Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Speech: Tribute to Political Consultant Doug Bailey

Posted on June 17, 2013

I come to the floor to talk about Doug Bailey.  Doug Bailey died last week at age 79.  The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Doug Bailey helped define the role of political consultant in the 1960s and 1970s and that he founded the Hotline.  He was much more than that to me and to countless others for whom he was an example of how to live a public life. 

I am aware that when offering a eulogy it is good form to speak more of the deceased than of oneself, but that is hard to do with Doug because he cared so much about everyone he met and everyone he worked with.  I first met Doug Bailey in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1977.  I was here for a few months working with Howard Baker, the former senator from Tennessee, who had just been elected to be the Republican leader of this body.  He asked me to come work for him.  I think part of that was to console me, to let me lick my wounds for having lost the governor's race a couple years earlier in Tennessee.  There wasn't much prospect for a political future for me then because the Nashville Tennessean had written that there wouldn't be a Republican governor in Tennessee for another 50 years. 

   So I was here in Washington, and while I was here I became energized by the Republican senators.  It looked to me as though Jimmy Carter was already in trouble, and my friend Wyatt Stewart introduced me to Doug Bailey.  The reason I thought it was an important meeting was because at that time he and his partner John Deardourff represented seven of the 12 Republican governors in the country who were still in office after the Watergate debacle of 1974. 

Doug came to Nashville.  He sat down with my wife, Honey, Tom Ingram and me, and we talked about the idea of another governor's race -- this time in 1978.  Doug's view was that I had lost, among other things, because I wasn't a very interesting candidate, that I campaigned in a blue suit and talked to Republicans and to Rotary clubs.  So the talk was about what would be authentic, what did I really like to do. 

To make a long story short, I ended up walking 1,000 miles across Tennessee over six months in a red-and-black plaid shirt, followed by a group of four University of Tennessee band members in a flatbed truck.  And several times a day we would get up on the truck and play in Alexander's washboard band.  Doug put all that on television, and I won the election. 

Now, to some, that would seem like an ultimate political gimmick, but if you think about it, the idea of the walk across Tennessee was a good deal more authentic than the photo-ops and the press releases and the five-second sound bites that are often what we end up with in politics today.  But let me just say it this way:  I would have never been elected governor if it hadn't been for Doug Bailey. 

He also did something else I had never seen anybody else do -- no other political consultant.  He actually wrote a plan and we actually followed it during the campaign. 

The important thing for me to say today is that political consulting was not the end of Doug Bailey's help.  He came to Nashville once a week during my first term as Governor not so much to talk about politics, but to talk about how to be a better governor, which was his idea of how to be a political success.  Our conversations were usually not about how to follow, but how to lead, and how to deal with the political implications, for example, of wanting to have three big road programs and do it on a pay-as-you-go basis so we could attract the auto industry to our state without running up debt and persuade all the Republican members to vote for three gas tax increases, which every single one of them did. 

Doug's advice was that a good tactic was to do the right thing because it would confuse your opponents; they wouldn't understand what you were up to. 

His advice about recruiting people to work in the cabinet, for example, was not to just invite someone who might take the job, but to make a list of the four or five best persons to do the job and then ask the best one.  He said:  You might be surprised -- that person might be waiting for an opportunity to serve the public.  That was some of the best advice I ever got because some of the best persons were waiting for the right opportunity for public service. 

All this sounds hopelessly naive, especially today, in a time when there is so much cynicism about politics.  But that is the way it was then, and that is the way I was trained, and that is the way I tried to do my job.  I would wake up every day literally thinking about almost nothing else other than how I could help our state move ahead. 

I called Doug Bailey throughout the last 30 or 35 years whenever I needed good advice.  I called him when the Democrats swore me in early to remove a corrupt governor who was selling pardons for cash in Tennessee, and he gave me a few words I used to speak to the public on that day. 

One of the best pieces of advice he gave me was when the first President Bush called me while I was the University of Tennessee president.  I knew President Bush was going to ask me to be the new education secretary, and I had about two hours to think about it.

Doug said:  Ask these two questions.  One, Mr. President, may I come up with a plan, subject to your approval?  Two, may I go and recruit a team, subject to your approval?  Well, that may not seem like much, but after I was announced by the president, I walked into the White House personnel office, and they tried to tell me whom to hire.  I said:  I don't have to do that.  I already have the president's assurance that I can recruit a team subject to his approval.  So I was able to recruit David Kearns, former head of Xerox, and Diane Ravitch and others who never would have ended up in President Bush's administration, and he was delighted with them. 

Doug always had a project.  Some were zany.  Some were downright brilliant.  One of the most recent was to try to persuade someone to run for president on an Independent ticket online.  He didn't succeed at that.  He was starting another project when I saw him last at a dinner at the end of January in Washington this year. 

Ironically, Doug Bailey was an expert in the technology, TV ads, and the Hotline, which have contributed to today's polarization in politics.  But he withdrew from politics after a while and from political consulting because he didn't like what politics had become.  He thought more elected officials needed to understand that there is a difference between campaigning and governing and that differences should be resolved in the middle rather than entrenched in the fringes or on the extremes. 

In a tribute, Judy Woodruff wrote about perhaps Doug's greatest passion and his greatest legacy: inspiring youngsters such as Chuck Todd and Norah O'Donnell -- whom he paid almost nothing to work at the Hotline -- to care about and be involved in America's political system.  I am sure Chuck and Norah would tell you that Doug considered it even more important and an even nobler calling to actually serve in government, and that he spent most of his life teaching and helping those who were willing to do it. 

I would never have been elected governor without Doug Bailey's help.  More important, I will give Doug most of the credit for whatever success I had as governor and in politics.  It has been a long time since I regularly checked with him before I made a political move, but when I did, I always felt as though the next step was a surer step and a step more likely to be in a direction that served a larger purpose other than my own political existence. 

I have never known a person who cared more about each person he met in every issue he tackled.  So I wanted to come to the floor today and express this tribute to a public life well lived, and to offer my condolences to his wife Pat, his children Kate and Edward, his brothers and his grandson.