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Friday, June 18, 2010

The Grand Oil Party

It's true that Republicans often say stupid and ridiculous things. In fact, in a world where Sarah Palin is a celebrity to the rightwing base, it's expected of them. It's part of their "oppose everything" strategy and it often paints them into a rhetorical corner; if you're going to fight even the most rational positions, you're often going to find yourself playing proponent to the irrational. So, since President Obama helped arrange a $20 billion escrow fund to make sure BP will cover the costs to people's lives, the default position is that this is a bad thing. Never mind that it's a necessary thing. Twenty-one years after the Exxon Valdez spill, ExxonMobil has only paid $500 million of an up to $7 billion bill. BP will not be able to weasel out of their obligations so easily.

But, as I said, opposing everything means opposing even the good ideas. And this forces Republicans to embrace bad ideas. Texas Rep. Joe Barton -- known in some circles as "Smokey Joe" for his undying support of the oil industry -- demonstrates what this looks like.

If you need a transcript of that, Talking Points Memo has it. The teabaggers love this because, let's face it, they aren't very smart. But no one else was much of a fan. With the White House getting tough with the oil giant, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" turned out to be a really stupid line of thought. Especially from someone who used to be an oil exec himself.

The White House was quick to capitalize on Barton's apology, sending out an email blast to supporters asking them to "Stand with us to show that the American people support holding BP accountable -- and we won't apologize for doing so."

The Republicans weren't quite so fleet of foot. It's easy to understand their surprise. After all, some Republican somewhere says something equally stupid every, single day. Joe Barton's apology wasn't anything unusual, but it was on CSPAN. And it was on at a time when a lot of people tuned in to watch BP CEO Tony Hayward -- easily the most hated man in America right now -- squirm. Watching Smokey Joe kiss his backside and beg forgiveness wasn't exactly what they were hoping for. By the end of the day, GOP leadership issued a statement of opposition to his apology (more on that in a bit) and Barton's position on the Energy and Commerce Committee is now "within a centimeter" of being pulled by the party. Barton's apology was also retracted.

But the GOP was caught completely flatfooted by the public reaction to Barton's obsequiousness. Sen. John Cornyn -- who joined in on the official statement denouncing Barton -- originally said he shared Smokey Joe's concerns over the escrow account. But then it turned out that this was the politically disadvantageous position, so he changed teams.

And Barton had reason to believe the party had his back on this -- mostly because they've been saying pretty much the same thing:

John Nichols, The Nation:

Barton's not an outlier. Other prominent Republicans are rallying to BP's defense. Minnesota Congressman Michele Bachmann counseled that: "[If] I was the head of BP, I would let the signal get out there—'We're not going to be chumps, and we're not going to be fleeced.' And they shouldn't be. They shouldn't have to be fleeced and make chumps to have to pay for perpetual unemployment and all the rest—they've got to be legitimate claims."

The problem, explained Bachmann is not BP but Obama. "The other thing we have to remember is that Obama loves to make evil whatever company it is that he wants to get more power from," griped the conservative Congresswoman.

Just the day before, the Republican Study Committee issued an official statement saying almost exactly what Barton did, sans the apology. "BP's reported willingness to go along with the White House’s new fund suggests that the Obama Administration is hard at work exerting its brand of Chicago-style shakedown politics," said chairman Tom Price in the statement. "These actions are emblematic of a politicization of our economy that has been borne out of this Administration's drive for greater power and control. It is the same mentality that believes an economic crisis or an environmental disaster is the best opportunity to pursue a failed liberal agenda. The American people know much better."

And that leadership statement denouncing Barton? Yeah, I haven't forgotten about that. Even while trying to position themselves as really, really mad at BP and Smokey Joe, they make sure to give the oil company some wiggle room.

The oil spill in the Gulf is this nation's largest natural disaster and stopping the leak and cleaning up the region is our top priority. Congressman Barton's statements this morning were wrong. BP itself has acknowledged that responsibility for the economic damages lies with them and has offered an initial pledge of $20 billion dollars for that purpose.

The families and businesspeople in the Gulf region want leadership, accountability and action from BP and the Administration. It is unacceptable that, 59 days after this crisis began, no solution is forthcoming. Simply put, the American people want all of our resources, time and focus to be directed toward stopping the spill and cleaning up the mess.

Yeah, this is terrible and Joe Barton's a moron, but this whole oil gusher thing really is just a "natural disaster." This echos the statements of people like Alaska Rep. Don Young, who argue that this sort of thing is a "natural phenomenon."

"Oil has seeped into this ocean for centuries, will continue to do it," Young said earlier this month. "During World War II there was over 10 million barrels of oil spilt from ships, and no natural catastrophe... We will lose some birds, we will lose some fixed sealife, but overall it will recover."

Republicans are now pretending outrage at Smokey Joe, but in truth they're in complete agreement. It doesn't require mindreading on my part to come to this conclusion, I just need to read what they've said.


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