“I’ve been in this town for ten years, and only one thing makes me nervous,” the lobbyist says, reaching for the phone. “I routinely call on senators, congressmen, cabinet secretaries. I’m used to that. I’ve known two presidents. But if I even have to speak with this guy on the phone, I get sweaty palms. It’s terrifying.”

He dials. A deep, imperious voice answers. For the lobbyist, a year’s work hangs in the balance. He has been hired to promote a program, and now he wants to know if it will be funded. He asks. He waits. He hears… silence.

Ten, fifteen seconds. Utter silence. He starts to repeat the question, hesitates, stops. Twenty seconds. Thirty. His silk shirt begins to pucker with perspiration. Still no reply. Finally he mumbles something about an incoming call and hangs up, hands trembling.

The confrontation is over. His antagonist has spoken a single word: “Hello.”

Not many people can intimidate by saying hello. In this case, however, the hapless lobbyist has run afoul of one of Washington’s most powerful men— William H. Jordan. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of him. Thanks to the miracle of computer indexing, we know that his name has not appeared within the past decade in The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, or, for that matter, The New Orleans Times-Picayune.

That suits him fine. “I tend to be anonymous,” Jordan says, plainly pleased with the fact. Yet he is at once anonymous and prominent. According to the official charts, he is merely chief counsel of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on foreign aid. There he exerts a degree of direct control over an entire segment of government that is matched by few men in Washington. He has no hesitation about using his power . Throughout the field of foreign aid, says a World Bank officer, “nothing can happen without Jordan’s personal approval.”

In Washington, where influence is usually measured in newspaper column inches, few power-seekers shun publicity. William Jordan is something of an anachronism, an echo from a time when Capitol Hill staff members quietly accumulated power while hiding beneath camouflage nets of perfect opacity. The House and Senate appropriations committees have always been fertile places for a diligent “staffer” to cultivate power, since every agency must clear its money through those bodies.

In Jordan’s case, his subcommittee passes on funding for the Agency for International Development, the ExportImport Bank, the Peace Corps, and U.S. contributions to the United Nations, World Bank, and other “multilateral” institutions. A long list, though nowhere near as impressive as the domain of other subcommittees. What sets Jordan apart is the level of personal influence he enjoys. Many agency officials consider him more important to their plans than the senators he serves. Ted Van Dyke, a former senior AID official, describes Jordan as “the most feared figure in the foreign aid establishment.”

“Feared” is not as melodramatic an assessment as it may sound. Few of the sources interviewed for this article would speak about Jordan on the record. This wasn’t entirely surprising; since everyone interviewed was part of the relatively closed foreign-aid community, and in some way dependent on Jordan, they could hardly be expected to sign their names to criticism of him. But even some who praised him didn’t want it attributed. One high official who called Jordan “tough but fair”—not exactly a vicious slur— initially agreed to be quoted by name. Within minutes he called back, demanding that the quote be masked. He didn’t want it known that he had even discussed Jordan. “It’s too great a risk,” he said.

Appropriations Technology

Now 51 years old, William Jordan came to Washington from Georgia in 1955 to join the staff of Richard Russell, the late Southern patriarch who treated the Senate as his lifetime fortress, home, and hunting lodge. The Ivy League dominated downtown Washington, but the South still held the high ground. Men like Jordan (who pronounced his name Jer-den long before it became fashionable) were often treated as backwater rubes by the striped pants set, and they took no small delight in stuffing their authority down the throats of the establishmentarians.

It is difficult to coax Jordan into speaking about himself, even if one is willing to endure his interminable pauses. But he will say, without hesitation, what drew him to Russell. “Russell was all-powerful,” Jordan says. “Congressional power was not as diffuse as it is today.” It could be used quickly, effectively, and without apology. And there was the attraction of permanence. “In those days,” he says, “we believed in institutional loyalty. You stood by your senator and the institutions of the Senate.”

Jordan never stood quite as close to Russell as he would have liked. He hoped to be number-one on the senator’s personal staff, but someone else had the honor and refused to relinquish it. Of his old rival Jordan will now say only that the man was “ineffective,” drawing out each syllable and contorting the corners of his mouth as if he were describing a loathsome disease. Eventually Jordan decided to cut his losses and request a committee assignment. When Russell assumed chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee in the late 60s, Jordan went there.

