You know that when Hitler walks into a political debate, civility grabs its coat and heads for the door. Which is why there should be no compunction about saying that Sarah Palin and national Republicans are trying to O.J. Simpsonize the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. That is to say: they know exactly who did it, but they’re vowing to spare no expense to find those really responsible. And just like O.J., it may be hard to pin down the liable party.
Palin, among other partisan Republicans, recently touted a column titled, “Is U.S. Now On Slippery Slope To Tyranny?” which begins, “When Adolf Hitler was building up the Nazi movement in the 1920s…” The article is about BP’s establishment of a $20 billion escrow fund to expedite damage payments to victims of the oil spill. The announcement was made immediately after a meeting with President Obama at the White House, which has Palin Republicans seeing swastikas.
Back up for a moment. The Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, killed 11 workers and began spewing tens of thousands of barrels of oil from a pipe 5,000 feet beneath the surface (hence the name ‘Deepwater’). This is a problem with ramifications far beyond one oil company. An entire region’s economy stands to be permanently devastated. Yet as Tim Dickinson writes in Rolling Stone, BP has tried to operate in “near-total secrecy” with an Obama administration that was all too willing to accommodate them.
In the immediate aftermath of the rig explosion, some government scientists were estimating how bad the leak was—64,000 to 110,000 barrels per day. BP insisted to the Coast Guard that the only oil at risk of leaking was that stored on the sunken vessel. This turned out not to be true. Nor was the next estimate of leakage. Nor the next. Yet rather than side with their oceanographic scientists, the administration’s view was all oily.
BP had the Obama administration in its lap over the first 40 days of the leak. The Mineral Management Services was of no help. They dozed off under George W. Bush but Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar did nothing to wake them. Even after the Gulf disaster, they were partying with a cake decorated with the 2008 Republican National Convention’s chant, “Drill, Baby, Drill.”
After nearly two months of this, Dickinson says that the Obama administration was feeling helpless—helpless to plug the geyser and helpless to manage their message. So they started taking a tougher line with the oil giant. Thus, there was a White House summit with BP’s corporate officers. The one quantifiable outcome was the establishment of the $20 billion escrow account.
This is what has Palin crying, ‘Nazi!’ It is unconstitutional, the Obama-Is-Hitler article says, for him “to extract vast sums of money from a private enterprise and distribute it as he sees fit to whomever he deems worthy of compensation.”
Never mention that Republicans were criticizing the President for not meeting with BP’s CEO for the first two months of the spill. The talking point was that Obama would speak with Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but not BP. Republican Chairman Michael Steele said the Democrat needed to say “what you as the president of the United States think he as the CEO of B.P. should be doing.”
Well, Obama did that with the escrow fund. And BP seemed to agree on this step forward, helping some of the many people whose livelihoods their negligence has destroyed. And shouldn’t the government have a role in distributing that money? After all, BP has not shown itself to be trustworthy. The administration gave them a great amount of leeway and what did they get in return? Less knowledge of what’s happening to American waters and a slower response to cleaning it up. So, Obama and BP expedited action, which is what we should want our government to do for an extremely dire, extremely large problem that affects millions of citizens. And the person they put in charge of it all, Kenneth Feinberg, is experienced at this sort of thing, having handled the 9/11 victims’ fund.
It begs the question: would Republicans prefer years of Gulf residents fighting BP in court? Suffering, getting worn down as they try to win meager concessions from the oil giant’s legal all-star team? Who knows which direction they’ll get spun in?
Because as Dickinson explains, BP “is less an oil company than a bank that finances oil exploration; unlike ExxonMobil, which owns most of the equipment it uses to drill, BP contracts out almost everything.” Remember the initial hearings on the spill? How every witness pointed the finger at someone else? Just wait for public anger to subside and the proceedings to disappear inside a federal courtroom with no audio or visual recording equipment.
Then we’ll really see some crimes against humanity.