News & Politics

Republicans Apologize, Grovel to BP

One after the other, GOPers and conservatives are taking the side of the British company destroying our gulf.

The BP oil spill has put many Republicans in a precarious position – they’re understandably relishing the opportunity to portray President Obama as feckless and weak, but are worried that the crisis is making their pals in the oil industry look pretty bad.

Most of them have steered clear of this quandary by either solely attacking the Obama administration for its belated and inept response to the crisis or by even acknowledging that BP was a particularly bad apple within the oil industry. After all, smart GOP operatives understand that Americans are just as pissed off at big business as they are at the government and that the GOP will blow its chance to retake Congress this fall if it can’t control its authoritarian impulse to hump corporate America’s leg.

Thankfully, though, not all right-wingers have the message discipline of your typical GOP campaign manager and many of them have dutifully gone to bat for our economic overlords at BP. This Thursday, Rep. Joe Barton actually apologized to CEO Tony Hayward for the White House's arrangement with BP to establish a $20 billion fund to pay for damages in the Gulf. If Democrats are smart they'll put the spectacle of a GOP congressman apologizing for America to a British company to good use. Imagine pictures of dead birds and unemployed fishermen with the following voiceover: "Joe Barton has apologized to BP, apparently worried that Her Majesty would be upset for criticizing a company of the Crown. Is this what our Founding Fathers fought and died for? So that Republican Joe Barton could bow before the Queen of England?"

Earlier this week, high-profile spillologist and Mississippi governor Haley Barbour said that “It’s just as possible that what happens here will be manageable and of moderate and even minimal impact.” Barbour further went on to caution against “washing our face in it” but said the spill could still render the ocean safe enough to allow “jumping off the boat to ski.” Perhaps Barbour is trying to attract more Satanists to come visit his state, since I’m sure they’re the only ones who would find water skiing amidst dead dolphins appealing.

But wait, it gets worse for our pal Haley! When the Obama administration did something useful and scored the escrow account, Barbour expressed “concern” that the fund could cut into BP’s profits. Hey Haley, that’s sort of the point. As any student of Econ 101 knows, firms respond to incentives. And if we can take away oil companies’ incentives to be reckless buffoons that destroy entire ecosystems, well, that’s a pretty good thing.

(On the plus side, Barbour’s reaction was still saner than Michele Bachmann’s, as the Tea Party star called the escrow account a “redistribution of wealth fund.”)

The Republican Study Committee issued a statement slamming the fund, with Rep. Tom Price accusing the administration of "Chicago-style politics" and seemingly scolding BP for agreeing to sort of take responsibility for their actions. Said Price, "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. 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."

Rush Limbaugh somehow managed to make it about ACORN: "Who's gonna get this money? Union activists? ACORN people? Who's gonna get this money?"

The wingnuts have been valiantly defending the poor oil giant for a while now. 

Pundit Tony Blankley got the ball rolling at the National Review last month by crying about Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s declaration that he intended “to keep the boot on the neck of British Petroleum.” Blankley found this statement to be disturbingly totalitarian, comparing it to the image of a boot stepping on the face of humanity used in Orwell’s 1984. Such a hostile tone, reasoned Blankley, was not the proper “attitude toward a respected member of the corporate community.”

Never mind that this respected member of the corporate community owns two refineries that accounted for 97 percent – yes, 97 percent – of all flagrant safety violations found in the refining industry over the last three years. Also never mind that BP has blatantly and knowingly lied to the public about the size of the disaster by a factor of more than 14. And finally, ignore the fact that BP has a long history of disregarding even its own safety standards and of pressuring its employees to keep their mouths shut about safety violations. No, none of this matters: in the Randroid world of economic royalism, any company that makes ungodly sums of money must by nature be run by morally superior individuals who deserve honor and respect from the little people who greedily sponge off their productivity.

This “BP Shrugged” attitude was on full display in a recent post by Pajamas Media’s Matt Patterson, who said the BP disaster should not be blamed on the company responsible for causing it but rather on the dastardly environmentalists who put so many terrible restrictions on our free enterprise system in the first place.

“Finding and extracting oil from the earth ranks among the most dangerous of occupations,” he whined on behalf of the world’s 10th-richest company. “And thanks to regulations and pressure from environmental groups, oil companies are largely prevented from seeking new oil reserves near U.S. coasts, forcing them out into deep water where the dangers and complexities of an already dangerous and complex business increase one hundred-fold.”

