John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The Bear and History

Posted on November 22, 2009

Two hikers are walking in the woods when they spot a bear.   The bear starts running after them, and the hikers climb up a tree.  As the bear starts following them up the tree, one of the hikers opens up his knapsack and puts on his running shoes.  The other hiker asks incredulously, “what are you doing?”  The other says, “I can’t run as fast in these clunky boots as I can in these,” pointing to the shoes.  “But you can’t outrun the bear,” the other says.  “I don’t have to outrun the bear.  I have to outrun you.”

I was reminded of this old joke as I started thinking about last year’s election and the coming Presidential election in 2012.  The President’s approval rating just hit 49%, his lowest thus far, and Senate Democrats just passed an increasingly unpopular health care that might very well seal their fate in the midterm elections.   Republicans have a greater opportunity to recapture the White House in three years than anybody could have imagined just a year ago.

But who will the Republicans pick to run against President Obama?

The field is wide open.  Sarah Palin has made a tremendous splash with a new book and a tremendous following.  Mike Huckabee has his own television show on Fox and seems to winning all of the straw polls.  Mitt Romney has tremendous resources and a business background that might fit well with the current economic situation.  Tim Pawlenty has already assembled a campaign team and has a compelling life story.

These candidates all seem to have the advantage over one potential candidate who seems to have the weight of history against him.  Haley Barbour has more national political experience than any of the other candidates.  He helped run Ronald Reagan’s campaign for President.  He was a tremendously successful Republican National Committee Chairman, and is now a very popular Governor of Mississippi.

But Barbour seems to have two big strikes against him.  He is a former lobbyist, and he is southern Governor, when the party is looking to expand its base beyond the South.  History seems to be stacked against a candidate like Haley Barbour.  It doesn’t seem like a Southern lobbyist could possibly win a Presidential campaign.

History is like the bear mentioned in the joke above.  It seems mean and it seems tough for someone like Haley Barbour to overcome.  But should Haley Barbour decide to run for President, he is not going to be running against history.  He is going to be running against the other Republican candidates, and the run against President Obama, should he get the nomination.

He doesn’t have to outrun the bear.  He just has to outrun the other candidates.

Barack Obama did the same thing in the last election.  Everyone expected Hillary Clinton to get the nomination, but she couldn’t outrun the bear.  History conspired, for whatever reason, to beat her.  The Obama campaign didn’t focus on the history.  It focused on beating Hillary.

Obama’s eventual accession to the White House is a revelation.  I certainly didn’t think a man with almost no experience, with a far-left wing philosophy, with connections to controversial figures like Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers, let alone someone with a strange name, a muddled religious history, and an African father, could ever become President of the United States.  But he did become President, chiefly because he beat a flawed primary candidate.  After he beat Hillary Clinton, Obama became the first choice in a binary system.  Would you voted for the inexperienced, liberal African-American or would you vote for the man who represented the party that was extraordinarily unpopular?  Would you vote for change (no matter how radical the change) or the status-quo (no matter how bad the status quo might be)?

To Obama’s great benefit, he was the change candidate in a change election.  History doomed the other hiker, John McCain.

Looking at the Republican primary, history might similarly smile on Haley Barbour.  He doesn’t have to be perfect.  He just has to beat the other ones.  And looking at the significant flaws of Palin, Huckabee, Pawlenty, and Romney, Barbour starts to look a whole lot better.

Some will say that a former fat-cat lobbyist with a thick Southern drawl can’t possibly beat someone like Barack Obama.  But then again, four years ago, nobody could have possibly imagined that a guy named Barack Hussein Obama could possibly be the President of the United States.

Barbour doesn’t have the beat the bear.  He just has to beat the other guy.

Subscribe to the Feehery Theory Newsletter, exclusively on Substack.
Learn More