington, where false loyalty more often prevails. And in true Carville form, President Clinton's conservative political enemies are used as templates of disloyalty.

Newt Gingrich for example, is featured for leaving his wife on her hospital bed. "Virtues" author Bill Bennett gets the "Suck Up to Power Award" for what Carville describes as someone who's loyal only to those in office.

For young Democratic operatives in training, there are bonus pages that include "Carville's Twelve Rules of Sticking It to Your Political Enemies."

No. 10 suggests attacking when the other guy isn't expecting it. No. 11 cautions you to stick from a distance, since "you might find you like them ... although "no one ever said that about Ken Starr," Carville adds.

The other main purpose of "Stickin' " seems to be explaining where all the grit in his bald pate comes from.

In the beginning chapter, entitled "Why I Stuck With Bill Clinton," we discover not the confident, motormouth that bedevils conservatives of all stripes. Instead, we see a man down on his luck, sitting in a cold rain crying, with his only possessions spilled in the gutter.

After a string of moderate successes, including Bob Casey's winning 1986 gubernatorial bid in Pennsylvania, Carville gets himself a chip in the big game, hiring on with the Clinton campaign.

And through thick and thin, from the "war room" days of the 1992 presidential campaign through the Lewinski scandal and Starr investigation, all the way through to the present, Carville lays out the importance of loyalty even in the Clintons' ethical briar patch.

Carville also explores how his tabasco-flavored brand of loyalty was developed in the hothouse climate of Carville, La., 65 miles north of New Orleans where politics was as entertaining as sports.

He makes wider cultural observations about the need for more loyalty, and how he'll explain to his daughters, when they're old enough, why he defended a man like Bill Clinton.

For those who dislike Carville on TV, the book will go down like curdled milk. But getting inside James Carville's craw, just for a visit, is at least as interesting as an afternoon fish fry - if only for the Southern euphemism and metaphor.

* James N. Thurman is a Monitor correspondent in Washington, D.C.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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