The Spectacle Blog

The Law of Obama

By on 6.17.10 | 12:15PM

In hearings before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas said, in an opening remark nominally addressed to BP CEO Tony Hayward, "I am 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." Other Republicans in and out of office, such as Michele Bachman are making similar comments about the lack of due process involved in arm-twisting (or arm-breaking) BP into putting aside $20 billion into an escrow account.

Barton added: "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 that's unprecedented in American history, that's got no legal standing, (it) sets a terrible precedent for the future."

I am rarely at a loss for words, but I was briefly stunned into silence by Barack Obama's words during his Tuesday night speech that he would "inform" BP's CEO that he "is to" create an escrow account. The president has no authority to do such a thing -- but neither did he have authority to cram down Chrysler and GM bond holders for the benefit of the UAW. Law is irrelevant, probably not even considered as an afterthought, by this president.

BP is not a victim here. They're not in the least bit sympathetic. But this is the nation that presumes innocence before guilt, that is founded on the rule of law rather than of men. How strange it is that we elected a president who wants to give terrorist murderers the benefit of the doubt, give them access to legal protections they're not even entitled to, but treats a major international corporation -- which had already said it would pay all legitimate claims -- the way Al Capone treated a rival moonshine distributor. One can almost picture Barack Obama walking behind BP executives with a bat in his hand.

Of course, even Al Capone had his fans, and one of those would apparently have been Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), who said of BP being coerced into the escrow arrangement (with the money to be disbursed by a recent employee of Barack Obama's -- hardly an independent third party) that "this is the American government working at its best." (While I was initially tempted to ask rhetorically "I wonder what working at its worst would look like," it seems pretty clear that we saw that with what the Democrats did to pass Obamacare.)

In his testimony, BP CEO Tony Hayward said he was "personally devastated" and that attending the memorial service for the people who lost their lives on the rig was a "shattering moment." He seemed sincere, but will for many months face serious questions about BP's apparent corner-cutting in safety spending on the Deepwater Horizon. The answers to these questions are likely to cost BP billions of dollars more in fines and penalties, in addition to their civil liability. Even so, Hayward and BP do not deserve to be treated worse than terrorists and, no matter how angry people are and how much BP is demonized, America must remain a nation based on the rule of law, not the law of Obama.

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