Going Mobil

By MARCO TRBOVICH  |  August 26, 2009

Nor will Democratic politics be a foreign realm to him. Mobil Chairman Warner claims that Schmertz's strength is his "ability to talk to the Democratic side of the House and Senate and to know some of those people that we would never, never see before – the liberal element of the Democratic side."

Schmertz's entrée with the liberals dates to his work on voter registration in Jack Kennedy's 1960 campaign. In 1966, Harvard Business School professor James Healy recommended Schmertz, a labor lawyer, to Mobil as its manager for labor relations, the job from which he took a leave of absence to work as ad advance man in Bobby Kennedy's 1968 campaign. Now he will have the chance to shape the Kennedy image for Ted. If his performance at Mobil has been any measure, Schmertz's chances of succeeding are high; for the Mobil campaign, geared down for weekly pulp like Parade and Family Week and dressed up for the Times, has aimed at precisely the audiences Ted Kennedy must win: disaffected blue-collar Democrats and middle-class technocrats. And for a man capable of saying that corporate advertisement "should convince the consumer that in the final analysis, his greatest protection comes from free choice in the marketplace, and that corporations are in business to give him that choice" – why, a man who can say that should find it a cinch to advertise Kennedy's negative points out of existence.

Nevertheless, it is a role that befuddles Schmertz's comrades inside the oil industry. "We are stunned," said a spokesman for another major oil company. "Whenever Mobil was attacked, Schmertz wrote knee-jerk ads that sounded a little to the right of Attila. Now he is joining a candidate who is a little to the left of center . . . . It seems to me that either you believe in what you're doing, or you don't."

So, goodbye ideology; hello managerial technocracy. Or, as Professor Whitehead puts it: "The Irish Mafia is dead and gone. What Ted Kennedy represents is the New Class Mafia; and Herb Schmertz is a member of the New Class."

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