Hamilton Jordan Taught Them a Lesson ... Many Lessons

Matt Towery

5/22/2008 12:01:00 AM - Matt Towery

In the early evening of May 20, a massive thunderstorm swept across the northern sections of Metro Atlanta. It struck almost without warning, and within an hour it was gone.

As I sat at home with no power, enjoying the rare quiet that comes when there are no electronic distractions, my cell phone rang, reminding me that there is no way to turn everything off these days.

It was a friend telling me that Hamilton Jordan, former chief of staff to Jimmy Carter, had finally lost a valiant, graceful, powerful battle against cancer. The phone just kept ringing after that. With no television, no phones, no Internet, I did what came natural to me. I drove to my office where there was power and wrote this column.

I understand that in the past few decades we have become such a polarized nation that it is impossible to extol the virtues of someone associated with a former Democratic president -- particularly an active and often colorful former president such as Jimmy Carter -- without triggering partisan feelings. Well, get over it. Hamilton Jordan taught a lot of lessons.

We all need to be reminded of the human side not only of politics and public service, but of the common bonds we all share.

Jordan -- along with former Carter Press Secretary Jody Powell and a handful of others, including media executive Gerald Rafshoon -- cobbled together and implemented a plan that in the mid-1970s seemed impossible. They turned the one-term governor of a then-small Southern state into the alternative for which a demoralized post-Watergate America was searching.

Make no mistake. Had there been no Hamilton Jordan, there might never have been a President Jimmy Carter.

OK, I hear my conservative readers saying, "So?" Well, the answer is that Jerry Ford was no big-time conservative, and although he was a nice man, Ford's defeat paved the way for a political cycle that later delivered Ronald Reagan.

Had Ford won another term, I doubt the Republican Party would have recovered for another 20 years.

As for Carter, as I've said before, many of the problems attributed to his presidency -- massive inflation, an impossible situation in Iran, a growing energy crisis -- were all inherited from the administrations of Richard Nixon and Ford.

But enough about Carter. This is about Hamilton Jordan.

He had the courage of his convictions. He believed in the plan he created for Carter's upset takeover of the Democratic Party and the White House in 1976. He took the potshots and slights that came his way from a Washington establishment that resented not only Jordan and Powell, but also close friends of Carters like former Office of Management and Budget Director Bert Lance.

Lance was unfairly and shabbily treated by a "company town" media for issues that, compared to this current administration, would never have caught anyone's eye. He went on to be one of the Democratic Party's most influential behind-the-scenes movers and shakers.

All of these men took the shots and aggressively tried to serve their nation.

Jordan risked his own life in dangerous undercover meetings in attempts to free the hostages held in our embassy in Iran. And because this political inner circle was made up of Southerners, and was surrounded by an old guard elite in Washington, they learned to circle their wagons and rely on their best attribute -- loyalty to one another.

But even if you didn't like anything about the political Hamilton Jordan -- the tenacity in fending off a Ted Kennedy challenge in 1980, or the strategic brilliance in making Ross Perot a player in the 1992 elections -- consider the following: It is ironic and saddening that Kennedy, also a man of great accomplishment, should learn of his cancer on the very day Jordan lost his battle to it.

Hamilton Jordan on more than one occasion faced cancer and stared it down. Not only did he have the guts to fight, he also put his money and time where his resolve was. He created Camp Sunshine, for young kids that suffer from cancer.

Others knew him better. But, given my past history in assisting certain other folks from Georgia to rise to the highest levels of power, I always felt a kind of kinship and affection for Jordan.

Like Hamilton Jordan's life, the storm that raged on the night he died Tuesday was powerful and electric. But it passed quickly. Hamilton Jordan's memory will last much longer.