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Tilting at Windmills

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June 17, 2010

THE PARTY OF BP.... I haven't seen much in the way of polling on this, but I'd hazard a guess that BP isn't especially popular with Americans right now. The company's horrific safety record, its willingness to cut corners, its repeated falsehoods about the scope of the ongoing disaster, and its efforts to downplay the significance of the crisis have, I suspect, made BP rather villainous in the eyes of the public.

Common sense suggests politicians, especially in a competitive election year, would go out of their way to look "tough" against BP. No one wants to side with the foreign company responsible for the worst environmental disaster in American history.

No one, that is, except a surprising number of leading Republicans.

Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) public apology to BP CEO Tony Hayward this morning looks like a potential game-changer, but let's not forget that there's a much larger push among Republicans to defend BP.

GOP officials: Barton's apology will likely be the most memorable moment of the dispute, but let's not forget that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) slammed the escrow fund to help victims of the spill as "a redistribution-of-wealth fund" that could serve as a "gateway" for "more money to government." Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) blasted the White House for securing the funds for Gulf Coast businesses and families, condemning the success as a "Chicago-style political shakedown." Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) disapproves of the escrow fund, and has said he's worried it will undermine BP profits too much. At one point, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) went so far as to suggest American taxpayers should help pay for the relief effort, though he later backpedaled.

GOP candidates: In Nevada, Senate candidate Sharron Angle has said the appropriate response to the disaster is further deregulation of the oil industry. In Kentucky, Senate candidate Rand Paul said it's "un-American" for the president to criticize BP.

GOP allies: A variety of Republican media personalities -- Limbaugh, Hannity, and Oliver North -- all read from identical talking points, calling the independently-operated escrow account "a slush fund." Dick Armey has blasted the fund, as has the Heritage Foundation.

What on earth is going on here?

I suspect there are two factors playing out.

The first is that Republicans probably feel like they don't have a choice, at least in a partisan sense. President Obama and Dems are going after BP -- demanding the $20 billion, lifting the liability cap, proposing tax hikes and new safeguards -- which means Republicans are necessarily inclined to move in the other direction. After all, whatever Democrats are for, Republicans are against, regardless or merit or circumstances.

As Kevin Drum noted, "Keep up the BP-bashing a little bit longer and eventually, just out of reflex, Fox News and the Republican Party will be calling for Obama to make payments to them."

The second is that BP is a giant, private oil company, and when it's under fire, the Republicans' knee-jerk response is to launch a defense. Even if BP is to blame -- even if BP is criminally responsible -- Republicans want to blame government, bureaucrats, and environmentalists. Holding a giant corporation accountable just makes the GOP uncomfortable.

In an election context, this has the potential to be incredibly toxic. Barton's public apology to BP will be part of about a zillion campaign ads over the next several months, and Republicans have made a huge strategic error positioning themselves as the Party of BP.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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Comments

What fun...

Posted by: stevio on June 17, 2010 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

Paging Frank Luntz, paging Frank Luntz, clean-up in aisle eleven.

Posted by: Oh my on June 17, 2010 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

I think that they really don't see outside their bubble. They think that the entirety of the population flies into a spittle flecked rage at the sight of Obama regardless of the provocation - when it is really only 30% of the country that feels that way. I think this time they are wrong and it will come back to haunt them.

Posted by: jomo on June 17, 2010 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Barton's apology will likely be the most memorable moment of the dispute, but let's not forget that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) slammed the escrow fund to help victims of the spill as "a redistribution-of-wealth fund" that could serve as a "gateway" for "more money to government."Barton's apology will likely be the most memorable moment of the dispute, but let's not forget that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) slammed the escrow fund to help victims of the spill as "a redistribution-of-wealth fund" that could serve as a "gateway" for "more money to government."

Bachmann is really losing her touch if that's the best she can do.

Posted by: cwolf on June 17, 2010 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

"What on earth is going on here?"

What has always gone on "here" Feudalism is freedom don't you know.

Posted by: DonkeyKong on June 17, 2010 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

Those maroons are making Stupak look good.
How screwed up is that?

Posted by: cwolf on June 17, 2010 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

"What on earth is going on here?"

Conservatism=treason.

Treason to humanity, treason to Earth.

What else could describe it?

Posted by: cld on June 17, 2010 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

And yet there is still a good chance Republicans will take control of the House in November and pick up 4-7 seats in the Senate.

Republicans did everything they could to block and water down Wall Street reform (and they succeeded in the Watering down part). They are now taking BP's side in the ongoing Gulf disaster.

