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Remembering Doug Bailey

It doesn’t happen often. But every once in a while, you meet a person who carries the human equivalent of sunshine around with them. It’s the guy or girl who always seems to be smiling — if not outright, then just beneath the surface. And not in a goofy way, but rather as if they love life and what they’re doing and have decided not to let the gremlins throw them off course. My friend Doug Bailey, who died this week at the age of 79, was like that. I never had a conversation with him, over the course of more than thirty years, when he didn’t have a piece of good news to share. He was one of the most upbeat people I’ve ever known.

He refused to accept the idea that entire generations of Americans would grow up and be repelled by the thought of a life in public service.

What may surprise you is that he spent his life in politics. Given the partisanship and negativity that define today’s political arena, it’s hard to imagine. But Doug got his start when things were different, when candidates could be moderate Republicans (as most of those he supported were), or conservative Democrats, and still get elected to office. This was back in the 1960s and ’70s when Republicans such as New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, and Sens. Charles Percy of Illinois, Howard Baker of Tennessee and Richard Lugar of Indiana were running for election and re-election. Doug Bailey worked for all of them, and for President Gerald Ford in his re-election campaign of 1976.

Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, whose gubernatorial campaign Bailey worked on in that era, told the National Journal in an interview this week, “He cared about every person he met and every issue he tackled.”

President Ford’s close loss to challenger Jimmy Carter was hard on Doug, but what caused him to leave campaign work altogether, he later told friends, was the negative tone politics started to take on in the 1980s. He went on to create the Hotline, a pioneering daily newsletter on campaigns and candidates, and later to launch a succession of projects aimed at bringing the two parties together, searching for the increasingly elusive common ground between the far left and the far right.

But what I remember best about Doug Bailey was his passion for getting young people turned on to politics. He refused to accept the idea that entire generations of Americans would grow up and be repelled by the thought of a life in public service. When I first talked to him in 2005 about a rough plan for a documentary project, traveling around the United States and profiling the group that has come to be known as “millennials,” no one was more enthusiastic than Doug.

He put me in touch with the surprisingly large national network of young people he knew — all leaders, many then still in college; at the same time, he urged me not to forget to talk to young people who were not in school. In 2007, when the project was over, after two documentaries and other reports had been aired or published, he urged me to do a sequel. Since then, and as recently as this spring, he’s had one idea after another about how to engage young people in public life. In the hundreds of tweets that popped up after word spread of his death, there were scores from young folks he mentored.

Doug was not only really smart; he was wise. He believed politics was meant to help people and to make this a better country, and he thought political people should work together to make that happen. He never gave up on the idea. We honor his legacy by not giving up either. Doug Bailey is survived by his wife Pat, their children Ed and Kate, and a grandchild.

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