Say it's not so, Joe -- that you're actually sorry for mussing up the Obama administration over its treatment of BP.
Congressman Barton, sir, never mind what the party leaders made you say in riposte to your own verbal thrust last week. You were right the first time -- right to call out the White House for tactics extralegal at best, embarrassing to many who continue for some odd reason to look to the Oval Office for moral leadership.
The White House's behavior has the odor of a dead cow. That's the bottom line -- a more urgent matter than Barton's decision to air his dead-on appraisal in the context of an "apology" to Tony Hayward and his company.
Hayward and the BP wimps who rolled over, scrubbed their projected dividend, and acceded to the president's demand for a $20 billion escrow fund deserve a kick in the pants more they do than an expression of regret. Nor, as Texas Congressman Joseph Barton acknowledged in his public declaration to Hayward, should the company escape reproach for bad decisions.
The worst thing about Joe Barton's "apology" (coupled with his apology for the apology) is the implication abroad in political and media circles that Barton was a jerk to have "apologized" the first time.
The implication draws attention, alas, from the truth Barton addressed. Obama's attempts at intimidating BP warrant more than a passing glance. Barton was right: this thing sets "a terrible precedent for the future." A couple of terrible precedents.
Precedent No. 1: Trying a company (for that matter any entity) in the media when the imputed injury is large enough. That BP is responsible for the spill seems clear enough. Responsible in what way? Responsible to what degree, and at what cost? Don't we care to find out?
Precedent No. 2: Inspiring politicians (as if they need the inspiration) to get out in front of the lynch mob, throwing nooses over tree branches.
The president of the United States, whoever he may be at a given moment, carries about him a presumption held over from more antique times. The presumption is that the president is a grown-up, capable of keeping his cool in tough situations, wanting to hear both sides of a disputed question before rendering judgment. Instead, the present president of the United States gave it out from the Oval Office that, hell, he knew who the bad guys were in this spill business, and it sure wasn't his guys; plus, the bad guys were -- shut up; don't argue -- going to put $20 billion to cover reparations for their crimes. Lewis Carroll's Red Queen would have understood the plan as well as the terminology: sentence first, trial afterward.
Not only that, the president of the United States asserted no legal authority for his claim to BP's money. He demanded it -- in his best stagecoach-robber mode: Whoa, pardner; get those hands up; now throw down that box. The president of the United States, or his advisers, or both, evidently thought it meaningless to assert their authority for such a demand. They asserted it. Any more questions, Sonny? Good.
BP certainly stood and delivered, after the approved manner of stagecoach passengers with hands extended to heaven and a .45 aimed in their general direction. You can understand. They wanted no more trouble. They had enough of that as it was, much of it self-generated.
Congressman Joe Barton, depicted by Democratic operatives and their media claque as a patsy for the oil industry, for obvious reasons didn't like the smell of the thing. He said so. Democrats profess delight. Said Rahm Emanuel the other day: this Barton thing is a "gift" to the Democrats. We'll wrap it around his neck and the necks of all Republicans.
Does that not tell us what's going on here? The power of politics exerted in behalf of more power for particular politicians: this is what goes on. Don't justify. Attack, attack, attack! Joe Barton could have stood to say a whole lot more than he actually managed to say.
William Murchison is the author of "Mortal Follies: Episcopalians and the Crisis of Mainline Christianity." To find out more about William Murchison and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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