But big swaths of the public think Republicans do more for 'the little guy' and that restricting business is bad.

And with all the evidence of Republicans complete shilling for big buisness Democrats are unable to capitalize.

Posted by: thorin-1 on June 17, 2010 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans have made a huge strategic error positioning themselves as the Party of BP.

A huge strategic error for whom? This is just more pandering to their lunatic right-wing base, which creates and lives in its own reality: the reality of Bimbo, Beck and Bachmann. I'm sure they think they're feeding red meat to the lions of conservatism since their unchallengeable monstrous certainty is self-reinforcing: they're right because they say so.

One can only hope there are still enough grown-ups left in this country who live in a rational reality, and reject the fascist propaganda of these knee-jerk reactionaries.

Posted by: rrrk1 on June 17, 2010 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, it's called standing by your principles and 'having your back' and 'taking your case directly to the public'.

You may not like their principles mind you. LOL.

But they do stand on them and don't run away from their positions when a vote comes up or disaster/bad press comes there way.

This is a foreign concept to Washington Democrats who run away at the first sign of a poll or a Republican who challenges them. Scared of their own shadows, they are.

I'm sure this episode must prove to you yet again that Republicans are stupid. And you can ridicule them all you want, but it's amazing what happens when an entire caucus gets voted in for a reason and stands firm on their principles....even when they "lose" (aka 2008 presidential election) they still win (over 100 Obama appointees still awaiting Senate confirmation).

You should track all these hardcases and see how many get reelected. My bet: "all of them".

Posted by: Observer on June 17, 2010 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

No surprise here - the GOP is trying to wrest control over the corporate narrative, and take a positive and spin it into a negative. An intense negative. They claim that not only is the President weak and ineffective in dealing with the oil spill ... and not only is he failing to protect the American people ... but that he is really being opportunistic and fascist and evil and corrupt when it looks like he is being effective!

Remember - in the GOP's framing, everything Obama does is BAD! Even when it appears to be GOOD!

It is what the GOP does. They spin, they attack, and they create myths and narratives, and keep people angry and distracted with an endless parade of events and controversies and enemies (all of which are BAD, BAD, SCARY, DANGEROUS, and MORE BAD). That is ALL that they do. Well, that, and using their still-potent position as the minority party in Congress to troll for campaign dollars so that they can try to wrest power from the Democrats this coming November. Then they can get back to wielding power ... and using those same techniques to distract the public and evade accountability.

Posted by: Bokonon on June 17, 2010 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Now that the SCOTUS has said corporations can empty their coffers into the campaigns of Republicans, there is a stampede to be first in line. . .

Posted by: DAY on June 17, 2010 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

You really can visualize the ad campaign on this: A continuing video montage showing the utter devastation of the spill; oil-soaked beaches, dead animals, empty hotels and restaurants, fishing boats sitting idle or being repossessed, etc., with pictures and voice-overs of various republicans defending BP. At the end a voice then says "if you believe the American taxpayers should bail out BP, then vote republican, if not vote democratic". It would be politically devastating to the GOP. Unfortunately, I don't think any of the democratic organizations (save Move-on) has the sense or foresight to do it.

Posted by: earthworx on June 17, 2010 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK
thorin-1 on June 17, 2010 at 1:47 PM

And yet there is still a good chance Republicans will take control of the House in November and pick up 4-7 seats in the Senate.

That would be true if you neglected the growing tendency for Rs to self destruct late in the game.
The clearest example of this of course is the collosal blunder of picking Palin to run for VP.

The Ds used to do this a lot, but the baton has been passed. With R meltdowns in KY & NV and improving prospects elsewhere the D senate caucus seems to be heading toward ~58.

Of course, the oil tsunami is a wild card so, no heavy betting here.

Posted by: cwolf on June 17, 2010 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't seen much in the way of polling on this, but I'd hazard a guess that BP isn't especially popular with Americans right now.

Um, if you're looki ng for confirmation of that hunch, this poll is about as definitive as it gets.

Posted by: Steve M. on June 17, 2010 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

I like the part where commenter "Observer" states that defending corporate interests, even foreign corporate interests, over the interests of the American people, economy, and environment is a "Republican principle."

Posted by: Perspecticus on June 17, 2010 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Joe is my Rep. I just called his office to thank him for his remarks. I don't want him to apologize for his remarks. I want him to defend his remarks publicly and proudly. The gift that keeps on giving!

