Published June 21, 2010
If Democrats avoid the huge losses in November that many veteran political observers are anticipating, they should make Congressman Joe Barton, R-Texas, and British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward honorary members of the Democratic Party. After last week, the results of the congressional and statewide races around the country are no longer a foregone conclusion.
First, there was Barton’s public apology — on live television, no less — to BP’s chief for what he branded “a shakedown scheme” by President Obama. The president got the giant oil company to agree to place $20 billion in an escrow account to pay for the economic and environmental damage it has caused in the Gulf of Mexico. For more than two months, millions of gallons of oil have spewed into the Gulf from a crippled deepwater well. The devastation is widespread — and BP is clearly at fault.
Barton’s apology came during a congressional hearing on the largest oil spill in the history of the country; Hayward was on the hot seat. The Texas representative’s bow to BP turned the national spotlight on the Republican Party’s close ties to Big Oil. Democrats wasted little time in making political hay with it, and Republicans on Capitol Hill were quick to repudiate their colleague. He later apologized for the apology. But the damage has been done.
Barton’s criticism of the $20 billion pledge focused attention on the fact that more than 114 members of the Republican Study Group in Congress had also blasted the president’s posture with regard to BP. The group said on its website, ““Chicago-style Political Shakedown: 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.”
With daily images of the oil spreading throughout the Gulf region, the American people have lost patience with BP. The $20 billion is seen as a down payment — despite what the Republicans might say.
Democrats have an issue they can carry into the November general election — if they play it right. It lends itself to some creative slogans, such as, “Republicans to the victims of the oil spill, ‘Don’t be greedy.’” Or, “Republicans to the Gulf region, ‘Drop dead.’”
Unfair? No more so than the GOP blaming Obama for the well not being capped or for the oil polluting the pristine beaches of Florida, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.