I strongly disagree with the pundits who write off Hamilton Jordan as White House chief of staff. Anyone familiar with Jordan's historical role in politics could argue that Hamilton Jordan would have an excellent change to succeed in his new, largely internal role. The man who has been a vague and shadowy presence (emerging only in bizarre newspaper accounts of some socially unacceptable behavior) understands the process of bringing diverse groups together to reach a supposedly unobtainable goal and, indeed, did so as campaign manager for underdog candidate Jimmy Carter. An analysis of Jordan's "presidential blueprint" for Candidate Carter would quickly show a finely-honed plan for the Georgian's ascent to the presidency. There are people at the White House who need a civics lesson -- Hamilton Jordan, however, is not one of them.
That Jordan should have offended and alienated so many people is perplexing and disappointing, as my own experiences with Hamilton Jordan over a period of years show him to be an open and candid individual. As a long-time volunteer campaign worker for Jimmy Carter, I was surprised to find that almost anyone could walk into campaign manager Jordan's office and be politely received even during the late months of the 1976 campaign. Jordan's instinctive acceptance of the open campaign that many preach but few practice left an impression that stayed with me and cushioned much of the later negative publicity. I also found Jordan to be competent in many of the administrative details that he now eschews. As a member of a very small group early on, Jordan was forced to deal with things and was especially good at keeping track of potential supporters and counting delegates. This early Jordan could charm the birds out of the trees and was viewed as an asset to Candidate Carter. Although he dressed in jeans and boots and did his own thing, he was well liked and respected. He gave the impression of a good and sensitive, if somewhat unusual man.
The Hamilton Jordan of the White House years, who has in many instances been cruelly depicted by the media, eludes me. As the wife of a former White House staffer, it was difficult for me to understand or to reconcile the apparent changes in Jordan. It was as though he bore the brunt of too much pressure from all sides and that his answer was to retreat more and more into himself. Like the president, Jordan was illserved by many of the staffers he had brought into the White House. The fact that my last White House encounter with Hamilton Jordan proved uncharacteristically harsh and negative only confirmed that things were very different indeed.
That Jordan assumed in the White House a nebulous, seemingly self-defeating role, with little structure and unclear authority, was perhaps due in part to the excesses of the Watergate chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, and the personal decision of Jordan himself, who felt that he lacked the administrative talents for this job.
It is my belief that Jordan, now that he has the authority and the responsibility, will be forced to develop the discipline to bring the White House staff and the overhauled Cabinet into focus. This would not have been possible with the old Cabinet; whatever the merits of the Cabinet firings, individual members had for too long gone their own ways and the Carter administration was slipping badly, partly as a result of this highly-touted Cabinet government.
And, contrary to the make-or-break top aide rules formulated by authors such as Michael Medved, each White House situation is unique and different just as each president is unique and different. Hamilton Jordan enjoys the support and confidence of this president and this, in the last analysis, may well be the key to his success as White House chief of staff.