For Jordan, a man who says “The FBI and the IRS are my favorite government agencies,” the committee was a natural home. Many of its staff members were, like him, former FBI agents. Most Hoover-era agents learned accounting, a valuable skill at a committee where staff members are expected to pore over page after page of eye-glazing numbers. Equally important, FBI agents were conditioned to expect no personal recognition. It was assumed that they would find satisfaction in seeing their accomplishments credited to the boss.

Jordan first was assigned to the subcommittee that oversees the District of Columbia. After a year, he shifted to the foreign aid subcommittee. It was like transferring an FBI agent from Butte to Chicago. With influence over a much larger budget— currently about $10 billion a year—Jordan began to encounter the special status conferred on appropriations staff members. Government bureaucrats can treat most congressional committees with mild amusement, but appropriations committees, holding the power of the purse, wield the kind of clout the veterans actually fear. Fear struck Jordan as something government agencies could use more of. “People always behave better when they know they’re being watched,” he says. Appropriations was the proper place to conduct a little plainclothes surveillance, as it were.

Jordan was not slow to understand the nature of his subcommittee’s power, nor was he slow to see that the more concentrated that power, the more readily it could be wielded. He was willing to serve as the sole staff member of the foreign aid subcommittee—sacrificing the vain joy of an empire of underlings for the advantages of operating essentially without competition. Through the years, he has been content with the arrangement. Although Capitol Hill staffs have expanded more than fourfold since 1969, Jordan has taken on only one assistant. He doesn’t mind the isolation. “I don’t socialize much,” he says. “I keep to myself. There are lots of parties and such up here on the Hill, but at six o’clock I prefer to go home.”

Dialing for Dimwits

When Jordan got his first look at the goings-on in those wild and crazy international agencies, his green eyeshade began to flutter. Foreign aid had long been a colloidal suspension of idealism, rivalry with the Russians, and interest in developing markets. In this battle for hearts, minds, and wallets, the only clear winner seemed to be gilt-edged excess—at which AID was especially proficient. It seemed to have a God-given flair for waste. In 1972, for instance, AID requested money for 500 small tractors for Southeast Asia. It turned out there were already several hundred rusting in a warehouse there. What AID didn’t waste, it seemed to be splurging on itself. Jordan still speaks of an AID mission director in Bogota who bought himself $ 1,700 worth of silverware, on top of the $23,000 in government-financed furnishings already in his house—after AID’s Colombia program had been ordered terminated. Jordan’s reaction to such folly was genuine; even his Capitol Hill critics confirm that. “Jordan feels real anger over waste of the taxpayer’s dollars,” says one source. “That shows a level of commitment rare in anybody up here.”

Jordan lost no time perfecting tactics to accrue power and wring the agencies dry. His first technique was to master the details of foreign-aid programs, and to use them to trap agency officials. Of course, mastering the details sounds like a prerequisite for any job. But in Washington’s game of musical resumes, where officials change jobs, specialties, and sides in a fluid swirl, ignorance of detail is often a badge of rank. Even those who know details don’t flaunt it, for fear of embarrassing their colleagues.

But Jordan was out to embarrass people. The more, the better. Ignoring formalities, he began spot-checking programs, learning the names of middle-level managers who were close to the real work, and calling them directly. He deliberately bypassed the “congressional liaison” smoothies—the ones who mumble “let me get back to you” even in their sleep, and whom he reportedly singles out for special contempt. He chose instead to call the actual program managers at their desks, confronting them, in insistent or even brutish tones, with blunt, rapid-fire questions. “He usually already knew the answers,” said one victim of a Jordan grilling. “He wanted to hear what you’d say. If you said the wrong thing, you were in for it.”

Calling up responsible personnel and asking them questions about their fields of expertise hardly sounds extreme. But in the civil service bunker, it’s war. “People in the bureaucracy are just not used to being called and asked for answers,” says an AID assistant administrator, intending no irony.

In the course of making his rounds, Jordan frequently came across remarkable examples of tax dollars at work. Once Jordan got wind of an advertisement placed by an AID mission director who was moving to Nigeria. He was looking for a house to rent, with AID funds, and his ad set forth such requirements as a swimming pool, terraced gardens, servants’ quarters—everything short of a cotillion hall. Jordan grabbed hold and never let go. “For three years he belabored that ad whenever we asked for money,” an AID official says. “He reminded us about it again and again—long after the idiot who placed it had been fired.”

