John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Failing a Lot

Posted on June 2, 2016
US Capitol from NW.JPG

By UpstateNYer - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Growing up, I failed a lot.

I had a dream of going to Notre Dame and playing basketball.

Unfortunately, my grades weren’t good enough to get into Notre Dame.

If I was a truly great basketball player, my grades wouldn’t have mattered as much.

Sadly, I was cut after my sophomore year in high school.

My junior year, instead of playing basketball, I did some color commentary on the radio for the varsity and junior varsity teams on WHFS, which was our high school radio station.

I loved it and thought about a career as a journalist.

I ended up going to Marquette. Good school. Drinking age was 18 at the time. I met professors that I still keep in touch with to this day.

I went to school for journalism, but I never had the urge to actually work for the school paper.

Another failure.

I would write the odd op-ed every once in a while. My friend Bill Speros was the editor and he would give me a platform to espouse my pro-Reagan views, which weren’t necessarily popular with the lefty students on campus.

It was a ton of fun.

But I didn’t love the Journalism School. I thought it was too political and too liberal. So I became a history major.

The professors were political too, but about things in the past.

My grades were fine in college, better than in High School. But I wasn’t Dean’s List material. That would require me to care about things like math and computer science.

Nothing kills your GPA faster than getting a “D” in a computer science class.

When I got to college, my family was always worried about money. My Dad would always bitch about my tuition and would threaten to pull me out of school.

I had the bright idea of applying for an ROTC scholarship to pay for school. And I applied twice, in two different years. It was for the Navy (the Army didn’t seem so prestigious to me).

I got to be a finalist for the scholarship, but at the end of the day, my evident lack of math skills proved to be my undoing. Another failure.

Oh well. I worked several jobs to help make ends meet and made the best of it.

Thankfully, my Dad backed off his threat to not pay for my tuition. I took out a couple loans and was able to graduate.

My goal in life when growing up (outside of playing basketball for Notre Dame) was to become a lawyer.

I took the LSAT and did fine enough to get into some law schools, but not well enough to get a scholarship for said schools.

My Dad had no interest in paying for Law School, so I had a theory of the case that I would go to graduate school to bolster my case for a scholarship.

It was a dumb theory from the law school perspective. But in my rare moments of not failing, I actually got a Graduate Degree in British and Irish History from Marquette.

I can’t tell you how many employers are looking for MA’s with specialty in Irish and British History, because I haven’t met one yet.

The good news is that I had a fellowship which paid my entire tuition with a stipend, and for two years, I stayed in college largely cost-free. Beer was cheap in Milwaukee in the mid-1980’s and so was rent, so for me it was a ton of fun.

But from a Law School perspective, it was another failure, because I never ended up going to law school.

A couple of years later, after watching Rudy (the movie), I applied to Notre Dame Law School and this time I was accepted. But in another epic failure, I freaked out about the high tuition and the loans I would be forced to take to pay for it. I decided to not go.

By that time, I had moved to Washington to pursue another dream. No, I didn’t want to eventually be a lobbyist or a PR professional or whatever you call me now.

I wanted to run for office. I figured moving to Washington would be a good way to meet the right people to put me in a position to run.

And I did meet the right people. I worked for Bob Michel, one of the most revered Members of Congress in the history of the House. I also got to know Ray LaHood, who as Bob’s Chief of Staff gave me my first significant raise as a staff member. He would later become the Secretary of Transportation.

But my goal wasn’t to become an effective behind the scenes operator. FDR once said that a truly good staff member had to have a passion for anonymity. I had no such passion.

I didn’t want to merely make a living. I wanted to make a difference.

And so after Bob retired I moved back home to Illinois to put myself in a position to run for office.

But that was in 1994, and times were changing in Washington. And I was convinced by a guy named Denny Hastert to move back to the nation’s Capital and to help with the Contract with America.

Another epic failure from a personal dream standpoint. I wasn’t going to be running for Congress any time soon.

I ended up working for Hastert and then Tom DeLay. I left DeLay’s shop when he was impeaching Bill Clinton (I had enough of Congress by then).

I had a new idea. I wanted to work on a Presidential race and then work in the White House. I thought it would be good to work with Haley Barbour and Ed Gillespie. They were both smart political operators who had their fingers on the pulse of Republican politics.

So I went to go work for them. Haley was helping a guy named George W. Bush run for President. I wanted to help Bush in his run for the White House.

I asked Haley if he could help put me in touch with the Bush people.

The next day (that might be a bit dramatic on my part…I am not sure when it actually was), all Hell broke loose in the Congress and my old friend Denny Hastert was slated to become Speaker of the House.

I was asked to come back and work for him as his Spokesman.

So much for working on a Presidential campaign.

Another epic failure.

Later, I would work for the Speaker for 6 long years, and see a lot of interesting things. A tied Presidential election. 9/11. War in Iraq. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security. The passage of the Medicare prescription drug benefit in a three-hour vote.

During that time, I became engaged to a woman I had met booking shows for my bosses. She worked for Fox News.

We went through the whole routine of sending out invites and having parties.

But right before the event was to take place, the wedding was called off.

Another failure.

A couple of years after that, I met the woman I was supposed to marry and now we have two beautiful children.

So I got that going for me.

I left Congress to go work for the Motion Picture Association. They needed help with Republicans and I was a Republican.

After two years there, the CEO and the COO sat me down in the same office that Jack Valenti used to occupy for 30 or more years.

It was nothing personal. It was just business.

Republicans had just lost the Congress in the 2006 elections. I am sure there was no connection.

Another failure.

But from there, I would start my blog, The Feehery Theory, start my own business, start appearing on television shows like Hardball and make a name for myself in my own way.

I have had many failures in life.

But life is not about dwelling on the failures. It’s about making the most of new opportunities.

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