Caddell's Heartfelt Advocacy for America's People, Ideals
Patrick Caddell, who died over the weekend, was already a political legend when he came into my life five years ago. I was in the middle of a political campaign running as an independent for the U.S. Senate against a three-term Republican incumbent in Kansas. Our race was getting a lot of national attention, which piqued Pat’s interest. When we talked on the telephone it became clear that he shared my conviction that our system of government was leaving too many people behind and that we needed to re-empower average Americans. Pat came to Kansas to help me try to do that.
“We have created in this country a dangerous income inequality that threatens the very existence of the middle class, which is an essential prerequisite for a Democracy like ours to prosper,” he said. “Yet from the two parties in Washington all we hear are platitudes and slogans.”
I was taken with Pat immediately. He spoke with such passion and conviction about the American people. He never once asked to be paid for his time or his advice. He simply wanted to have a meaningful impact on the lives of people we felt were being neglected. He helped me find my voice.
Although known as a pollster with remarkable analytical abilities, at his core Pat was a student of U.S. history. He had a contrarian’s fondness for some of our lesser-known Founding Fathers. I wonder if he saw himself in the portraits of those men who shaped American history but whose own legacies were obscured by others whose lights shone brighter. And whatever his ambitions as a young Democrat who helped put Jimmy Carter in the White House, the Pat Caddell I was fortunate to get to know didn’t want attention. He didn’t seem particularly interested in fame and fortune.
A regular on Fox News in recent years, he used the platform to talk about what Americans were really thinking. He had spent decades studying voter attitudes and realized that the electorate was feeling more and more alienated from their government. As he wrote to me in October of 2014:
Three-quarters of American voters believe that their children and grandchildren will not have a life as prosperous or better than that of our generation. In itself, that constitutes the undoing of the sacred social contract that is at the very foundation of the American Idea. Finally, a solid majority of American voters believe that even if you work hard and play by the rules a person will still not be able succeed in our country today. That is the death rattle of the American Dream.
Pat wanted to give voice to those Americans who felt left behind.
I was reminded of this nearly two years ago, while Pat and I took an Uber together in Chicago. It was about a 10-minute trip. Our conversation was interrupted by a FaceTime call to my daughter. At the end of the ride, our driver asked if Pat’s last name was Caddell. When Pat confirmed his identity, the driver couldn’t contain himself. He told Pat how much he admired and loved him, his words breaking up as he choked back his emotions. Pat understood his struggles. He spoke to him. He spoke for him.
Despite what’s been written, Pat wasn’t a particular fan of our current president. In fact, he lamented both choices the major parties gave America. He wrote in June of 2016:
There is a crisis of legitimacy threatening the 2016 election. As the primary process wraps up, it appears that the electorate will be offered the choice between two candidates who have the highest unfavorability ratings in the history of American presidential elections. With the middle class under siege from stagnant wages and rising costs of living, our entitlement programs on an unsustainable path, and systemic corruption infecting our politics, a majority of Americans are shaking their heads in disbelief that these are our only choices.
Caddell was convinced that we needed to profoundly shake up our political system. He believed it no longer served the American people but was a self-perpetuating system that existed for the benefit of the insiders. As he put it, “The great majority of voters are frustrated with the self-dealing corruption of the political ruling class: incumbent politicians, lobbyists, the Washington media, big business, big banks, big unions, and big special interests.” Pat wanted to change that. Yet at the same time, he still believed America was the exceptional nation and had the ability to lift up the world if we stayed true to our ideals. However, he was concerned that our great nation had lost its way.
For too much and too long, the political class, Democrats and Republicans both, has turned the foundational principals of American Democracy on its head: acting as if the American people are the servants and that they themselves are the people’s masters. To preserve this perversion, they lull us with political theater, demoralize us with cynicism, use fear to divide us one from another – all the while trying to bribe us with false promises. They no longer ask the American people for their patriotism or idealism, or their sacrifice, but ask only their price.
Over the past five years, Pat had come to Kansas many times. He’s stayed in our home, filling it with his booming voice. The animal-shaped magnets that he brought for our oldest daughter still decorate our dishwasher. He had an immediate effect on her and was always the recipient of endless hugs. I’ll never forget her as a 2-year-old walking over to Pat as he was standing alone at her preschool program, taking his hand, and walking him back to where she was sitting. At that point, Pat had only met her once, but she already felt like he was part of the family and didn’t want him to stand alone.
Patrick Hayward Caddell died in his native South Carolina, was educated at Harvard, and made it in Hollywood after moving to California during one of his periodic bouts of disillusionment with politics. But it’s fitting that he felt so at home in Kansas, America’s Heartland.
A quote often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson defines a successful life this way: “He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.”
It was not actually Emerson who wrote these words. It was a Kansan named Bessie A. Stanley, the wife of a state legislator, in 1905. I think Pat would have liked her – and I imagine he would have explained to her husband how he could become governor. By every one of Bessie Stanley’s measures, Pat Caddell was not only successful, but he also left an indelible mark on America, modern American politics, and the lens through which many view the world. The American people lost a true advocate on Saturday. He was a friend who will be deeply missed.