Jordan makes no apology for exploiting the ad. To him, the incident comes under the heading of a “horror story,” and his rule is to use any horror story he can find as long and as often as he can. Such a story, he points out, is the stuff of headlines—the shortest way to drive home a point without getting sidetracked by philosophical analysis or overwhelmed by what might be called the 20,000-to-1 Factor. “In the beginning,” he says, “it was just me against 20,000 people clamoring for money. They could cover me with lawyers, generals, and assistant secretaries anytime they wanted. So when I found a horror story that made a point, of course I used it.”

Most of the horror stories that Jordan finds are aired fully during the subcommittee’s budget hearings, with the approval of the chairman, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Jordan’s current boss. Jordan won Inouye’s confidence long ago. In 1972 the pair toured Southeast Asia AID facilities—one of only two field trips for Jordan. On the way there, Inouye speculated about whether the AID people would have followed up on recommendations contained in a recent subcommittee report of which he was particularly proud. Jordan predicted they would find the report had been ignored. Indeed, local AID officials and embassy personnel professed no knowledge of its existence. All 3,000 copies had been locked in an AID warehouse and forgotten.

In Thailand, the two were shown a panorama of AID construction sites and warehouses, but they were not invited inside. Jordan insisted they check each building personally—not to look for lost copies of Inouye’s report, but just to see what AID was up to. “I said, ‘AH right, you take that side, I’ll take this side,'” recalls Inouye. “There we were, rummaging around like a couple of stockboys. In one warehouse, Bill called me over and said, ‘Boss, you better have a look at this.’ A whole wall was stacked with crates stamped with the handclasp—AID’s emblem. The crates were packed with fragmentation grenades.” AID regulations allowed equipping local police with riot-control devices like tear gas, but not antipersonnel terror weapons intended only for war. On the spot, Inouye concluded that Jordan’s smoldering suspicions about AID were, if anything, understated. He gave Jordan carte blanche to go after the agency, a precedent for many other arrangements the two would make.

Low Overhead

Among agency people it’s an academic question whether Inouye has given Jordan control or whether Jordan has simply seized it. Either way, Jordan has skillfully exploited another traditional key to staff power on the Hill: he has frozen off access to his superior. “Agency directors always go to Jordan—never over his head to Inouye,” says Charles Flickner, a member of the Senate Budget Committee staff.

The operative phrase is never over his head. Leapfrogging an unfriendly official, of course, involves a gamble for any bureaucrat—if you lose, the leapee knows that you have tried and failed, and will treat you accordingly. One Treasury official I spoke with did remember going over Jordan’s head—once. “We only tried it because we knew he would be out of town that day,” he said.

Such bursts of courage are rare. More typical is the experience of Ellen Yaffe, former budget director of the Peace Corps. “Nobody ever dared to go to Inouye and tell him his staff had no right to make day-to-day decisions affecting us,” she recalls. “I pleaded with leadership to tell Inouye about our complaints. They always said, ‘No, we can’t see Inouye. You have to take your problems to Jordan.'”

If Inouye is troubled by reports of Jordan’s extraordinary influence, he gives no sign. “I know Bill tells people, ‘If you don’t like it, go see the boss,'” Inouye says without expression. “And they’re welcome to come. But they seldom do. They know I’ve never had to overrule him.”

Secure in the knowledge that he won’t be overruled, Jordan sometimes operates with a high-handedness uncommon even among senators. At times the entire foreign aid apparatus appears to be at his beck and call. For example, one AID secretary recalls a day her boss was out, and Jordan phoned. “He was furious. He said, ‘What right does that man have to be away from his desk during working hours?'” she remembers. “At first I thought he was kidding. But he wasn’t. He kept me on the phone for five minutes, berating me. I didn’t even know who this Jordan was.”

Stories of Jordan’s rudeness are so commonplace, they cannot be dismissed as the result of an occasional bad day. “He is condescending and even abusive to people he considers inferiors,” says an assistant secretary who deals with him. “He doesn’t come after me. I can take it. He abuses the little people.”

“People in the agencies don’t have the guts to stand up and fight back,” said a more cynical source, dismissing Jordan’s behavior. “When he doesn’t respect somebody, he has a tendency to push, even bully. It’s perfectly natural.”