Patterson concluded his bold defense of the oil giant by acting like an unpaid BP flack in trying to minimize the damage the spill would cost, comically asserting that “we would do well to remember that oil is as natural as water, and regularly seeps into the oceans naturally in quantities many times the size of the Deepwater Horizon spill” and that “the ocean can handle the oil.” You hear that, you crybaby fishermen? Oil is just as natural as the seafood you used to catch! Use your rational self-interest and come up with a way to make oil taste good! If people like eating jumbo shrimp, there’s no reason they can’t love eating globs of petroleum as well!

The Weekly Standard’s Andrew Wilson similarly sought to minimize the damage of the spill by resorting to General Buck Turgidson’s patented “it was just a single slip-up” defense.

“Until the explosion on April 20 that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon rig, oil companies had experienced only one significant spill in drilling hundreds of wells in the Gulf over a period of more than 60 years, including many in ultra-deep water,” he wrote. “It has taken just one disaster to call an exceptionally good safety record into question.”

Yeah, c’mon you guys! BP only destroyed one teensy little Gulf Coast! We’ve still got the whole Pacific Ocean to play with!

What all of these arguments share in common is their bizarre faith that BP is run by beings with superior intellects who are the only people in the world smart enough to plug the oil well they blew up. Harrison Schmidt at Pajamas Media painted BP as a noble group of besieged rugged individualists who could have certainly figured out how to clean up their own mess by now if not for the irrational and angry clamoring of the leaching federal government.

“It has been left to BP engineers and managers and to Gulf state officials to respond as best they can in a regulatory environment that is politically charged, incompetent, fearful, and hesitant,” he fumed. “Rather than allowing BP to stay focused only on solving the problems of the spill, Attorney General Holder now has launched a civil and criminal investigation! And let’s then follow with sending an unsupported bill to BP for $69 million!”

Heaven forbid we cause the people who destroyed the Gulf Coast any discomfort! Similarly, Blankley said that the government had meanly isolated an invaluable “partner” in trying to clean up the Gulf Coast while chiding Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for “not be able to navigate a dingy across a yacht basin.”Anne Applebaum at the Washington Post accused Democrats of being “downright hostile” to the private sector and said that putting public pressure on BP to do more to clean up the spill was counterproductive since “BP's shareholders have already lost billions of dollars and BP's executives are motivated to find solutions faster than anyone in the White House ever could.”

It’s too bad that this sort of rational self-interest didn’t kick in earlier, back when the company was flaunting its own safety regulations to avoid paying for a protective liner in the well that would have cost a mere pittance compared to what the company will now have to pay for the Gulf cleanup. Why, it’s almost as if rampant greed isn’t producing optimal economic outcomes anymore! Who would have thought that would ever happen!

It was the Weekly Standard’s Wilson who took the “BP-as-Nietzschean-Supermen” meme to hilarious new heights, however, by declaring that the company’s own rational self-interest negated the need for any sort of government regulation.

“Clearly, it does not occur to [Obama] that the oil companies have a powerful motive to self-regulate,” he bitterly complains. “In light of the physical threat to their own workers and the huge potential damage to the long-term viability of their companies that awaits anything less than an exceptional safety performance.”

Ah, yes. If there’s one industry that comes to mind when I think of socially conscious, pro-labor policies, it’s the oil industry.

What these noxious defenses of BP reveal is the true elitism that lurks behind the phony populism of today’s Randroid right. After all, it was none other than Tea Party darling Rand Paul who called Obama’s mildly critical comments on BP “un-American,” since the Founding Fathers would have apparently frowned upon criticizing the actions of British companies. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, meanwhile, has gone beyond rhetoric and took direct action to block a bill in the Senate. And it’s not at all surprising that BP has desperately reached out to former Bushies to help boost its public image, including Dick Cheney’s former press secretary Anne Womack-Koltan and former chief-of-staff Josh Bolten.

In other words, all the angry populism espoused by the Tea Party over the past two years cannot cover up an eternal political truth: When the rich say, “Hump!” the GOP says “How hard?”

Brad Reed is a writer living in Boston. His work has previously appeared in the American Prospect Online, and he blogs frequently at Sadly, No!.
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