Posted by: Patrick on June 17, 2010 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

"Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas)"

Rep. Joe Barton (R-BP)

Fixed.

Posted by: islandgeek on June 17, 2010 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

"The second is that BP is a giant, private oil company"

NO IT'S NOT. It is a publicy-traded company. BP and all other publicly-traded companies owe to their shareholders to operate in a manner that maximizes shareholder return. What gets lost (continually) is that they should operate in a manner that minimizes fines, penalties, and and minimize risk to avoid charges for gross negligence that cost $$.

Posted by: sue on June 17, 2010 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Hmm, I've seen these little victory dances before, yet in the end the Mighty Wurlitzer always manages to sell whatever the Repukes are peddling, no matter how revolting, to large numbers of clueless voters. Don't bet against it happening yet again.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on June 17, 2010 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

So, how does this little episode hurt Joe Barton?

Does it hurt Joe Barton? Is his district one where the people will be of the "what the fuck is he smoking?" mindset or is he in a district where the people will be in the "fuck yeah, give 'em hell Joe" mindset?

Depending on what kind of district you're in, this might not be a problem at all. Who knows - sucking up to BP might be good for his campaign coffers. Not just from BP, but from Exxon and other oil companies looking for a toady on Capitol Hill who has their back even in a mess like this one.

Posted by: NonyNony on June 17, 2010 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

You are either sickened by the oil spill or your are BPGOP.

The battle lines are drawn.

Democrats: For the People By the People

BPGOP: A Government For the Corporate Interests So Help Us God.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on June 17, 2010 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

What Michelle Bachmann understands is that the $20 billion escrow account is how Obama will pay for his post-census concentration camps.

Posted by: chrenson on June 17, 2010 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

One must wonder whether Rand Paul knows what the "B" in "BP" stands for.

Posted by: Brock on June 17, 2010 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

We need an artist to do a GOP + BP logo mashup.

Posted by: Dave on June 17, 2010 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

What on earth is going on? The GOP have lost their frakking minds.

Posted by: Nathan on June 17, 2010 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

GO[B]P.™

Posted by: chrenson on June 17, 2010 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

This might be a great time to call your GOP Congressman or Senator or GOP Congressional candidate and ask them if they, too, are a member in good standing with the Party of BP.

Or, you can always save that question for the next time a GOP incumbent or candidate has a town hall meeting or appears in a community debate.

Posted by: MrsD on June 17, 2010 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

What gets lost (continually) is that they should operate in a manner that minimizes fines, penalties, and minimize risk to avoid charges for gross negligence that cost $$.

They will only do this if the penalties (x the chance they will actually be imposed and not blocked in court) are more than the profit to be made by incurring the fines. From what I understand, the Chicago business schools actually teach this -- that laws should be treated as a cost of doing business like any other, and if the cost of breaking the law is less than the cost of complying with it, a company should break the law and pay the penalty.

Oil production is so massively profitable that it is unlikely Congress will ever legislate penalties large enough to deter risky behavior, though it's possible that civil lawsuits will. Perhaps the most effective approach would be to revoke drilling rights and ban bidding on new ones for any company shown to be negligent, but I'm not optimistic that would ever be successfully enforced, either.

Posted by: Redshift on June 17, 2010 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

What is lost in all of this is that this is great news for the Republicans and terrible news for the Democrats.

Posted by: Perspectius on June 17, 2010 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

@ NonyNony on June 17, 2010 at 2:11 PM
So, how does this little episode hurt Joe Barton?

From Waco, TX, Methodist, won in 2008 62% - 36% ???

Unless they catch him with a live boy or a dead girl he's safe.

Posted by: cwolf on June 17, 2010 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Steve left out the third factor:

Matthews, Tood, Gregory, and Fox will ignore the Republicans and focus on how Obama is being mean and how he made Tony Hayward cry. They'll conduct hard-hitting reports on the failures of the government. They'll opine that Obama is so focused on making sure that BP coughs up big bucks so gulf coast victims can pay their bills, he is failing to make an emotional connection with the American people.

By the time they finish trashing Obama, and turn to the report about Hayward paying the mortgage on Barton's house, they'll be out of time.

Posted by: Winkandanod on June 17, 2010 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Barton's Folly beautifully typifies the hazards of letting ideology trump common sense.

It's especially hazardous when your ideology has devolved to the primitive level of "whatever my opponent does must be wrong."

Posted by: Jon on June 17, 2010 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

I know it is hard to believe for Americans who don't live in or around the "oil patch", but oil has a good name in the coastal states.