When agency officials contemplate fighting back, they tend to pause at the prospect, fearing that even if they win, Jordan won’t forget, and that Jordan will be around after Inouye leaves. The Senator is piling up seniority and can be expected to move to a more prestigious chairman-ship in due time (he is known to be waiting for the defense subcommittee to open up). Jordan, on the other hand, seems willing to stay with his subcommittee until the tricentennial.

Being There

Jordan has stayed in the same place for only 12 years, but in current Capitol Hill terms this is like being preserved in amber. His continuity is one of his most versatile weapons. He remembers things that most agency officials, who rarely stay in one place for more than a few years, never knew. “At hearings, Jordan feeds Inouye detailed questions about old projects,” says one observer. “The witness generally has no idea what they’re talking about. He’s guaranteed to come off looking like a fool.” The device is reliable: all you have to do is reach back before the tenure of the witness—and Jordan predates all of them—and you can’t fail to produce a little groveling.

But if Jordan often uses his continuity for petty points-scoring, he also understands—as old Southern senators and big-city bosses understood—that true power comes from staying put. You have to be there, in the office, presiding over the details year in and year out. In time, you actually know your business and its history, instead of being in constant on-the-job training like so many Washingtonians.

“Jordan has always been content to let the young guys go out for drinks with reporters to spread their names around,” a Hill source says. “He isn’t always campaigning for a new job. He stays in the committee room, building his base.” Years ago, Jordan’s foes may have held out hope that he would take some prestige post, receive a testimonial dinner, and be forgotten. He has often been recommended by “admirers” for ambassadorships. In 1975, when Inouye took on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, source of the most-publicized CIA probes, he offered the staff director’s post to Jordan. It was, by any conventional measure, a more impressive position than Jordan holds now. Jordan turned it down.

This is the kind of perseverance in the pursuit of power that pays off in the long run. But most young, ambitious Capitol Hill staff people, like their agency counterparts, want to be paid in advance. Washington attaches no stigma to a resume recording a new employer every 18 months—a constant oscillation between posts tends to be seen as a sign that you are in demand, not that you can’t hold a job. And, as your titles take on an increasingly Miltonic ring, you are likely to convince yourself that you are indeed powerful. No matter that you never acquire more than a modicum of information about any particular section of the government, and that you cannot possibly possess the authority that comes from such knowledge.

Jordan plays it differently. He takes every opportunity to remind agency officials of his permanence by routinely calling on new agency managers—calls that are about as popular as visitations from the Spirit of Christmas Future. “The day he met me, the first thing he did was lecture me about a minor mistake someone in my job made five years earlier,” Ellen Yaffe recalls. “He didn’t even say ‘How are you?’ He just opened fire. And he remembered the exact date of the mistake, and the exact amount involved. His message was clear— if he caught you, he’d never let you forget it.”

His power is further enhanced by an unusual resistance to the lures of lobbying. Even though he could undoubtedly improve on his $50,400 salary by “going over the wall,” he wastes no effort maintaining cordial ties to industry in order to guarantee a future source of employment. “I could never be a lobb-ee-yist,” he says, again twisting the word out slowly as if it represented some satanic perversion. “The day I retire is the day I leave Washington. I’ll go back to Georgia and run my farm.”

Jordan carries his aversion to such lengths that he refuses even to speak to many lobbyists. Once, he attended a group breakfast staged by Caterpillar Tractor, which is the largest industrial presence in foreign aid by virtue of shipping $400- million worth of subsidized farm equipment overseas every year. Jordan insisted on paying for his own meal, to the consternation of Cat officials who couldn’t figure out what to charge, much less who should collect it. “He’s absolutely ramrod straight and ethical,” says a source who describes himself as Jordan’s “sworn” enemy. “There’s nothing even remotely sullied about him. Believe me, if there were, I would have found it—and nailed him to it.”

Cool AID

Jordan can be beaten, but only by the occasional official who is able to challenge him with his own tactics. “You have to know more about a program than he does,” says Richard McCall, now an assistant secretary of State and once an aide to former Senator Gale McGee. “All the agency people ever want to talk about is broad geopolitical theories. Don’t talk to Jordan about abstracts! He deals in specifics. If you can outgun him with specific information, he’ll respect you.”

Jordan and McCall had running battles over the United Nations Development Program, which teaches Africans to run technological projects on their own. “Sometimes Bill is like a textbook of rational government,” McCall says. “In order for me to argue for UNDP, he forced me to examine each project logically and analytically. It turned out the project in Chad was a dud. But the project in the Ivory Coast was extraordinarily creative. So he changed his mind and supported funding.”

