White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is making it clear he considers Republican Rep. Joe Barton’s apology to British Petroleum and charge that the $20 billion damage-mitigation escrow account was the result of a White House “shakedown” to be a political gift that will keep on giving.
His comments on ABC News’ The Week come amid a slew of mainstream prominent pundits who had been supportive of Barack Obama in varying degrees essentially now calling Obama’s Presidency over and failed (go HERE, HERE and to a lesser extent in terms of previous support HERE) — amid reports that the Democrats are making a big, unprecedented push to focus on getting young and minority voters out in force to support the Democrats in what most observers now believe will be a truly grim year for the ruling party.
Though the Ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce later withdrew the apology he made to BP CEO Tony Hayward during a hearing Thursday, Emanuel made the case that Barton’s remarks were no mistake. “That’s not a political gaffe, those are prepared remarks. That is a philosophy. That is an approach to what they see. They see the aggrieved party here as BP, not the fishermen,” Emanuel told me during my exclusive This Week interview.
Emanuel said Barton and Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul, who recently called the President’s criticism of BP “un-American,” are a reflection of the Republican Party’s governing philosophy. “They think that the government’s the problem,” Emanuel said. “And I think what Joe Barton did was remind the American people, in case they forgot, how the Republicans would govern.”
Here’s the segment:
Although Barton, under strong pressure from angry GOP Congressional leaders, later apologized for his apology to the politically-toxic oil company, some Republican conservatives also blasted the Obama administration for its perceived tactics in securing the fund aimed at rembursing people and businesses decimated by the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
This was coupled with the high-profile and influential comments of conservative talk show titan — and some would say de facto strategist for the GOP party base and many in the party’s power structure — Rush Limbaugh, who asserted that way the White House got the escrow fund showed the White House “may as well be a branch of organized crime.”
This was a fascinating moment for those who believe left and right talk radio have not enhanced debate in America but cheapened it and turned it medley of demonizations. Limbaugh’s “organized crime” description on the right now mirrors leftist talker Mike Malloy’s “Bush crime family” description — perhaps proof that far left and far right, in the end, are indeed joined at the hip.
(For more proof of that read THIS BOOK.)
But there are increasing signs that top GOPers don’t intend to let Emanuel or even Limbaugh create the national imagery that will define Republicans on the BP issue. For instance, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was quick to be specific on his criticism of the White House — what it included and did not include:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday that Dems would use the spill to push cap-and-trade.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday that Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) was wrong to apologize to BP CEO Tony Hayward during an Energy and Commerce hearing Thursday.
“I couldn’t disagree with Joe Barton more,” McConnell said, calling it “nonsense” for Democrats to link Barton’s comments to Republicans and the oil industry. McConnell said it was “important to remember” that Obama “was the biggest recipient” of BP contributions when he ran.
The point was that the White House wasn’t doing enough to stop the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the minority leader said.
Writes Time’s Mark Halperin:
Republicans are determined not to be cowed by the error of the Gentleman from Texas; now everyone in the politico-media complex will wait for polling data to “determine” what Barton actually means.
What Barton means may be influenced by how BP itself looks — and it isn’t looking good for that company.
For instance, after giving Congressional testimony that many political observers likened to be about as candid as watching a mafioso testify before Congress, BP CEO Tony Hayward, who invited international disdain when he said “I’d like my life back” in an earlier apology, invited a new heaping helping of widespread scorn and near consternation when just days after his testimony he attended a yachting race in England — which the Christian Science Monitor said was one of 10 BP Gulf Oil crisis gaffes.
This was on a different scale than the manufactured partisan blogosophere min-furor over Obama daring to play golf (Obama says he won’t rest until the oil is stopped…so now he’s playing golf…which means he doesn’t really care and isn’t working on the problem…Shouldn’t he be down in Lousiana 24/7? Wait: if he did that wouldn’t Rush et. al then say he was a political hack trying to use the crisis for political gain?)
The bottom line is that for Obama and the Democrats the reality is now as bad as the optics on several fronts: the oil continues continuing to spew and can be viewed live online, BP’s high profile bigwigs can’t talk or act without sticking their feet in their mouths and outraging those impacted by the oil spill or who care about environment, and the economy is still in serious crisis.
Can Emanuel and Obama shift the discussion now to governmental philosophy — in effect saying to voters: Maybe things are not great now but just remember how it was 8 years ago and what proactive and hands-off attitudes and ideologies got us into this mess. Will that approach work again if you bring it back or as painful as it is, are we tackling it a way that’ll be better in the short and long run?
Perception is reality in politics and narratives influence perceptions and reality — and right now the White House has a grave media narrative problem — partially of it’s own creation.
Meanwhile, the Democrats will spend $50 million on the midterms — versus $17 million in 2006, partially because of a huge push to get out the young and minority voters that helped elect Obama in 2010. But several reports suggest that Democrats are finding many demoralized former supporters at a time when GOPers and Tea Party movement members can’t wait to get to the polls.
Why? Amid Obama’s rocky performance, his surprising rhetorical failures including during his poorly-received Oval Office Gulf Oil spill crisis speech, compromises not unusual for political figures who attempt to get policies through via consensus, plus the real power of the Republican infomachine (highly rated talk radio shows with hosts who are like trusted friends to listeners, Fox News, popular and lively conservative weblogs, and mainstream media picking up controversies that emerge out of the machine) the overall narrative has shifted…a narrative coupled with increasingly tepid Obama polling numbers.
Obama won partially due to him arousing hope. And many Democrats now are feeling less hope — than resignation, political deja vu, or dread.
But Joe Barton’s comments — and comments such as those by Limbaugh defending the most detested oil company since John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil — keep hope alive for Emanuel, Obama and Democratic strategists that voters can be reminded of the attitudes that many believe helped darken the once-pristine waters in Gulf today.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.