In London, where I am at the moment, the BP oil-spill melodrama is just as big a story as it is in the States — bigger, in fact, since BP dividends have been paying £1 in every £6 paid by FTSE 100 companies. That winds up being about 12 percent of dividends paid to British pensioners. So Brits, who should still be smarting from President Obama’s calculated rudeness to them — practically his first act as president was to send back a bust of Winston Churchill which had been in the White House — now have another reason to dislike the former Chicago machine politician.
Pursuing the Alinsky policy of never letting a crisis go to waste, the White House and the Democrat-controlled Congress have greeted the BP oil spill with an access of glee wrapped up in watercress of stern moralizing. The president’s televised speech on the subject the other day got nearly unanimous bad marks, which is not surprising since it merely expanded on the embarrassing “I’m-looking-for-some-ass-to-kick” (but whose? whose?) motif he announced last week.
Even more nauseating was the spectacle of various U.S. congressmen falling over themselves to find new ways to insult BP CEO Tony Hayward and declare their high-minded, selfless concern for Gulf fishermen and “the environment” while pronouncing anathema upon evil “unregulated” oil companies, etc., etc. (Where, I wonder, do they think the gasoline that fuels their limos comes from?)
One shaft of light in this malodorous comedy came from the Texas lawmaker Joe Barton who treated the kangaroo-court grilling of Hayward with some of the contempt it deserved. “I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday,” Barton said to Hayward during the hearing. “I apologize. 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-dollar shakedown.”
Exactly right, Joe! But you hadn’t bargained for the politically correct firestorm that telling home truths can spark whenever there is serious moralistic grandstanding to be indulged. The other Joe, Vice-President Biden, found Barton’s comments “outrageous” and even politicians on Barton’s side of the aisle bristled at this exhibition of “insensitivity.” Republicans John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Mike Pence declared their colleague was “wrong” to call the $20 billion fund a “shakedown.” (“Shakedown,” n.: “a piece of extortion,” e.g., you give us $20 billion and we might not hound you into bankruptcy.)
My joy was short-lived, though. For when I checked back a few hours later, I found that Joe Barton had been made an offer he couldn’t refuse. “I apologize for using the term ‘shakedown’ with regard to yesterday’s actions at the White House in my opening statement this morning, and I retract my apology to BP,” Barton said.
Why should Barton apologize? I mean “why” not in the prudential, career-saving, ass-covering sense. From that point of view, his retraction makes perfect sense. But if you ask “why” in the larger sense of disinterested inquiry, it’s hard to know what to say. Joe Barton was right. The White House was, and still is, engaged in a shakedown, “a piece of extortion,” exacting as high a price as possible from a private company in an effort to garner some PR brownie points (and a lost of cash). It is a disgusting spectacle, reminiscent of the administration’s criminal defrauding of Chrysler secured bondholders last year.
Oh, well. It was a pleasant fifteen minutes. Imagine! A U.S. congressman who actually had the courage to speak the truth. What a novelty! I should have known it couldn’t last.
If you happen to find Joe Barton’s testicles, you can return them to him here.