Sadly, few people at AID adopted McCall’s common-sense approach to Jordan: The running battle between Jordan and AID thus provides the raw material for a textbook not on rational government so much as on asylum management. As Jordan has grown more contemptuous of the entire AID program, his penchant for specifics has been transformed into blanket opposition. Since 1969, AID’s annual budget has risen only from $1.4 billion to $1.8 billion—a deep cut, considering inflation. Jordan has not been AID’s only opponent, of course, but he has been among the most diligent. No peccadillo was so trivial that it couldn’t be transformed into a horror story. Picking through the columns of numbers, Jordan stumbled across an AID man in Bolivia who had spent $37 of the taxpayers’ money to buy a Weber grill. This was treated as a full-blown scandal in the next round of subcommittee hearings. “They went after AID ruthlessly for that,” a participant says. “Inouye hammered it home over and over again how terrible that was.”

Having successfully trimmed a tree, Jordan decided to simplify matters by scorching the forest. “They used the grill as an excuse to cut several million dollars from the AID program in Bolivia,” the observer continues. “They never talked about whether the program itself was worthwhile.” The tactic had worked, and the overall strategic objective—cutting foreign aid—could be realized. AID officials, according to the observer, were “much too humiliated to object to the cuts.”

Jordan has not been content with spot-checking for surreptitious cookouts in Latin America. He is the overseer of a remarkable reporting system he has imposed on the agency. During the past decade, more than 50 provisions have been plugged into AID’s enabling legislation requiring the agency to report everything from detailed spending justifications to line-item breakouts of administrative and consulting expenses. Reports go directly to the subcommittee—that is, to Jordan. The system even requires AID to send Jordan 15 days’ advance notice before transferring money within accounts. “It gives Jordan, essentially, veto power over any AID decision,” says Tim Lovaine, lobbyist for New Directions, a pro-foreign-aid group. “No other agency in government is subject to such scrutiny.”

The reporting system is Jordan’s ultimate solution to the 20,000-to-l Factor. But it has drawbacks. It costs the agency $8 million a year to administer, according to former AID director John Gilligan. And it has allowed Jordan to indulge his love of detail in ways that no rational-government textbook would approve. “It always amazes me how much time Bill spends on trivia,” says a source close to Jordan. Yaffe, the former Peace Corps budget director, says Jordan would sometimes call her and order her to make minor changes in the contracts of employees—after the people had signed and been shipped overseas. He once demanded that she re-do an entire report because she had rounded $999,996 to $1 million, Yaffe says.

Over the Redline

It should be said that Jordan’s power is not simply the product of years of solitary perseverance and immunity to the temptations of modern Washington. Some of it has to do with the nature of foreign aid, which is to many politicians a no-respect issue. Senators long to be on the Foreign Relations Committee, where they can pontificate about the need to save the free world and similar huffy issues. They greatly fear to be associated with handing out foreign aid, however, because it is a political clinker. Conservative voters hate foreign aid as a handout. Liberal voters tend to view it as a prop for corrupt dictators. Just about everybody believes the bulk of it is wasted on swimming pools for the Sahel and such. Knowing this, politicians are about as anxious to sound pro-foreign aid as they are to open a kissing booth in a leper colony.

“If foreign aid weren’t such a political handicap,” says a World Bank officer, “senators wouldn’t surrender all their power over it to Jordan. As it is, they’re happy to turn him loose. He’s always cutting back, which voters love. And if something goes wrong, they just blame it on him.” One informed source recalls how even Hubert Humphrey, in his time the most vocal pro-foreign-aid senator, extricated himself from supporting a program he didn’t really like by saying, “It’s a good idea, but we could never get it past Bill Jordan.”

This year’s election campaign, featuring liberal senators running as honorary conservatives, has diluted Jordan’s importance somewhat. The authorizing Foreign Relations Committee used to “merely rubber stamp whatever money the administration requested,” according to one of its former staff members. Now, with chairman Frank Church running hard against his own record, there is suddenly budget-cutting at Foreign Relations. This year Church cut $400 million off the White House request. Ernest Hollings’s Budget Committee also lowered foreign aid’s “ceiling” by $600 million. All this means that agency officials must woo not just Jordan, but other committees as well.

