Monday, Jan. 31, 2011 | 11:23 p.m.
Republican Jeb Bush, Florida's former two-term governor, and Democrat James Carville, Bill Clinton's former political strategist, debated federal policy, forecast the 2012 elections and traded friendly barbs during a wide-ranging conversation Monday night at UNLV.
Not surprisingly, Carville largely defended the Democratic agenda — namely health care reform and government support — while Bush promoted the typically Republican ideals of deficit reduction and less government intervention.
Even so, Bush broke from party lines to admonish Republicans for failing to come up with a better health care solution, and Carville appeared to entertain the idea of tax cuts as one prong of a larger plan to re-stimulate the economy.
The conversation, part of UNLV's Barrick Lecture Series and moderated by Sun columnist Jon Ralston, opened with reflections on the 2010 elections in which Republicans took control of the House. Bush described his party's victory as a repudiation of President Obama rather than a validation of the GOP (mentioning Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's win as a notable exception) and warned that "now is the time for Republicans to step up."
Carville argued that Democrats focused on the wrong message and lost because they failed to convince voters that their policies were working while unemployment rates continued to climb.
"Show me any headline that says '9.5 percent unemployment, incumbent elected,'" Carville said. "The people wanted to spank the president, and they ended up caning him."
Carville outlined a favorable future for Obama, and Bush seemed to agree, calling him a "formidable opponent." Bush also noted that Republicans will have to work hard to maintain independent voters' support.
Both speakers took a casual approach to the debate, but at times talked over one another. Carville was seen rolling his eyes on a few occasions.
Bush ribbed Carville as well, but called him a friend and stressed his respect.
"Hell, he beat my dad," Bush joked.
The audience leaned more Republican than Democratic, with Bush receiving the loudest applause. One audience member grew rowdy early in the event, shouting at Carville as he derided Republicans' budget plan.
"The Sharron Angle people are here tonight — no Second Amendment remedies," Carville retorted.
On the subject of education, the speakers kept to party lines, offering recommendations that sounded eerily familiar to the 1,250 people packed in the auditorium.
"Here in Nevada, they are slaughtering education to save everything else," Carville said.
Bush noted that in Florida, he eliminated social promotion for third-graders and added advanced placement classes in poor schools to boost underprivileged and minority students' outcomes.
"Florida's low-income, Hispanic kids do better than California's average, at 50 percent the cost," Bush said.
If the approach sounds familiar, it should. Gov. Brian Sandoval is also proposing doing away with social promotion. Bush served as a mentor to Sandoval during his campaign and will continue to advise the governor on education issues, a Sandoval spokeswoman said.
The biggest chuckle of the night came during a discussion of pension funds. Audience members couldn't contain themselves as Carville — unprompted — mentioned that public employees earn lower salaries than private workers. Loud jeers erupted in the auditorium.
Carville looked slightly confused until Ralston explained that local firefighters have come under attack recently for their salaries and apparent abuse of sick time.
The event ended with questions from the audience. One Bush supporter asked if the former governor's family ties would hurt him during a bid for the White House.
"Since I'm not running, I guess it won't hurt me," Bush said.
Bush is the son of former President George H.W. Bush and the younger brother of former President George W. Bush. He is considered a potential 2016 presidential
candidate but has said he won't run for president in 2012.
Bush said he believes that in time, his brother's legacy will be viewed more favorably.
And while stressing that he has no presidential ambitions (yet), he added: "If I ran for office, I would be a proud younger brother of George W. Bush and a proud son of George H.W. Bush."