The fig leaf


Nobody should be fooled by Joe Barton's staged apology yesterday afternoon. Granted, the Texas Republican congressman disavowed his morning lament about how the Obama White House had engineered "a $20-billion shakedown" of poor old BP. And, granted, he said he wished to "retract" his morning statement that had reeked of sympathy for BP without offering a single syllable of sympathy for the people whose lives have been devastated by BP's behavior.

But let's not forget that what Barton said on national TV in the morning - "I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20-billion shakedown" - is stark evidence of what he really believes. And it's significant that Barton's heart bleeds for BP, because if the Republicans do capture the House in the November elections (a distinct possibility), he's the guy who will chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The House Republican leaders were smart enough yesterday to recognize that Barton's slavish licking of the BP CEO's boots was politically embarrassing and that it reinforced the caricature of a Republican party in cahoots with Big Oil (especially given the fact that Barton's top financial benefactors since 1990 have been the oil and utility industries). Hence the pressure they put on Barton to apologize; he remains first in line to take over that committee only because he agreed to eat crow.

Nevertheless, the ritual apology tour was a tad bumpy. At first Barton merely voiced regret for how his morning remarks may have been "misconstrued." Only later he did he voice his alleged desire to "retract" everything he had said (including his comment about how "I do not want to live in a country" where an erring corporation can be forced to put up the money to make things right).

But here's the bottom line: The apology is just a fig leaf - not just for Barton, but for a large segment of the Capitol Hill GOP.

What Barton said to Tony Hayward at the outset of the energy committee hearing yesterday - and, more importantly, what the 100-member House Republican Study Committee said in a statement late Wednesday afternoon - is a testament to what GOP conservatives genuinely believe. What they believe is that any attempt to hold this corporation (or, as Barton put it, any corporation) fully accountable for damage wrought on regular people is nothing more than a shakedown...especially if Barack Obama deems it necessary.

Indeed, while the House GOP leaders came down hard on Barton yesterday, it's noteworthy that they have said squat about the Wednesday statement issued by the RSC, on behalf of its 100 House conservative members. Their take on the BP escrow fund is virtually identical to Barton's take - and they said it first. Here's a reminder of what the House conservatives crafted in their Wednesday email: "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."

Why haven't the House GOP leaders demanded that the 100 conservatives apologize for that email? Because it's only an email, whereas Joe Barton was caught committing candor on camera. But the mentality is the same, and it can't be masked by a fig leaf. It's an intrinsic ingredient in the Republican brand, and the leaders' biggest regret yesterday is that it was publicly exposed at the worst possible time.

The sole proprietor of this blog is on the road for the month of June. Virtually all June posts will be briefer than the norm, except on the rare weekdays when posts won't show up at all. Apologies in advance for this disturbance in the force. The standard verbosity will return on Monday, June 28.