A Further Perspective

Joe Barton Was Right

A shakedown it remains.

By 6.23.10

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Rep. Joe Barton of Texas broke an iron law of Washington last week. He described the elephant in the room that no one was supposed to see. In this case, it was the strong-arming Obama & Co. applied to BP to get it to "voluntarily" set up a $20 billion fund to compensate Gulf citizens adversely affected by the oil spill. Barton used the inelegant term, "shakedown." He was promptly made to eat humble pie by his party's Congressional leaders, fearful that if they didn't clamp down, the Democrats would use it to tie the entire party to an unpopular company.

Mr. Obama's attorney general had already taken the unusual step of publicly announcing in advance a criminal investigation of the oil spill. This built pressure on BP, as did the concerted effort by everyone in the administration with access to a microphone to demonize it, as if it had deliberately caused the Deepwater Horizon rig to explode and unleash a flow of oil from the sea bed.

The night before the BP meeting, the president delivered an uninspiring speech from the Oval Office, once again insisting that BP "would be made to pay" for everything. The tone of his voice suggested that if it weren't for him, BP would run for the hills.

Obama also wrung out of BP a commitment to set aside $100 million to cover lost pay of the estimated 27,000 deep-water rig operators who will be out of work for six months, thanks to the president's hasty, ill-advised moratorium on their operations. In their rush to score public relations points, neither he nor his advisers bothered to learn that oil rig jobs are fungible. If a federal judge hadn't overturned the moratorium yesterday, those workers would have gone where the jobs are, for example, to Brazil and Indonesia. At the end of six months, many of these workers would have been long gone. Meanwhile, Louisiana's economy, which rests on oil, sugarcane and seafood, could have ill afforded losing about one-third of its mass. 

Let's hope the Obama Administration has learned a simple lesson from this: As with all presidential decisions, think through beforehand the consequences of the one you are considering. 

A troublesome theme has run through the nearly year-and-a-half of his presidency. Obama has consistently spoken about businesses -- especially large businesses -- as if they were motivated by "greed." He has pushed that nostrum of the Left that government is inherently "good," "fair," and decent in its behavior. This is not surprising considering that most early influences on his thinking came from the Left and his stint as a community organizer in Chicago involved preaching the tactics of the radical Saul Alinsky to his low-income constituents in order to get them to hound banks to lower their credit-granting standards and thus provide loans to people who could not afford them. You might say that he, along with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and their Greek chorus among Congressional Democrats, all contributed to the housing bubble's collapse (and, yes, so did some Wall Street types whose pursuit of big fees trumped good sense as they created exotic investment vehicles). 

Mr. Obama's antipathy toward business is undisguised. His drive to put the federal government in control of health care, his championing of the cap-and-trade legislation (a device for enriching carbon emissions brokers who will be favored by government dispensers of patronage) and his demonizing of BP are all of a piece. Government is good; the private sector (except for mom-and-pop stores) is bad unless it is very tightly regulated by the government. 

On November 2, his desire for a country governed from the Left will meet head on with the voters of a country that has, for years, been determined to be center-right.

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About the Author
Peter Hannaford was closely associated with the late President Reagan for a number of years. He is a member of the board of the Committee on the Present Danger. His latest book is “Presidential Retreats.”