New York Times columnist David Brooks, appearing on the PBS NewsHour, couldn’t bring himself to totally condemn Joe Barton. While saying Joe was politically stupid, Brooks said Joe was only two-thirds substantively stupid. And what was the smart one-third? “…we have a set of laws, when somebody does something bad, does something negligent, to force them to pay and compensate those who were damaged. And that’s all on the books. And what President Obama did when he very publicly and very brutally strong-armed BP into setting aside this $20 billion, is, he went around those laws.”
Brooks called that a “kernel of truth” at the core of what Joe said. But perhaps it’s more than that. Perhaps it’s a kernel of truth at the core of what the Republican Party stands for, and at the core of columnists like Brooks who support the conservative philosophy. Deep in their hearts they are more worried about government power than corporate power, even when corporate power takes the extreme form of the BP oil disaster. They would rather have BP’s victims use “the rule of law” (which means get lawyered up and spend twenty years in court) than get speedy, certain compensation.
CNN has an interview with the lawyer for victims of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil disaster, and it provides a nice counterpoint to Brooks’s sympathy for poor, misunderstood Joe Barton. The lawyer, Brian O’Neill, says he doesn’t expect his clients to receive the remainder of the payments due them until the end of this year. He says Exxon treated the lawsuits like World War III: “They spent over $400 million on lawyers, essentially defending [against] our claims. They took every appeal they could take and they took every delay they could take and filed every motion they could take. Don’t kid yourself: the oil companies have the best lawyers money can buy.”
CNN did the right thing by interviewing O’Neill to remind us what lies behind the “kernel of truth” in Joe Barton’s apology to BP. We need daily reminders of the excesses of corporate power, the ability of enormous companies to beat the rap in court at the expense of what BP’s chairman calls “the small people.”
(Photo: PBS NewsHour)