Friday, June 18, 2010
Republicans: The Party of Joe Barton
This has to be the best quote of the week:
“If anything I have said this morning has been misconstrued to the opposite effect, I want to apologize for that misconstrued misconstruction."
That "apology" came from Republican Congressman Joe Barton, who was ordered by Republican congressional leadership to issue it after blurting out a much more convincing apology to BP CEO Tony Hayward yesterday:
"I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. 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. I apologize."
Yes, you read that correctly - Congressman Barton apologized to BP for being forced, by that dastardly President Obama, to financially compensate Gulf Coast residents whose livelihoods were ruined by the oil spill. No wonder Republican congressional leaders demanded, for the sake of their image, that Barton offer an apology for his apology.
Of course, if the political tacticians of the Republican Party really want to repair the damage to their partisan brand, they'll have a lot more work cut out for them; plenty of other Republicans - from Michele Bachmann and Rush Limbaugh to the 114-member Republican Study Committee - have already expressed agreement with Barton's position. That is because, in the eyes of the ascendant conservative movement, Barack Obama's demand that BP provide financial compensation to Gulf Coast residents is a threat to "the US Constitution, the American way of life, American exceptionalism, what it was that made this country great" (Limbaugh), a "redistribution of wealth fund" that renders BP into "chumps" (Bachmann), and "Chicago-style shakedown politics" (the 114-member Republican Study Committee).
All of these individuals are quick to follow their earlier comments by insisting that they are NOT defending BP, but rather simply angry that President Obama didn't allow the claims process to go through normal, proper judicial channels. There are three major flaws to this position:
1) The financial damage that has been done to residents of the Gulf Coast has been extensive and immediate, and any judicial process would inevitably take months (at the very least) to provide residents of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida with the aid that they need right now. Only an escrow fund of the type President Obama pressured BP into establishing can achieve an immediate and effective result.
2) What President Obama did was not illegal. Although he no doubt used the prestige of the presidency (as well as his Rooseveltian "bully pulpit") in an effort to pressure BP CEO Tony Hayward into doing the right thing by creating this fund, there isn't a shred of evidence that he abused his executive authority in order to coerce or force BP's hand in an extra-legal manner. Frankly, the only way this reflects poorly on President Obama is that it makes one wonder why he didn't display similar cojones when dealing with Wall Street last year.
3) The Republican Party claims to fight for small, fiscally responsible government. Yet had they had their way, the American taxpayers would have had to shoulder an enormous financial burden as a result of BP's mistakes. After all, lengthy judicial proceedings are not cheap, to say nothing of oil spill clean-ups (which Obama also forced BP to finance in his so-called "shakedown") and providing unemployment benefits to the Gulf Coast residents whose livelihoods have been affected by the spill - although, arguably, Republicans may have opposed even doing that much for BP's victims, considering their staunch opposition to the legislation currently pending that would extend unemployment benefits to the victims of Wall Street's malfeasance. Because of President Obama's actions, the American taxpayers will not have to spend a dime as a result of BP's errors, and the residents of the Gulf Coast will have justice done to them at the expense of the perpetrators themselves and no one else. This is in stark contrast to the ideal for which Republicans are now fighting, one in which justice to the people of the Gulf Coast would either have to come with a price tag of billions of dollars to the already-beleagued American taxpayer (assuming the courts ruled in favor of BP and conservatives voted with liberals for a special unemployment benefits package) or not at all (since the courts might not rule in favor of Gulf Coasters and conservatives might oppose a special unemployment package).
So what is the method behind the Republican Party's seeming madness? Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland put it best:
“This will become an issue in the races around the country, because it’s another big piece of the story about how the Republicans have been on the side of the big corporations."