I am surprisingly moved and saddened at the news that Hamilton Jordan has died of cancer, at age 63.

Wikipedia photo of Jordan in his 30s:



Actuarially the main surprise is that he lived this long: his first serious encounter with cancer happened nearly 25 years ago, and he had many subsequent bouts. And to the extent that people remember him at all from the Jimmy Carter era (nearly half of today's living Americans had not been born at that time), they may think of him as the wise guy/bad boy of the Administration.

Compared with that image, I thought he was a surprisingly sweet-hearted, decent, and serious person.* My impression is probably colored by the career and identity he fashioned after Carter and his team were turned out of office, when Hamilton tried hard and earnestly to write serious books and grappled for years with his disease. Eight years ago I wrote this review in the Washington Monthly of one of Jordan's books, No Such Thing as a Bad Day. This ending of the review is a little crabbier-sounding than I might write today, but I still mean its basic point:

An unstated operating assumption of the permanent D.C. establishment is that outsiders like Jordan are essentially brought into town on sufferance, for tryouts. They can adapt, "make it," and survive when their time with the administration has ended--or they can be drummed out of town and dismissed as losers. In D.C. terms, Jordan was in the latter category; he worked for a losing administration, and he didn't cut it in society. Yet this book suggests that he has become a more substantial person than most who dismissed him--and even before he went through this transformation, he was a more complicated person than the "Hannibal Jerkin" caricatured in the press. This has made me think of the damage done to other people hooted out of town. (Gary Hart?) If you're thinking of a midsummer gift for a favorite columnist or Style section writer, consider this book.



I feel bad for Hamilton and his family.

---
* Jordan vastly outranked me in the Carter White House hierarchy, he as chief of staff and me as a less-influential-than-the-title-suggested head speechwriter. But he was an aspiring tennis player and I was on call as a partner and practice-player, the one time in my life that sports has provided upward mobility.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.