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Whitman a Chip of the Old McCain Block

June 16, 2010

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Meg Whitman and John McCain have quite the mutual admiration society. During the 2008 campaign, McCain parroted her claim that "1.3 million people in the world make a living off eBay" as the basis for his recession-fighting strategy. And now with the revelation that Whitman paid a $200,000 settlement after shoving one of her employees, the former eBay CEO and California Republican apparently repaid the compliment to the notoriously hotheaded McCain.
As the New York Times reported, "In June 2007, an eBay employee claimed that Ms. Whitman became angry and forcefully pushed her in an executive conference room at eBay's headquarters, according to multiple former eBay employees with knowledge of the incident." But what well might have been a firing offense at many companies in the Silicon Valley's progressive corporate climate in the hands of the Whitman campaign was a laudable management trait:

"Meg is a serious, results-focused boss. A verbal dispute in a high-pressure working environment isn't out of the ordinary," Whitman campaign spokeswoman Sarah Pompei said in a statement provided to CNN. "Meg's record of accomplishment in business, including her success at leading eBay from a 30-employee startup to a Fortune 500 company, speaks for itself."

According to the Times, other eBay employees said those "verbal disputes" were routine for the ex-CEO who has pumped over $90 million of her fortune into her race for Governor:

They say Ms. Whitman was demanding and would often express sharp bursts of anger toward employees whose work or preparation she found lacking. But they knew of no other similar accusations.

If this all sounds familiar, it should.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, a long list of fellow Republicans and conservative allies recalled John McCain out-of-control temper. Chuck Grassley, Pete Domenici, John Cornyn, Bob Corker and even George Will reported F-bombs and threats which, they worried, made McCain unfit for command. Mississippi's Thad Cochran confessed:

"The thought of his being President sends a cold chill down my spine. He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper, and he worries me."

Mitt Romney, McCain's rival for the GOP nomination, documented "The McCain Way: Attack Republicans - A Top 10 List." Coming in at number 5? "In 1995, Sen. McCain had a 'scuffle' with 92-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) on the Senate floor."
During his first president run back in 1999, John McCain tried to defuse the growing concerns over his hot temper, insisting, "Do I insult anybody or fly off the handle or anything like that? No, I don't." And when the Washington Post detailed John McCain's legendary temper in April 2008, his spokesman Mark Salter called its account "99% fiction" in defending his man:

"McCain gets intense, and intent on his argument."
His blowups with senators often result from colleagues being accustomed to deference, he said.
"A lot of these guys aren't used to that," Salter said, so they get annoyed when a peer gets emotional.

If it sounds like the Whitman campaign in damage control mode is borrowing McCain's talking points, in 2008 he lifted hers.
During his now-forgotten "Forgotten Places" tour that spring, McCain told an audience in Inez, Kentucky, "You have a right to expect us to show as much concern for helping you create more and better choices to make for yourselves as we show any other community in America." And one of those better choices to fight poverty, according to John McCain, was to become a seller on the auction site, eBay:

"Today, for example, 1.3 million people in the world make a living off eBay, most of those are in the United State of America."

His economic advisor and former eBay chief Whitman couldn't have put it better herself. In fact, she put it almost exactly the same on way on CBS 60 Minutes in March 2008. As she told Lesley Stahl:

"We have about - around the world, about 1.3 million people make most, if not all, of their living selling on eBay."

Sadly for McCain and Whitman, that sound bite had to be dropped when on the eve of the election, eBay laid off 1,600 employees -- 10% of its work force.
As for California voters choosing their next governor, they might do well to remember the catastrophe which ensued the last time Americans picked a Republican CEO as their chief executive. And this time, that CEO apparently has the all the charm of John McCain.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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