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In a small organization, everybody cares about now it is doing. After all, it cuts their paycheck, so all the employees have a direct incentive to care for it. But the bigger an organization becomes — and this is equally true whether it is private or public — the less important its immediate survival becomes to each employee. Its continuity and health is more and more taken for granted as the prospects of bankruptcy become ever more remote. Instead, what looms larger and larger in everybody’s mind is their individual place in its hierarchy. It is much more lucrative to be an executive in a large ailing company, than to floor sweeper at a corporate success story.
This leads inevitably to the flourishing of a particular type of creature: the corporate climber. This person doesn’t give a whit about how the outfit he works for is doing, but is solely focused on the next rung in the org chart. The proliferation of corporate climbers is a problem for all organizations that are successful for too long. The danger is magnified because the company can do well for a long time – coasting on its laurels – before the moral rot becomes apparent. Unfortunately, often by the time it is noticeable, not only will the CEO have become a self-interested striver, but also was the man he replaced, and the man that man replaced.
The best example of this is Rick Wagoner, the former CEO of General Motors. He ran the company from 2000 until its bankruptcy nine years later. In 2007 – the year before bankruptcy — his salary was $1.5 million, with a total compensation of $14.4 million. After the company failed, he retired with an exit package worth $10 million. In other words, if the rot is deep enough, it doesn’t even matter if the organization fails completely; the man most responsible for its failure will still draw generous benefits.
According to Wikipedia, “Wagoner stated that the worst decision of his tenure at GM was axing the EV1electric-car program and not putting the right resources into hybrids. ‘It didn’t affect profitability,’ Wagoner claimed, ‘but it did affect image.’” The company lost $85 billion while he was at the helm, but he thought the most serious mistake he made was over something that had nothing to do with making money. In unrelated news, Wagoner was named one of the worst CEOs of 2008.
When I think of the people running the GOP, I think of Rick Wagoner. I suspect the RNC is filled with corporate climbers of dubious actual talents. In my mind, I can imagine one climber remarking to another in the lineup at the RNC cafeteria that he had been in the same room with the Great Man, Reince Priebus, and – gasp – Priebus had actually smiled at him. Now you and I know that Reince Priebus is a third-rate, incompetent hack, but that is only because we don’t work at Republican Headquarters. Because politics is only a hobby for us, we can think what we want. But if we were cashing a GOP paycheck, it would be different. We would have to suck up to all the mediocrities ahead of us in the Establishment Republican career path, just like the two staffers whose conversation I just imagined.
That I am right about the dominance of climbers in the Republican Party can be seen by the way the party fights Democrats vs. how it copes with internal threats. Against Democrats, whether it be McCain and Romney vs. Obama, or Boehner and McConnell vs. the Congressional Democrats, the Republicans are at best lethargic, uninspiring, and timid. And at worst, well, let’s just say they can be a lot worse. But if some Tea Party insurgent like Chris McDaniel challenges a party institution like Thad Cochran, you see their animal spirits suddenly come to life. The Republican Establishment springs forth like a cheetah and bounds after its pray with lightning speed and cat-quick reflexes. They suddenly exhibit a level of ruthlessness and vigor that was wholly lacking in their struggle against President Obama, their purported enemy. Even more ominously, you also get a sense that there is a lot of mutually beneficial bipartisan back-scratching going on inside the Beltway between them and their Democrat counterparts.
For this reason, I see that the Republican Party has only two possible fates: either the insurgents ruthlessly take over the GOP and conduct a thorough purge from top to bottom, or the Republican Party goes the way of the Whigs — or, more recently, Canada’s Progressive Conservatives. There is no Plan C.