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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

GOP Follows Barton’s Bow to British Petroleum

Those who think that TX Rep. Joe Barton’s views on the British Petroleum oil spill are outside the mainstream of the Republican Party should read Eugene Robinson’s WaPo column on the topic. Says Robinson:

The Texas congressman’s lavish sympathy for BP — which he sees not as perpetrator of a preventable disaster but as victim of a White House “shakedown” — is actually what passes for mainstream opinion among conservative Republicans today…Barton was only echoing a statement that Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) had issued a day earlier in the name of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of House conservatives whose Web site claims 115 members. The statement groused that there is “no legal authority for the president to compel a private company to set up or contribute to an escrow account” and accused the Obama administration of “Chicago-style shakedown politics.”
…Just to review: A group constituting roughly two-thirds of all Republicans in the House takes the position that President Obama was wrong to demand that BP set aside money to guarantee that those whose livelihoods are being ruined by the oil spill will be compensated. In other words, it’s more important to kneel at the altar of radical conservative ideology than to feel any sense of compassion for one’s fellow Americans. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how today’s GOP rolls.

Some Republican leaders smelled the impending danger in putting the profit priorities of a British corporation above the legitimate concerns of working Americans, and tried to back-pedal away from the “shakedown” rhetoric. But others could not restrain their proclivity to grovel before their corporate contributors. As Robinson notes,

While the party leadership has managed to squelch members of Congress who might have been tempted to weigh in on Barton’s side, the conservative amen chorus can’t help itself. Rush Limbaugh called the agreement on the $20 billion escrow fund “unconstitutional” and accused the administration of acting like “a branch of organized crime.” Newt Gingrich said the White House was “extorting money from a company.” Stuart Varney of Fox News claimed — falsely — that Obama had moved to “seize a private company’s assets” and complained that the action was “Hugo Chavez-like.” Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol said that “I have no sympathy for BP,” but then proceeded to be sympathetic, offering that “it’s not helpful for the country, for the economy as a whole, for the president to bully different companies and different industries.” I’d advise these people to get a grip, but they’re just saying what they believe. It just happens that what they believe is absurd.

As TDS Co-Editor Ruy Teixeira has just explained, an overwhelming majority of the public wants BP to take responsibility for the disaster the company has caused, in stark contrast to the aforementioned Republicans. If progressives can successfully remind swing voters in the mid-terms that Republican leaders still cling to a policy of giving corporations — even abusive foreign ones — a free ride, it just might save the Democratic majority.

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