But when all about him are cutting back, Jordan is prepared to go them one better. On his own authority, he has taken to “redlining” entire programs—not just cutting them back but killing them outright. Recently, he redlined $7.5 million in aid for Bangladesh and vetoed U.S. funding for International Planned Parenthood.

In the etiquette of Congress, redlining is supposed to be the exclusive province of the “authorizing” committees. Jordan’s redlining so incensed his counterparts on the House Appropriations Committee— which has a larger staff, and hence smaller domains of staffer influence—that they blocked the fiscal 1980 foreign aid bill, and it never passed. (Technically, foreign aid now operates under a “continuing resolution” at 1979 levels.)

“We don’t redline, so why should he?” asks a House staffer. “He can take over the authority of his senators if they’re dumb enough to give it to him, but I’m damned if he’s going to take over for my congressmen, too.”

Successful anonymous authorities know their limits. When they see a loss coming, they concede immediately and graciously, cheating their foes of any pleasure. They never push their luck, knowing that a defeat will shatter their image. In pressing his redline campaign, Jordan may have exceeded his limits for the first time.

And there are other limits that Jordan must respect. Any battle that gets wide publicity, or interests senators outside the normal circle of friends, is out of his control. A staffer cannot defy a senator publicly. Humphrey used to push through generous foreign aid legislation by assembling broad, highly public coalitions of senators who would normally be uninterested. One such triumph was his Food for Peace program, which was enacted as a separate administrative entity so that Jordan could not attack it without appearing to challenge Humphrey directly. Jordan has left Food for Peace alone.

Another item beyond his influence is money for Israel and Egypt, grants that make up 40 percent of the $ 10-billion foreign aid budget. “Israel and Egypt are the only reason the foreign aid bill passes at all,” said a knowledgeable source. Aid to the Mideast is also the most widely criticized and easily understood aspect of foreign aid. As such it is openly debated, but not by Jordan; he does not attack it.

Road to Nowhere

Within these confines, Jordan’s authority remains. Reaching for power is a challenging exercise, one that invigorates those who master it. But beyond whatever satisfaction it gives him, the fact that Jordan has power is without significance. Power has meaning only as it is used to pursue a purpose. To put Jordan in perspective, you have to ask: what comes of all his influence?

There is a never-ending harvest of nits in Washington, and the town needs those willing to pick them. It’s monotonous work, stooping over the phone from dawn to dusk, plucking Weber grills before they blossom into crates of fragmentation grenades. Most of Washington’s powerful would rather sow future crops in their vague plans and vacuous hearings. We must be thankful to those like Jordan who do the actual work, however arrogant or vindictive they may become in the process.

But nits alone do not a balanced diet make. They may be the simplest and most readily understood facet of government, but they are also the least critical; after all, everyone is opposed to horror stories and accounting errors. “Jordan is just not a big-picture guy,” says one agency director. “He’s the classic case of the accountant who’ll spend months pursuing a $10,000 mistake, but never deal with whether the $20-million program it’s in has any value.” When I questioned Jordan on his philosophy of what U.S. assistance should be doing, he shifted to a familiar disclaimer: “Staff members per se have no authority,” he says. “We have only what authority is granted us by senators, and they are the ones who set policy. We are delegated only to carry that policy out.”

Perhaps Jordan really believes that. For example, he recently eliminated $10 million for a road in the Sudan. Technically, he was right; the project violated a policy against “infrastructure” grants—money for capital-development projects. “Infrastructure” money is supposed to come as loans from development banks like the World Bank.

But there were compelling reasons to build the road. The Sudan had just lost Arabian financial backing by endorsing Anwar Sadat’s peace position. Its government was shaky. The road would have joined isolated farmers to a hungry town. “Jordan killed it,” one source says. “And he talked about the number of typewriters in the AID office while he was killing it. He just couldn’t see that the road would have helped the poorest of the poor, letting the farmers get their goods to market.”

Some look on William’ Jordan and despair, wondering how anyone who had spent so long accumulating power could use it for such narrow ends. Others take comfort in his insistence on proper accounting over proper substance. “Thank God he doesn’t pay any attention to the real issues,” says one of Jordan’s foes. “If he did, he could really hurt us.”

Gregg Easterbrook

Gregg Easterbrook has published three novels and eight nonfiction books, mostly recently It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear. He was an editor at the Washington Monthly from 1979 to 1981.