Sunday, June 20, 2010

Joe Barton: In His Defense

The horrific human and environmental tragedy now entering its third month in the Gulf of Mexico is reminiscent of a world at war: no matter how unusual or frightening or surreal the situation, people get used to it as a condition of daily life.

Like people do who have a chronic illness or who are in poverty or in prison, we adapt. Human beings have an amazing capacity to adapt. As a species, that is both our strength and our weakness.

It’s our strength because, being adaptable, we’re not easily defeated. Individuals can be broken, physically and psychologically, but communities tend to be tough and resilient. The people of the Gulf Coast endured the ravages of Katrina and were well on the way to recovery when this new catastrophe began. We admire their courage and fortitude, as some of the toughest and most defiant among them are paraded every evening in human interest segments on the national news.

But being adaptable is also our weakness because, once we get over the initial shock of a major tragedy, we tend to get used to it as just part of life. Our sense of outrage tends to fade as we become immersed in the reality of the situation and spend part of each day thinking about the unthinkable. We get the idea that we can tolerate this because we are tolerating it, and we may forget our moral obligation to do everything we can to ensure that it can never happen again.

Thus could a na├»ve but fundamentally honest man like Joe Barton, forgetting about dying pelicans and idle fishermen, slip and say something outrageously incorrect from a political point of view. While many segments of the American public were demanding the scalp of BP’s politically inept CEO Tony Hayward, Barton had the audacity to apologize to him for tough treatment he and his company were allegedly receiving on Capitol Hill.

The Republican establishment, in the person of House Minority Leader John Boehner, immediately trounced on Barton and forced him to apologize for his apology—which he did with all the enthusiasm of a school boy being forced by the teacher to apologize to the class for being late.

The statements Barton made, according to a quick public statement released by Boehner and other GOP leaders, were “wrong.”

But they weren’t wrong. What Barton said was simply a reflection of the truth as he sees it: that big business—and, more specifically, big oil—should be exempt from liability or accountability for its actions. As a good capitalist, Barton was merely expressing an honest opinion held by many if not most of the leaders of the Republican establishment: that so long as businesses make money and a lot of it, they should be beyond the criticism or interference of mere mortals acting in behalf of mere insignificant, inconsequential, individual human beings.

Barton was factually right in stating a position that is at the crux of the philosophical divide between the two major parties in America: When there is a perceived conflict between what’s good for individual, flesh-and-blood human beings (and other living creatures) and what’s good for corporate America and the very rich, damn the individuals.

Barton’s position may be morally wrong and, for the moment, politically incorrect; however, unlike more cunning members of Congress—like Boehner, Cantor, and Pence—his comments came from the heart.

Obviously, the extraordinary devastation of the Gulf oil spill can be embarrassing to those who’ve most enjoyed the benefits of the oil companies’ financial support and contributions. Undoubtedly there are many in Congress who’d like to see America forget about this whole messy business so they and their friends in the industry can get back to business as usual.

Thanks to Joe Barton for the timely reminder that, while the pain of this man-made catastrophe is endured by individual living creatures, there are powerful forces working to protect the status quo.


Six said...

I missed the part in my Econ class you are referring to about being a, 'good capitalist'.

In reality, a good capitalist would be someone in FAVOR of market forces not government - including managing liability risk - being the driving engine behind a companies business actions. In this case, BP was operatin on GOVERNMENT owned land that it won the contract rights for as we are learning through it's very cozy relationship. The government did not HAVE to extend the rights to the land to BP, it chose BP. It did not need to ask legislators to craft laws or regulations... it only had to offer BP a contract with whatever it wanted in the contract and BP could have accepted or declined.

The reality is that BP was only willing to take the risk of operating such a platform, because it is heavily subsidized by the GOVERNMENT which included liability caps on paying damages. BP made choices it likely would not have otherwise. The government took away some of the risks and provided the land to BP so that the downside was shifted to someone other than BP while BP was allowed to enjoy all of the upside (profits).

Basically a private company used it's cozy relationship to push out it's competition, reduce it's costs through various subsidies/government protections and the result is what we have now. This is NOT capitalism. This is cronyism.

Before you go dumping on capitalism, you should at least be honest about the system we ACTUALLY have in place... said...

You know, I missed all the fuss of Joe Barton as I have been immersed in the World Cup over recent days. (Go USA!)

I think all the fuss over BP is really quite crazy. Here we have the GOPs who usually think we should let things do as they will. (Laissez-faire, remember?) No stimulus. No bailouts. But now, things are different.

I think BP was criminally negligent, however, I think all the posturing in Congress is unseemly.

Six said...

With all that I have read and seen, it appears that BP is criminally negligent as well. However, like with the financial institutions including AIG, Fannie, Freddie and others - The fury is directed at BP - but there should be members of congress (right and left) and regulators sitting right next to them.

Idna said...

Six, once again, you make some excellent points to clear up the misconceptions and faulty arguments of CJ's post.

As I heard about the $20-billion Obama grab, I actually said to my husband that it looked like a typical Chicago-style shakedown .... BEFORE Joe Barton uttered that same word.

Joe Barton was the only member of Congress who spoke the truth. I was thoroughly disgusted with the GOP for attacking him. They should have all stood behind him because this whole deep-water drilling goes back to 1995 when Bill Clinton signed the Outer Continental Shelf Deepwater Royalty Relief Act, which exempted oil wells drilled deep in the Gulf from the normal royalty payments to the government.

This was to encourage oil companies to drill, baby drill, in ridiculously deep water because of pressure from the environmental and the NIMBY lobbies. Would you say this government regulation work out well, CJ?

Now our oh-so-concerned politicians are SHOCKED ... SHOCKED that a thing like this could happen. And in Obama's world view ... this disaster is just another opportunity to nationalize a company. It's a brand new model in how to break our laws ... the SHAKEDOWN model.

The U.S. rule of law has been the reason so many foreign investors have invested in our economy. But this latest Obama antic completely goes around the rule of law. We are becoming a banana republic.

So I agree with the title of the original post, Joe Barton:In his Defense. But unlike CJ, I really do defend him and agree that it was a total shakedown and the smarmy Congressional grilling was nothing more than a hypocritical circus and political puffery.