The interesting thing about the escrow account is that it builds up slowly, about 1.25Bln/quarter. So the account will still be an issue for the next two presidential elections.

Posted by: tomj on June 17, 2010 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

"What on earth is going here?"
Really, Steve? Please tell me you're being all ironic and shit?

Posted by: bikelib on June 17, 2010 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

From The Daily Beast:: Polling on BP being a problem for the GOP.

Sorry, no href...I suck at them.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/dailybeast/8566_obamaoilmessspeechpannedbutresearchsuggeststroubleforgop;_ylt=AqUaDxa2YNSFsJT1dNMoCQCs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTNocmllOTgzBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTAwNjE3L3VzX2d1bGZfb2lsX3NwaWxsBGNjb2RlA21vc3Rwb3B1bGFyBGNwb3MDMQRwb3MDNwRwdANob21lX2Nva2UEc2VjA3luX3RvcF9zdG9yeQRzbGsDdGhlZ29wc2JwcHJv

Posted by: MsJoanne on June 17, 2010 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

@cwolf

From Waco, TX, Methodist, won in 2008 62% - 36% ???

Unless they catch him with a live boy or a dead girl he's safe.

See, that's what I thought.

Barton doesn't give a rat's ass how this sounds to anyone else. He's in a safe district and he's just put a sign up to BP (and every other oil company out there). The sign reads "will fight for cash." You can bet that Joe Barton will be enjoying that sweet, sweet sound of oil money pouring into his campaign warchest in the next few months from this little bit of theater.

And he won't suffer a bit for it. Either because his constituents approve of his ownership by oil companies or because they just don't care. This may blow back a bit onto the GOP (especially if more and more of them take the bait and make stupid statements like this - it can become a campaign theme to tie around the entire party), but if it's just a few loose nuts out there in supremely safe districts, none of them have anything to lose and everything to gain by posturing themselves to be in BP's corner.

Posted by: NonyNony on June 17, 2010 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

@observer

Hehehe. You said principles.

Joe Barton has about 1.4 million principles from the oil companies he's defending.

Posted by: Former Dan on June 17, 2010 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

Whether the apology hurts Barton politically is irrelevant. The important thing is for the Dems to make Barton, Bachmann, et al the poster children for the GOP on this issue and make it stick. If the Dems can't eviscerate them on this issue, they are hopelessly incompetent.

The flip side is (i) executing on disbursing funds from the escrow so that people in need get immediate relief and (ii) ramping up the clean-up effort, particularly by hiring the unemployed and paying them with BP dollars. You gotta make some lemonade here.

Posted by: bdop4 on June 17, 2010 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

Rep Engel (D-Hair club 4 men) to Lord Tony, "You're insulting our intelligence."

Insulting your "intelligence" would be an upgrade from what Lord Tony really thinks about you, Congressman Engel.

Posted by: cwolf on June 17, 2010 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

If Republicans make large inroads in November, especially that theocratic kook Angle and other teabagging nutballs just like her, then I will be convinced that many in this great nation are unfortunately mentally retarded. Yes, I meant to use that phrase.

Posted by: Leigh on June 17, 2010 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

This may be their "Let them eat cake" moment.

Posted by: Elizabeth on June 17, 2010 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

And Rahm Emanuel lived rent-free in an apartment furnished by a BP lobbyist.

Posted by: higgins1990 on June 18, 2010 at 2:32 AM | PERMALINK

The Republicans just blew the midterm elections. Barton's comments will be the turning point. Look for Democrats to actually make GAINS in November as a result, and reward Obama with filibuster-proof and veto-proof majorities.

Posted by: Keith on June 18, 2010 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

"And Rahm Emanuel lived rent-free in an apartment furnished by a BP lobbyist"

And Barry got a campaign contribution from BP. Maybe that money could be used to help fix stuff up!

Posted by: Greasy on June 18, 2010 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

"BPGOP: A Government For the Corporate Interests So Help Us God."
---
Yeah, GSBHO has been such a success. If your initials are GS...

Posted by: Soldman Gachs on June 18, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Excuse me, I've never been on this blog before but how do you ignore the fact that Obama was the recipient of the largest BP campaign donation in history and that most people know this? I went to a graduation party last night and would say that the party was 80 - 90% lifelong Democrats and I heard that line repeated all night. Are you guys really this blind? Because it seems to me that you're not doing any good not facing up to reality. If you admitted it, you could at least deal with it. Sheesh. At this rate, you might as well hand the elections off to the Republicans.

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