A few years ago a friend switched parties, went from being a Democrat to a Republican. Usually not a big deal, but in this case it was, because he was a political operative, a guy who works on campaigns. When you have a defection like that, the danger is that all the secrets of one party are transferred to the other. If it's high-level enough, and you change the labels to country names, this becomes a crime punishable by death. It's serious stuff.
But where do you draw the line? How much politics does there have to be in what you do for it to be wrong to have positions that are unpopular to enough people to make your employment a problem. I suppose it depends on how involved your company is in politics, and how important you are to the company. If you're not very important then the inconvenience doesn't have to be very great.
Had Mozilla been an executive recruiting firm, had Eich given to a political cause that advocated job discrimination against a class of people, it's hard to see how he could continue in that job and still have the trust of people in that class. But Mozilla isn't in that business, and the law that Eich supported was about marriage, not jobs.
We haven't heard from people who still support the position of Prop 8, but they are out there, and some of them are politically active, and aren't ashamed to make their position known. Are you concerned that there might be retribution? (Update: They've noticed.)
What about other highly moral political positions? What if you can't be pro-choice and be the CEO of a major corporation? There's a major political party that won't elect people who are pro-choice. There are many states where that party is the majority. They control a branch of Congress, and might win the other one in the election later this year. They have lots of money to fund campaigns and pay off politicians. If you supported the removal of Eich as CEO of Mozilla, how would you feel if the CEO of another company was removed because he or she contributed to a pro-choice cause?
Will you have to know the politics of every person you do business with in the future? What if your barber gave to a cause you don't support? Your doctor? How close a relationship does it have to be for their politics to be approved by whoever you look to approval for?
On the other side, if you want to be a supplier or goods or services, will you have to be as neutral as a Supreme Court nominee, in order to have a job, make a contribution? I know that's extreme, but I want to know where the line is.
The Internet is very powerful, we're learning. I think we just crossed a line that we should have avoided. There was no need to force out Eich. Prop 8 was overturned, same-sex marriage is legal in a lot of states now, and is on its way to being legal everywhere. People may have forgotten how quickly this change happened. In 2008, when Eich made the contribution, the proposition passed in California. It wasn't a minority opinion. So if change happens again, and maybe it's not the kind of change you like, anyone who gave to any political cause is in danger.
I think we'll be dealing with this for a long time to come. Right now victory must seem sweet to the people who wanted Eich out. But, I think before this is over, everyone, on all sides, will be weary of it.
This piece is not an invitation to re-litigate Eich's advocacy in the comments here.
I haven't said anything about it, pro or con, so if you want talk about his ideas, do it on your blog, not mine.
Update: After a while, all comments are from people who just paste in their standard talking points. So I just turned off comments. We've had ample opportunity to hear people's ideas on how a CEO should behave. That's not what this blog post is about.