Texas congressman says what he really thinks of BP

Joe Barton is one of those guys who occasionally finds himself in the news because he said something stupid.

He outdid himself last week. The congressman from Texas’ 6th District apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward for the “shakedown” the poor oil company got from the White House. Democrats who may have been looking for an issue in the upcoming had it, in spades.

Barton, a Republican and ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he was sorry to the company that is responsible for the biggest environmental disaster since ... well, since I don’t know when. Maybe since the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs slammed into the Earth. Maybe not even that. We seem to have gotten along OK without the dinosaurs.

All those people who live in the Gulf states have an uncertain future in front of them, one that is covered in oily slime. They’re looking at a decimated fishing industry, cancelled reservations from the hordes of vacationers who used to come every year to the spectacular Gulf of Mexico beaches, and yet more unemployment at a time when there are already too many people with too much time and too little money on their hands.

For that, they can thank BP. One can agree or disagree with the president’s performance in the Gulf oil spill, but few — other than Barton — would argue BP shouldn’t have to pay for the damage it has caused.

That’s what Barton’s apology was all about. He said he was sorry Obama had cajoled BP into putting $20 billion into a fund to pay for all the economic damage, heartache and sorrow it has caused the Gulf states.

These people can’t buy a break. Barton’s stupid comments came a few days after BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg called the victims of his company’s irresponsibility “the small people.” Maybe that comment was simply lost in translation and Svanberg really was sincere when he said it. But it didn’t play well in the Deep South.

Barton’s comments, though, were not subject to interpretation. They were as clear as the water in the Gulf of Mexico until a couple of months ago.

“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 with the attorney general of the United States, who is legitimately conducting a criminal investigation and has every right to do so to protect the interests of the American people, participating in what amounts to a $20-billion slush fund. It is unprecedented in our nation’s history,” Barton said.

He later apologized, but told those who suggested he should lose his committee post they could pound oil-soaked sand from the beaches of the Gulf.

Maybe we should find Barton’s intemperate remarks refreshing. He was, after all, telling us exactly how he feels about the biggest issue facing the country at the moment. Isn’t getting politicians to talk straight something we all want — and something politicians are hard-wired to avoid?

What we don’t want is the pabulum we typically get from elected officials. Like this, Barton’s official position on the environment: “I strongly support the underlying goals of our nation’s environmental laws like the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and those that protect our National Parks and wildlife habitats.”

Such courage.

Sometimes, though, Barton forgets what it says on his website and tells us what he really thinks. As he did last week.

One would think that would be the end of his political career. It won’t be. Barton will probably get away with his latest misstep. He has a long history of getting away with what most of us who do honest work for a living would consider unethical behavior.  He’s been at the epicenter of more than one political scandal, and has survived every time. There’s no reason to think he won’t survive this one.

Maybe Barton isn’t the typical Washington political insider, and his behavior really doesn’t tell us much about the way Washington works. And maybe pigs will fly.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). com.


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