Who’s in your foxhole?

September 4, 2007, 2:36 PM UTC
Fortune


mcconnell.jpg
The gentleman at right pictured with the happy little Boy Scout is Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Until last weekend, he was the close associate and Republican colleague of poor Senator Larry Craig of Idaho, who was forced to resign after serving nearly two decades in the Senate when he salaciously tapped the shoe of the guy in the next stall. But you know that story.

I have nothing to say about whether Mr. Craig is guilty of anything, even hypocrisy. Listen. If hypocrisy was a punishable offense in politics, the halls of Congress would echo with the hollow sound of tumbleweeds skittering across its nearly vacant floors.

What interests me about the whole thing is what it shows about loyalty among certain people. The point was driven home with clarity on Saturday in the New York Times. You can hit the link if you want to, but here is the portion that tugged my heart strings and sent a little wiggle of ice down my spine:

In Idaho, a person close to Mr. Craig did not say exactly what drove Mr. Craig’s decision, but said that the veteran lawmaker had been stunned by the party’s response to his predicament.

“Larry was shocked by the deafening silence by some and rush to judgment by others, even in his own leadership,” said the person, who is a confidant and adviser to Mr. Craig and asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the behind-scenes deliberations. “He had to evaluate what it would be like to go back into that environment.”

The adviser said that none of the Republican senators who called for his resignation, including Senator John McCain of Arizona, sought out Mr. Craig’s version of events, and said, “If you served in Congress a long time, you’d think you’d make that call before you ask for someone’s resignation, but that didn’t happen.”

Of course it didn’t. Corporations in crisis don’t work that way. When things are okay they might, possibly. A guy gets in trouble, even humiliating trouble, his buddies may rally around him, give him a chuck on the chin, tell him to hang in there, even if he is a sex fiend (as long as he’s, you know, the right kind).

When the field is swarming with enemy troops ready to take the high ground, and ammo is short? They start lobbing guys out of the trench to lighten the load.

So it doesn’t surprise me that Senator McConnell reportedly passed a word to Mr. Craig’s fellow Idaho Senator (whose name, incredibly, is Crapo) and Crapo told Craig that if he did not resign he would be hauled into the public square and forced to wear a dunce cap on his head. Exit Craig, who up until the end believed that his longstanding relationships of trust with the untrustworthy would protect him in a pinch.

No such thing. I’ve seen it happen so many times. A couple of years ago, I knew this guy who ran one the key operations of his company out of Chicago. Everybody in his senior management thought he walked on water. I happened to go out to lunch with one of his superiors around the time he was finishing his first year on the job. “How’s McMurtry?” I asked my pal, whose name is Woosner.

“Guy’s a superstar,” said Woosner. Then he gushed for a while, but since it wasn’t about me I didn’t stay interested all that long. Still, it registered enough for me to be a little bit shocked two or so weeks later when I read in an industry trade that McMurtry had, like Karl Rove recently, left his corporation to “spend more time with his family.” I called Woosner.

“What happened with McMurtry?” I asked him.

“Guy’s a total loser,” said Woosner, completely without irony. Executive amnesia is a wonderful thing. Sometimes I think it’s the only way we can exist over the long haul.

“Hold on a minute,” I said. “Just a couple of weeks ago, you were singing his praises.”

“Nah,” said Woosner, and I could imagine him waving the notion away with his free hand. “A total dope. Complete C student.”

“Well, something must have happened.” This just seemed so arbitrary, so senseless to me.

“It was a long time in coming, of course,” Woosner allowed. “But I guess the last nail in the coffin was that he has a bad meeting with Morty.” Morty was then the company’s CEO, and a very irritable guy indeed. “Morty had never met him before and the guy totally failed to impress.”

And that was that. Genius one day. Mug the next. That’s the way it goes, I guess.

I have to feel, though, that the guys you really want to work with might actually pick up a phone and talk to you before they push you off a cliff. But then, I’m a sentimental guy. It’s possible I wouldn’t last very long in the corporation that really runs the big show in this great nation of ours.