There are many ways to distinguish between the two major political parties in the United States, but one of the more obvious ways is in how they choose to implode. Democrats, for example, tend to implode in slow motion, when their own aimless, plodding inertia turns them into lugubrious and easy targets for the right wing media, which scurries around them, draping yet another thin, disingenuous stratum of “they’re socialist grandmother killers!” over them until the whole sludgy edifice collapses from the accumulated weight, and the Democrats are crushed underneath. Republicans, on the other hand, implode like old, fat, gassy stars, when the depleted fuel of their empty ideology can’t sustain further inward pressure from their personal idiocy, and the whole mess sucks down and then spectacularly erupts into a blazing display of abject stupidity.
And then you have something like what happened yesterday, when Texas representative and ranking Republican member of the house’s energy and commerce committee Joe Barton apologized to BP for having to endure the “shakedown” of agreeing to put $20 billion in an escrow account to help pay for the damages the company inflicted on the Gulf of Mexico. Shortly thereafter Barton was forced by the Republican leadership both to apologize for his apology and to retract it, which he did, in exactly the same manner a 10-year-old boy whose mother is standing behind him with a well-used wooden spoon apologizes to his sister for putting a dog turd in her bed. Barton didn’t apologize because he felt he did or said anything wrong; he did it because the alternative — losing his standing on the energy and commerce committee — would be more painful.
It’s this fact which is the real problem for the Republicans. The Republican leadership is righteously pissed off at Barton at the moment, but the question not answered is: Is it pissed off because he said something that does not reflect the Republican point of view on the escrow account, or is it pissed off because Barton, the House GOP point man on energy, was stupid enough to say it out loud at a congressional hearing? The phrases “shakedown” and “slush fund” as regards the escrow account didn’t come out of nowhere — other Republicans and right wing media were already using the terms before Barton made an ass of himself with them. The major difference is that when Michelle Bachmann and Sean Hannity punt the terms about, they’re part of the GOP “socialist grandmother killer” strategy of dinging the Democrats over the long term, and the Republican leadership doesn’t have to engage with it directly and can distance itself from it if need be while still benefiting from getting the meme out there.
But when Barton, poster boy for the House GOP energy policy, used them, there was nowhere for the GOP leadership to hide. It had to either disavow the statements and step on Barton’s head, or hand the Democrats a really thick board to smack Republicans with from here to November. So the leadership disavowed the statements and in doing so killed off any benefit they get from Bachmann or Hannity burbling on about shakedowns and slush funds because now they are explicitly contrary to the GOP position, and any further leakage of the phrases from backbenchers and right wing media is going to be used by the Democrats as further proof of the GOP’s utter insincerity on the matter. But some folks won’t get the memo, which is to say the Democrats probably still have a nice thick board to use between now and the elections, which Barton didn’t just hand to them but personally engraved and then dropped trou and bent over to receive his beating.
I don’t want to suggest the GOP isn’t going to pick up seats in the House and Senate in November — I suspect it will — but I don’t think it will pick up enough seats to take the majority from the Democrats in either chamber and I suspect that a large part of that will be because of the complete mess the party is currently making of its Oil Spill messaging, and in particular its association with and affinity for BP. One, I’m not at all sure why any Republican would want to be seen taking the side of a massive foreign corporation over the American citizens and small business owners whose livelihoods are now threatened by that massive foreign corporation’s neglect and ineptitude. Two, in particular, I’m not at all sure why the Republicans would want to be seen doing that in the American South, where the majority of its political base lies. Three, nobody who isn’t stupid and/or reflexively partisan would pretend that if a Republican president had negotiated the exact same escrow account with BP that Bachmann, Hannity, Barton et al, wouldn’t be falling all over themselves to point out how it’s an example of how Republicans work with private business to solve problems rather than trying to have government be the solution in itself and forcing taxpayers to foot the bill.
Basically there’s little in the GOP oil spill positioning that isn’t a) initially following the mantra of “Whatever Obama does is Socialist,” b) a confused and hasty backtrack from that position when the GOP realize that most people are not interested in blaming Obama, they’re interested in blaming BP, which to be fair is responsible for having its oil rig blow up, killing 11 workers, and gushing millions of barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Part of the reason for this is that I don’t think the GOP as it is currently intellectually constituted is able to handle getting off the script regarding point a), or doing anything but responding petulantly and defensively regarding point b). It and its members (and media) are so used to their “socialist grandma killer” talking points, and in trying to help the Democrats do their slow motion implosion that they just don’t notice that when it comes to BP and the gulf, they’re setting themselves up for their own implosions of supernova magnitude.
Joe Barton had to go up like an oily Roman candle for this to impinge in the GOP consciousness. I wonder how many more GOPers will have to go up for it to really sink in.