While the greatest environmental disaster in our history is a trying juncture for Obama, it also provides him with a nearly unparalleled opening to make his and government’s case. The spill’s sole positive benefit has been to unambiguously expose the hard right, for all its populist pandering to the Tea Partiers, as a stalking horse for its most rapacious corporate patrons. If this president can speak lucidly of race to America, he can certainly explain how the antigovernment crusaders are often the paid toadies of bad actors like BP. Such big corporations are only too glad to replace big government with governance of their own, by their own, and for their own profit — while the “small people” are left to eat cake at their tea parties.
When Joe Barton, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, revived Rand Paul’s defense of BP last week by apologizing on camera to Hayward for the “tragedy” of the White House’s “$20 billion shakedown,” the G.O.P. establishment had to shut him down because he was revealing the party’s true loyalties, not because it disagreed with him. Barton was merely echoing Michele Bachmann, who labeled the $20 billion for gulf victims a “redistribution-of-wealth fund,” and the 100-plus other House members whose Republican Study Committee had labeled the $20 billion a “Chicago-style shakedown” only a day before Barton did.
These tribunes of the antigovernment right and their Tea Party auxiliaries are clamoring for a new revolution to “take back America” — after which, we now can see, they would hand over America to the likes of BP. Let Deepwater Horizon be ground zero for a 9/11 showdown over the role of government. There couldn’t be a riper moment for Obama, as a man once said, to bring it on.