There are few occasions in politics which entertain and engage the punditry and opposition party opponents as much as seeing a powerful elected official really shove his foot in his mouth. Such an opportunity seemed to present itself this week when Joe Barton (R-Texas) referred to President Obama’s demand for BP to pony up $20 billion for a fund to compensate those affected by the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in rather sinister terms:

“I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday,” Barton said in his opening statement. “I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown — in this case a $20 billion shakedown.”

To put the remarks in baseball parlance, this one couldn’t have been any better. It was the low, hanging soft pitch over the outside corner just waiting for the president and his Democrat allies to knock it clean out of the park.

It had all of the perfect elements wrapped up in one delicious package. The evil, money-grubbing, richer-than-Midas oil giant is casually dumping millions of barrels of crude into the pristine waters of the Gulf. Tens of thousands of working-class voters are having their health and livelihoods endangered. We’ve even got the iconic, oil-soaked pelican pictures running 24/7 on MSNBC.

And now that the Ass Kicker in Chief has gotten the petroleum tyrants to pony up a pile of cash for the “small people,” there’s a Republican apologizing for it?

The fact that the speaker happened to be a somewhat portly Caucasian over the age of fifty didn’t help matters either. David Letterman quipped, “Nice to see you rich white guys sticking up for each other.”

But while the remarks could certainly qualify for some sort of MTV Music award for inept commentary, and Barton has already been forced into a mea culpa, one nagging problem remains. The Texas congressman’s statements were politically tone deaf … but he was also correct.

It is not unheard of for a company to set aside funds for a third party to distribute to affected workers and consumers after bankruptcy or other corporate meltdown scenarios. In years past I’ve worked on the documentation and public relations for firms that have done just that. But the key difference is that it was generally a face-saving maneuver designed by the failing company in question, not a pound of flesh demanded by an elected official.