AKRON (Feb. 15, 2013) — Chuck Hagel's recent grilling before the Senate Armed Services Committee as the nominee for secretary of defense reminded me of the Goya painting, "Saturn Devouring His Son."
Former senate cronies feasted on Mr. Hagel, particularly members who share his political affiliation, the Republican Party. It's a different GOP from when the Vietnam combat veteran worked for the Reagan Administration and later held a U.S. Senate seat from Nebraska. "Open mouth, insert foot" is how some of his ex-Senate buddies view several of his public statements.
None of this would have any particular interest in the context of the rubber industry, except that Mr. Hagel can be classified as "one of our own," as far as the tire industry is concerned. For a number of years he was a government relations operative in Washington for the former Firestone Tire & Rubber Co.
Back in the day, Mr. Hagel was accessible to our Washington reporter, Miles Moore, passing along Firestone's stance on various legislative and regulatory activities. He continued to be available to our reporter when he became a member of a White House task force. Nice.
Then he was elected senator. Miles tried repeatedly to score an interview with him. Miles is very persistent, yet he never got past the receptionist—eventually not even having his phone calls returned.
So it goes when you become a Great Man in Washington, I imagine.
Mr. Hagel being in the news brought to mind the only other noteworthy rubber industry person that I can recall who went into an important government job after leaving the rubber industry: Charles J. Pilliod Jr., chairman and CEO of Goodyear for about a decade until retiring in 1983.
Mr. Pilliod was a true captain of industry. He presided over Goodyear in mostly great times—Goodyear's sales went from $3.6 billion to $9 billion during his reign—and he has a fascinating biography. Mr. Pilliod came from humble roots, grew up in the Akron area and spent 42 years at Goodyear. Like Mr. Hagel, war interrupted his career, as he served as a bomber pilot during World War II.
After his Goodyear days, Mr. Pilliod was appointed U.S. ambassador to Mexico by President Ronald Reagan, holding that post from 1986-89. He was a world leader in business and highly qualified for the position, which makes him stand out from many ambassadors.
One of the peculiarities of the American political system is that the chief criteria for a prime ambassador job is that the candidate be a political insider of the party in which the president belongs. Big political donors and successful campaign fundraisers get to play diplomat in lovely European cities, while career government service professionals end up in less desirable, more dangerous locales. Libya, for example.
Ah, but there are a lot of places on this planet besides Old World culture capitals. When I call it quits in four or five years, maybe I can put in for some more-obscure ambassador posting, like in Micronesia or, oh, Costa Rica. Some place with sun and sea.
I should start contributing to a political party if I want to realize that dream. Better yet, hedge my bet and cough up for both parties.
Ed Noga is editor of Rubber & Plastics News, an Akron-based sister publication of Tire Business. This column appeared in a recent print edition of that magazine.