News & Politics

The Passing of a Legend

Rushing to Tallahassee to fix a very contentious Florida governor’s race, Pat Caddell, the country’s most celebrated political mastermind, insists on a rental car with an in-dash cassette player. As we drive off he inserts a recording of George C. Scott’s “Americans Love a Winner” speech from the opening of the film Patton and lip-synchs along, gesturing with every word.

That was the manic beginning of a very close personal and working friendship over the next couple of years.

Combative, passionate, and often exasperating, my friend Pat Caddell passed away on Saturday. He was a legend.

He had a dazzling intelligence, a clairvoyance about American politics, and a sixth sense about the way the wind was blowing. Pat Caddell could see around political corners.

Pat was awfully good at cutting to the chase. One time Greenpeace asked to meet with us about helping out. Their idea, a very intense staff woman explained, was to use their Greenpeace boats to surround American nuclear submarines to prevent them from patrolling. The Greenpeace briefing concluded and Pat pointedly asked the obvious question, “Not the Soviets?”

His inner fervor led Pat to burn a lot of bridges. His outbursts, impatience, moments of irritation, and temper were also part of the legend. But not the whole story. In Washington, D.C., nearly everyone had a vanity wall full of portraits taken of themselves with important personages. Patrick, who was Irish and Catholic, had only one… a photo of himself and Pope John Paul II.

Pat and I shared a hero-worship of Robert Kennedy and held many long talks about the spark RFK gave to our political lives. But there was always the tension between searching for a political figure to trust and believe in and the cynicism of real-world politics.

I was with Caddell one election night when a candidate he’d befriended, helped, and advised for years won a race for governor but refused to take a congratulatory phone call from Pat (apparently on the advice of James Carville). Pat was visibly wounded by the slight but drew himself up, sadly turned to me and said, “You can take all the gratitude in this business and hide it inside a thimble.”

Pat Caddell believed in America. He believed in American Democracy. He worried that the center would not hold but he believed — even if believing required an act of faith.

He was complex, funny, belligerent, egocentric, impatient, shy, angry, generous — a prophet and a sage. Hands down he was the smartest, most insightful political mind I’ve ever known… and just perhaps America has ever seen. My friend Pat Caddell passed away on Saturday. He was a legend.

Michael Fenenbock is an American political consultant who had a close personal and working friendship with Pat Caddell.