There are countless
things that can be said about the tragic suicide
of former Enron executive J. Clifford Baxter. The only appropriate and correct expression, of course, is empathy.
In the context of the broader Enron scandal, Baxter's suicide pushes the whole affair onto the terrain of bad fiction and the paint-by-numbers made-for-TV mini-series.
It also follows the recent pattern of events in which every day brings news that is not just more ominous and damning than the day before but much more ominous and damning than the day before. Don't mistake me: I'm not talking about the possible political scandal. I'm talking about the corporate and economic one. And on that count, how can anyone deny that this is now one of the greatest business scandals in American history?
What adds a greater element of mystery to Baxter's death is that, if you were writing this as a script, he isn't exactly the one who you'd tap to take such a rash step. Far from being the guilty party at the center of the mess, he seems quite the opposite. While being a high-level Enron executive, who probably knew all the relevant facts, he was apparently one of the in-house Cassandras who knew the place was a house of cards and started ringing the alarm bell, at least on the inside. This provoked his departure last May.
He was one of the people doing the right thing, not the wrong thing. Or at least less of the wrong thing than the rest of the brass.
Baxter's suicide inevitably fits into this puzzle. But he seems to have taken his life not because he knew more or did more, but - as must have been clear when he left the company last May - because his conscience was more delicate than those of his colleagues.