Joe Barton, GOP Back Off BP Apology — But Rightbloggers Insist: Defeat or Death!


You’ve heard that old fable — favored by Orson Welles, among others — about a frog whom a scorpion asks for a ride across a stream.

The frog reasons that the scorpion won’t sting him while they’re both in the water, because then they would both drown. So he consents. But the scorpion stings him anyway, explaining as they both sink, “I can’t help it. It’s my character.”

That pretty much tells the story of rightbloggers and the Joe Barton BP debacle.

When the Texas Congressman apologized to BP for President Obama’s unseemly acceptance of a $20 billion settlement with the oil company, even his own party ran screaming from his remarks.

But rightbloggers stayed true to their character: If getting over the Barton PR debacle involved cutting Obama some slack, they just couldn’t do it. They’d rather drown.

The Gulf oil spill has been exciting to rightbloggers. No, not because they give a shit about the environment — come on! These are conservatives we’re talking about! — but because it gave them a chance to pull a double-Katrina on President Obama, thereby avenging the Bush New Orleans debacle.

This strategy showed some signs of traction until Barton spoiled it Thursday by publicly apologizing to BP. His mouth-fart stank the joint up so bad that even his fellow Republicans recoiled from it.

But rightbloggers, bless them, stuck with the story that the BP deal was a “shakedown,” They could hardly do otherwise. He was singing from a hymnal they’d already written.

Since before Obama became President, one of the many stops on the rightbloggers’ Mighty Wurlitzer has been the notion that, being from Chicago (setting for The Untouchables and other gangster films), Obama is himself a gangster.

Google, at this writing, returns 86,700 results for “Obama” and “Chicago Way,” nearly all of them hitting this theme (e.g., “Obama’s ‘Chicago Way’ plunders the private sector”).

Obama has been accused of performing all manner of Chicago-style crimes, including shakedowns — sometimes in cartoons, and sometimes in their literary equivalents.

“Obama using classic Chicago shakedown to rescue his south side buddies at Shorebank/Chicago by extorting Goldman Sachs,” declared a CBS MarketWatch discussion. “The Windy City Olympic Shakedown,” Michelle Malkin called Obama’s attempt to get Chicago the 2016 Olympics. A Hot Air story about Obama and ACORN was called “Anatomy of a Shakedown.” Etc.

So when it was reported that Obama had cut a deal with the leaky oil company — that is, he had succeeded at something — Plan B went into full effect.

“As I write this Monday night,” said former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein in the American Spectator last week, “there are rumors around that BP will agree to President Barack Obama’s demand that the oil giant ‘voluntarily’ put about $30 billion into a fund to be administered by the government to compensate victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.” Stein referred to the President as a “Caudillo” and a “Duce,” and said “Mr. Obama’s demand was in the nature of a threat… Is there anyone in Congress to stop him?”

And the moment the BP deal was announced, GOP Representative Tom Price of the Republican Study Committee issued a statement calling it a “Chicago-Style Shakedown.”

Now, this was just a press release and a publication in the rightwing equivalent of a trade journal — a tonic for the troops, not a talking point. The GOP probably expected its major players to keep this one on the down-low, exciting true believers without alienating outsiders. After all, this was an oil company they were talking about — and surely even the true believers amongst them understood that the American people were not in love with oil companies.

But at the Congressional hearings on Thursday, for whatever reason, Joe Barton, an oil industry puppet from Texas, rose to Ben Stein’s challenge. He echoed the “shakedown” line and apologized for it on behalf of a stupefied America to the despised oil company.

Maybe he’d just had a lousy morning. Maybe he’d been programmed badly, and had short-circuited. Whatever the cause, there was no hiding it — especially with the GOP now loaded with like-minded nuts. “Some Republicans consider BP deal a US ‘shakedown,’” announced Reuters, as other GOP fringies such as Michele Bachmann jumped to stand with Barton.

Rightbloggers were go! The American Spectator highlighted the Obama-gangster theme, claiming Obama “has no authority” to enter into such a deal with BP — just as he had no authority “to cram down Chrysler and GM bond holders for the benefit of the UAW. Law is irrelevant, probably not even considered as an afterthought, by this president.”

It’s a wonder they didn’t whistle down a cop — but wait, Obama may have bought them off too! Chicago rulez!

“To Obama & Co the BP disaster was music to their ears,” said Renew America, “and it is rumored that Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is searching for a songwriter to put music to the title ‘Never let a serious crisis go to waste.'”

This Rahm Emanuel quote is a favorite of rightbloggers who seem to think it means something more sinister than ordinary politics. Texas GOP Vote, for example, big backers of Barton, strongly pushed the same angle (“It is a policy of this administration to ‘never let a crisis go to waste,’ and the Obama ‘Oil Spill’ speech was a classic Obama performance in which he went from let’s plug that hole to let’s save the planet.” The bastard!). So did the Senate Republican Committee, who put out a video connecting Emanuel’s quote not only to the BP deal, but also to universal health care and other abuses of power.

