Another BP safety valve blew last week, and this time Republicans fought among themselves over whether the resulting gusher should be shut down immediately or allowed to flow until the Grand Old Party is turned into a dead zone. Yesterday, almost buried under the cover of Gen. McChrystal’s defenestration, they announced they were going with the latter.
We’re referring, of course, to Rep. Joe Barton’s gushing apology to BP CEO Tony Hayward for Obama victimizing the poor little oil giant by pressing it to create a $20 billion compensation fund for the real victims of BP’s disaster. This sort of Republican Crude—naked, knee-jerk support for corporate profits no matter what—has been poisoning democracy long before Joe Barton explicitly spelled it out. And the party has always tried to soft-pedal it as the American way, with the aid, naturally, of the corporate media.
But what really sets this episode apart is that it’s a relatively rare instance in which reason and unthinking emotion are on the same side. In politics today, they’re usually in conflict, with “What’s the Matter with Kansas” liberals like me yelling “Don’t they seeee? They’re only screwing themselves.” But this time the raw populist anger at BP (and at anyone who’d actually apologize to it) is allied with the simple logic that says if you cheat, lie, and destroy, you must pay for it.
Bill O’Reilly is one of the few media figures on the right who knows enough to stick with that good ol’ mob-inflected outrage even when it’s shared by libs. We need a Chicago-style shakedown, he told Michele Bachmann, who knee-jerked that Obama was “extorting” BP for the $20 bill. “Come on!” roared Bill. “I'd go in there with a machine gun if I were president and say, hey, you put the money in here or you're not getting out of the room. So, I mean, I'm okay with it.”
That is one confused congresswoman! I’m all for an escrow fund, but I’m not. Obama should pressure BP, but he shouldn’t. Bachmann was trying her best to agree with O’Reilly—she assumes, after all, that he’s with her in yet another us-against-them battle—but she’s too ideologically brittle to even get his point. Their confrontation exemplifies a growing split among conservatives. Not just between fringers and establishment Repubs, but between those who believe extremist statements are the only way to demonstrate they are willing to “walk the walk”—“No-RINO-me” types--and those who realize that that walk leads off a plank.
At heart, it’s a psychological difference. You can see it on Bachmann’s face—she’s sweating severe cognitive dissonance there, neither nimble enough nor knowledgeable enough to distinguish between a corporate-inspired faux populism and an authentic populist rage over the destruction of an invaluable national resource. This is a disaster that happened on Obama’s watch, and by God she wants to stick it to him—after all, last week began with people saying he was like a mayor who would get canned for failing to clean the streets after a snowstorm. The only way to keep that narrative going after he extracted money from the corporation responsible for the disaster is to walk out as far as she can on the plank and scream--hopefully, loud enough that she won’t hear herself hit the water.
And there are a lot of Republicans screaming like that right now. It ain’t good for the Tea Party, for one thing, as Joshua Green wrote for The Atlantic earlier this month in “How the Oil Spill is Killing the Tea Party.” Rahm Emanuel famously said that Barton committed no gaffe, he merely laid out the GOP philosophy. And it’s Barton’s clear statement of that philosophy in the context of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history that exposes so many inconvenient truths:
· Most important, that the whole Republican party has a sustainability problem. The right won’t ever admit it, but the environmentalist argument against unregulated industry is now proven. And with that proof comes a growing conviction that every part of the GOP agenda is as unsustainable as Drill, Baby, Baby: Deregulated capitalism causes devastating crashes, the endless wars can’t be won or maintained, the unregulated health insurance system is bankrupting us, and on and on. Papering over financial, social, and environmental problems only lets them to grow into huge national existential threats.
· The Tea Party’s populism is hollow. Rand Paul, Bachmann, Beck, et al. have come out siding with a corporation that’s executed an eco-attack on America—and a corporation, moreover, that’s owned by the same furriners that the original Boston Tea Partiers revolted against.
· The old anti-government/smaller government line no longer works: We need the government to do enormous things now more than ever, and the right has been the first to call Obama inept for not doing more. (The left has been second.)
· The conveniently late Tea Party/GOP hysteria over the deficit makes no practical sense here. Republicans are attacking Obama for getting money out of BP and not putting the nation further into deficit. If the corporation didn’t set aside money to pay those they injured, where was it going to come from—the sale of magic beans?
· For rightwing Christians (many of them Tea Partiers) who see the coming apocalypse in the oil spill—well, they are just deeply confused. As Lisa Miller points out in Newsweek, this may be the first time they can’t link End Times to the sins of abortionists, homosexuals, and liberal behavior in general. Logic and emotion dictate that they link the world’s end to Republican-backed corporate greed—but of course, they can’t go there.
Hence, the screaming. It’s beginning to sound like lobsters in a pot.