I had intended to finish up a big "how to think about the Chinese tire tariff" item, when instead I heard the news that Jody Powell had died. This is sad in its own right, and when coupled with the death last year of Hamilton Jordan is unexpectedly poignant. Jimmy Carter, who will soon turn 85, is in the position every parent dreads, that of outliving the children.
Powell and Jordan were of course only virtual children to Carter, slightly older than his real offspring and having a work-centered relationship with him. But they'd driven with him across Georgia in the early days and to fund raisers and stump speeches when he was starting his improbable run for the presidency. In the public imagination they survive as the jaunty young characters -- "jaunty" to their friends, "cocky" to their detractors -- they were when Carter took office, as captured in the classic Rolling Stone cover published 32 years ago. (Media fans: click on the cover for a larger version, and study all the names there.)
My own relations with Powell were often tense during the campaign and the two years I spent in the White House. He was de facto overall boss of the speechwriting operation, and -- in contrast to the Reagan or Obama administrations -- speeches were often a source of public disappointment and therefore of internal disagreement and friction. Reporters generally respected his intelligence, his toughness, his honesty, his hard-bitten sense of humor, and his unparalleled knowledge of the President's mind, manner, and temper. Long after the Carter team had left office, I came to a much more positive relationship with Powell. This was especially so after each of us had published books on what was wrong with the press. His is here.
Powell and Jordan, paired 30 years ago by their precocious achievement and now paired again by death in their 60s, were much better and more admirable human beings than the standard Washington view held. Jordan, gentler and more thoughtful. Powell tremendously loyal and intelligent and honorable, and a devoted husband and father.
I can't help noting Carter's statement on Powell's death, as reported by the Washington Post:
"I could always depend on his advice and counsel being candid and direct." That would have made Powell give one of his tight grins, because it's Carter's way of saying: He wouldn't hesitate to tell me when I was screwing up.
UPDATE: The main site for Powell Tate, the public relations firm Jody Powell co-founded, now has a tribute page for him, with statements from friends and colleagues and details about services.