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Rep. Joe Barton: Right, but at the wrong time

By now we’ve all heard about Rep. Joe Barton’s apology to BP for the government’s “shakedown” of forcing them to fund a $20B slush fund to pay for the Gulf oil spill damages.  On the surface, Barton’s statement was correct, and he should not have had to apologize for it.  But, he should never have said a word in the first place.  Sometimes it is possible to be right, but at the wrong time.

The issue here is not accuracy.  The issue is polls and public opinion.  Right now the public opinion against BP is overwhelming.  A NYT/CBS News poll published today shows that over 3/4 of the public disapproves of BP’s handling of the spill.  And amusingly, the public’s opinion of President Barack Obama’s handling of the spill is somewhat better, but not great – 47% approve of Obama’s actions.  And last week, a USAToday/Gallup poll showed that Americans overwhelmingly believe Obama has not been tough enough on BP.  In fact, that poll shows that 59% believe BP should pay all expenses – even if it drives BP out of business.  Right, with a CEO who is attending yacht races and pictures of oily birds plastered across the media, there is no love lost for BP.

Rep. Barton is a politician.  Politicians should understand…politics.  And politically, showing sympathy for BP right now is a very bad move.  This is why the GOP immediately demanded that Barton “apologize for the apology”.  As the Washington Post pointed out, Barton’s apology for the shakedown “saved Barack Obama’s week.”  Politically, Barton’s statement was, in a word, stupid.  It gave the Democrats a demon.  It provided a gold mine of soundbites for them to use against the GOP now and into the future, and the GOP leadership rightly realized this.  As Rush Limbaugh stated on the air today:

It’s real simple, folks.  It’s all about the Republicans not wanting to give the Democrat National Committee a cheap campaign ad featuring Barton and so forth.  Unfortunately, the ill-informed would buy the ad, buy the whole premise.

The “ill-informed” are those who believe the Democrats’ dreck about “big oil” and the GOP.  Right now, guys like Rep. Barton aren’t giving the public any reason to think differently.

To the substance of Barton’s original statement, we must realize that at the core, this is politics, not philosophy class.  Philosophically, Barton was 100% correct.  On occasion, I get an evil pleasure out of prodding “true conservatives”.  They’re philosophical beings that think primarily in terms of what is right and true, and often don’t consider what is politically wise.  Does it mean that one is a “RINO” if they consider the political ramifications of a particular action?  No.  That is pragmatic, and in politics, it’s wise to be pragmatic.

At the end of his first hour today, Rush addressed this directly:

Sixty percent of the American people are just hacked off at BP like you can’t believe.  This issue is the number one issue on people’s minds.  The economy is now number one to three to four percent of the people.  And so the Republicans do not want to appear to be on the wrong side of this.  This to them is not an issue that is a teachable moment.  This is something. “Let’s not even be heard on this.  Let’s just slither away under the rock here and we’ll let Joe Barton get eaten by the Democrat lizards on this and we’ll protect ourselves.”  I mean, this is politics, and it’s one of many reasons why true believers have so much trouble with politics.  It’s just that simple and no more complicated than that.

“True believers” = “true conservatives”, in case you missed the connection.

Rush finished out with this:

It angers people and frustrates people, especially the young who are in this for the purity of conservatism and they believe elected Republicans are in the same thing.  This is one of the problems young people have, on both sides with politics, is that the idealism they attach to it is nowhere near the reality of the people who practice the so-called art of politics.

Reality bites, folks – in an ideal world, ideals would trump all, but in reality, politics is a key factor.  The trick is to balance our idealistic, philosophically-pure views of what our government should be doing with the realities of the political situation.  Right now, standing up for a massively unpopular corporation and criticizing the Obama $20B shakedown may be right, but it’s also unwise and could significantly damage our prospects for re-taking Congress in 2010.  Right now, it’s the wrong time to be right about BP and the oil spill.

FORE!

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