R.I.P. Pat Caddell, one of the last honest Democrats

Pat Caddell, the pollster who was credited for the strategy that vaulted Jimmy Carter from an obscure Southern governor to the Oval Office, died too young yesterday in Charleston, South Carolina, at the age of 68. The nation’s political discourse is much poorer as a result. A self-taught pollster, Caddell used his brilliant mind and changed the nation’s history, as his New York Times obituary acknowledged:

Campaign staffs are not known for sharing credit, but in June 1976, when Mr. Carter had secured the Democratic nomination, his campaign manager, Hamilton Jordan, confidently told a reporter: “You know why Jimmy Carter is going to be president? Because of Pat Caddell — it’s all because of Pat Caddell.”

He followed Carter to the White House, but in the years after, observed the decline and fall of his beloved political party into progressive extremism, racialist identity politics, and the other dishonesties that have come to characterize its pursuit of power and refused to stay silent. Born into a family of Southern Democrats, he refused to hand over control of his party to failed ideas and dishonest politicians, he became a prominent dissident, a de facto conservative who still identified as a Democrat.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

I had the good fortune to meet Pat many years ago at what was then called the “Dark Ages Weekend” (Today, it is the Restoration Weekend), and was shocked at his openness to me and friendliness.  We attended an event where we shot automatic weapons and his utter joy was infectious, as he told stories of growing up with firearms as a part of his life. He lamented the decline of the Democrats into hostility toward the Second Amendment. As we talked afterward, he offered me his home phone number, and remained over the years completely forthcoming about his views, his family, and his anger at the hijacking of his party. The last time I saw him, about three years ago in Charleston, SC, where he had moved to be close to his grandchildren, he remained indignant at the charlatans in what he still called "his" party, but was happy to be back to his roots and focused on what matters, his family.

I am not claiming that we were close or even properly termed as friends. I only saw him and spoke to him a few times, but he remembered me, and was honest, open, and not in the least full of himself. The point is that when I first met him, he was open to someone who, at the time, had zero ability to give him media exposure or offer any access to power, and treated me as a peer, even though I wasn’t. He was, in the Yiddish term, a “mensch” -- a person who is genuinely human and does the right thing as he sees it.

There never are enough people like Pat Caddell, even in periods of historic calm and comity. In times of political strife and rampant dishonesty, his loss is a blow to our politics.

May he rest in peace. He is missed.