Bliss it was to be alive then! But the Republican establishment, perhaps dazed by the negative reaction, forced Barton to back off his comments.

You’d think rightbloggers, being on the internet and all, would have quickly figured out that this argument wasn’t catching fire, and retrenched to one of their other hobby-horses — Obama’s hatred of white people, perhaps, or the socialism of Teddy Roosevelt.

But you’d be wrong! Some rightbloggers did admit that Barton’s wording had been perhaps a trifle unfortunate. But by and large, they remained committed to the Lost Cause.

National Review‘s David Foster, for example, admitted that Barton had chosen a “stupid way” to tell the truth, and nervously predicted his remarks would be news “tonight and tomorrow (and hopefully just tonight and tomorrow),” but bravely stated that “I agree in part with Rep. Barton that the establishment of the escrow fund… is, if not illegal, than at least extra-legal, and another example of Democrats’ selective disdain for the rule of law…”

Others went the humanitarian route — yeah, we know, but relax: They weren’t talking about Americans. TheBlogProf, one of the movement’s intellectuals (stop laughing), picked up on a UK Daily Mail story suggesting that the resulting drop in BP dividends would affect some British pension funds. Fuck the residents of the coast of Louisiana — people from where Maggie Thatcher was born might get smaller checks!

TheBlogProf, being an intellectual, appealed to his readers’ sensitive sides. “Hey – how you guys doing?” he wrote, “Nice business you git there. Would be a shame if something happened to it… Not that I’m going to shed any tears for those addicted to dinosaur pension funds, but I’m sure the pensioners will. They should know by now, a year and a half into the regime, that it is, after all, the Chicago way…” (We told you: Stop laughing! TheBlogProf is an associate professor of engineering, and “I am also a Christian, a husband, a father of six and a competitive natural bodybuilder.”)

But you know how we like to tease: perhaps these rightbloggers are — despite their popularity in the internet gibberish pits — only fringe figures. Let’s look in, then, on one of the more mainstream rightbloggers, a CNN commentator as well as a longtme Republican propagandist, Erick Erickson:

“Had British Petroleum affiliated with Al Qaeda and tried to blow up an airplane, it would have gotten due process rights, a court appointed lawyer, and miranda warning while avoiding Henry Waxman… The only thing separating [the Congressional hearings] from a Soviet show trial is Tony Hayward, the CEO of British Petroleum walked out without any lead in him….”

In the immortal words of Curly from the Three Stooges: Ngggnnyahh.

And what of poor Joe Barton himself? Alas, he found himself on the receiving end of a mass mood-swing.

Weasel Zippers, which had praised him as “Joe Barton (R-ighteous),” snarled after the walkback, “Barton turned from Righteous to Weenie after Boehner & Cantor had a word with him.”

“The Democrats are corrupt and any objective observation of their actions proves it,” said Brutally Honest, but “the Republicans are pansies.” Also: “Think back in history to evils perpetrated by the likes of the Nazis. Even they had their day in court…” (Sorry, but our style sheet now stipulates that we can’t get through one of these without a Rightblogger Reference to Hitler. Chicago Rulez!)

“The Jacobins erupted,” said Lew Rockwell, “and so Barton quickly crawled on his belly like a reptile.”

Yes, he actually called the Republican establishment “Jacobins.” The GOP had better watch it, lest true patriots abandon them for independent candidates chosen by the Tea Party! Anybody remember them?

Well, you might imagine, after a few days things would get back to sanity, right?

Sanity? we would rejoin. Back?

This weekend frequent conservative talk-show guest and respectable-face-of Reihan Salam wept at the Daily Beast that BP had gotten a raw deal:

“Some have characterized this as a shrewd decision on the part of BP CEO Tony Hayward to contain the damage to BP’s reputation. Yet BP has received no assurances on future legal liability and it remains, quite appropriately, on the hook for environmental damages… On closer inspection, this doesn’t look like much of a negotiation.”

Not much of a negotiation for BP, one would think; readers may be forgiven for thinking Salam was upset that in a deal between the United States and an oil company, the oil company had failed to come out on top. Salam even compared the deal to the treaties “the federal government ‘negotiated’ with sovereign Indian nations” — as if the oil spill were actually the BP executives’ own Trail of Tears — and the United States to “the abuser who starts to lay in to her or his victim.”

“Somewhere,” added Salam, consulting his playbook, “Rahm Emanuel is smiling.”

And so on, and so on, and so on. Rightbloggers remain stuck in a defensive crouch on this issue. We expect they’ll abandon it sometime, but for now they can’t. Why not? Maybe it’s the combination of oil and Obama — they love the former and hate the latter so much that they can’t accept that most of their fellow citizens have it, at least for the moment, the other way around.

It brings to mind another quotation out of Orson Welles — a line by Boss Gettys in Citizen Kane: “If it was anybody else, I’d say what’s gonna happen to you would be a lesson to you. Only you’re gonna need more than one lesson — and you’re gonna get more than one lesson.”