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A Portrait of Exile : Caddell--A Man Out of Season

January 22, 1988|PETER H. KING | Times Staff Writer

"I know the weakness of the beast," he said ominously that day in the Beverly Center, darkening the dot which represented Washington on his diagram, "and I know its strengths. I know its vulnerabilities, and I know its powers."

The thing to do in Washington the last few months was tell Patrick Caddell stories. Everyone had one. Most of the Caddell stories chronicled social misdemeanors at best and were told as parable--the moral being that boorish behavior can eclipse even the brightest genius.

Campaign consultant Ray Strother, for instance, told of a late night telephone call in which Caddell screamed and cursed and vowed revenge for some unspoken affront. Strother said he slowly awakened and realized Caddell had the wrong number. "Pat," he said, "it's me, Ray Strother." Caddell apologized and hung up.

The most quotable observations about Caddell were repeated over and over again. "I've been his friend and I've been his enemy," Washington consultant Robert Squier told at least three different reporters, "and it takes less energy to be his enemy." He rarely varied a word. When a fourth reporter jumbled the remark during an interview, Squier patiently recited it again. "I know that is what I said," he explained, "because I tried it out on a friend of Pat's once, and she laughed for five minutes."

Caddell insists most of the things said about him are apocryphal. He tries to shoot the stories down, one by one, but it's hopeless. Overwhelmed, he adopts a catchall explanation from an old newspaper movie: "When the myth becomes bigger than the man, print the myth."

The son of a career Coast Guardsman, Caddell grew up mainly in the South. As a high school student in Florida, he successfully predicted results of political races as part of a mathematics project and earned his first headline: "Meet Mr. Predictions."

As a 21-year-old Harvard senior, he joined the McGovern campaign as pollster. McGovern today credits Caddell with one of the key strategic decisions of his 1972 candidacy: to challenge Hubert H. Humphrey in Ohio, even though it was supposedly a Humphrey stronghold.

Caddell's novel position was that the same sense of alienation pushing people to support conservative George C. Wallace, a candidate not entered in the primary, also would propel them to McGovern, a populist, anti-war candidate. He was proven correct. McGovern finished a close second and was on his way to the nomination. Caddell was on his way, too, and starting at the top.

He enlisted with Carter back when the Georgia governor was being dismissed as Jimmy Who? Carter now identifies Caddell as one of a trio of political advisers who helped him gain the White House.

Caddell's role in the Administration was that of an outside voice. He was never part of the White House staff, but he had easy access to the President. It soon became noticed how easy. Columnist Richard Reeves called him "the most influential private citizen in the United States." Magazines from Playboy to People profiled him. It was a heady time for a young man who described himself as "pathologically shy."

Changes occurred. No longer did Caddell want to be called Pat. He was Patrick. He grew his beard, built a reputation as a Georgetown party animal. He endured, in sum, all the awkward experimentations of youth that most people tackle in venues less watched than the White House. Professionally, too, he came of age. No longer did he see himself as a mere pollster. He was a strategist.

"I don't know when he turned from a numbers guy to a Svengali," said Frank Mankiewicz, who worked with Caddell on the McGovern campaign. "I don't know if the beard made the Svengali, or the other way around."

Caddell's preferred vehicle of communication is the memorandum--long-winded, passionately argued, filled with underlines and capital letters and, most often, bleak. A series of Caddell surveys and memos led to Carter's infamous "crisis of confidence" speech delivered during the height of the 1979 energy crisis. Though the word was never used, the Oval Office address became known dispargingly as Carter's "malaise speech." The President was depicted as blaming the American people for his defects, and even today the speech frequently is cited as Caddell's great blunder.

Caddell's view differs. He says Carter's popularity soared after the speech, only to descend when he started firing Cabinet members in a clumsy follow-through to his call for a restoration of American faith. A decade later, after he had landed in California, Caddell would look back on the speech as the fork on the road from eccentric prodigy to expendable troublemaker.

By this time, Caddell had begun to know doubt himself, to wonder if it had all come too easy, if perhaps he wasn't worthy of his station. "That's a period," he said, "when I really should have gone and gotten some help in the sense of really working this out--I was so afraid of the stigma of doing so."

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