Obama, Hayward, Barton and the BP Oil Spill

Now that everyone has had their chance to complain about all of the major players in the BP Oil Spill, it’s time to take a moment and reflect on what it all really means. The Congressional Hearing with Tony Hayward started off with quite a bit to keep the media hopping. While there was just a little coverage on the crazy woman that decided to cover herself in oil (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), the big story of the day was Congressman Barton, and his apology to Hayward.

Personally, since the dust has somewhat settled, I am thinking that the mainstream media and most bloggers alike would have been better off focusing on the crazy lady. First of all, the whole situation was blown out of proportion primarily because Barton’s speech was too long, and that made it possible for the press to edit at will. Now, if he’d said just one sentence – “I’m sorry that our President has found it necessary to dispense with the use of our court system to settle the financial end of this disaster” – the headlines, and the situation, would be much different. Primarily, I suspect that the crazy lady would have been lead on the evening news.

Hayward has been tripping over his tongue since the explosion, and it is easy to understand why just about everyone has no desire to see anyone play nice with him. While the GOP has been blaming Obama for not meeting with Hayward until nearly 60 days after the explosion, there’s room to wonder whether or not the BP executive had anything to do with the delays.

If one bothered to keep up with the British press, one would know that as of June 6th, Hayward was saying there was no need to meet with Obama. Of course this is coming from a man who in mid-May was severely downplaying the entire situation. All in all, Hayward is a public relations nightmare, and even Slate.com has taken a stab at evaluating the company from that perspective.

And that brings us back to Congressman Barton and his beleaguered statement. Although I can’t pretend to understand precisely what prompted the Congressman’s apology, I can figure out that it probably stung Hayward rather severely. Since Hayward was so arrogant about our legal system, I can understand why he wouldn’t be comfortable with any of our leaders suggesting that he be left to its not-so-tender mercies.

“This is America—come on. We’re going to have lots of illegitimate claims. We all know that.”

That statement was met with a fair amount of righteous indignation when it was made early on in the situation. But apparently it was forgotten, or not even considered in the context of Barton’s statement. We were stuck on being called “little people”, or something like that, I suppose. And while creating a Federal fund out of monies from BP to disburse to those affected by the spill might sound like a lovely idea in comparison with the long process of lawsuits, perhaps that’s precisely what BP wants. Maybe it will be like the age-old question – which came first, the chicken or the egg? – did BP offer billions to Obama before or after the president came up with the idea to handle the finances of the clean-up without lawsuits against BP?

Now that’s the practical end of the situation, and Barton waded into the murky ideological end. While it might be tempting to immediately assume that because Barton is a Republican and received monies from oil companies directly related to the disaster, he was speaking from greed, that isn’t necessarily a correct assumption. If one bothered to listen to the entire speech that is now splattered all over the web, Barton talked about taking money as a Congressman in consideration for a favor as an example paralleling what Obama is doing with BP. He was pointing out that Obama was allowing BP to side-step legal actions by paying what can only be considered at this point as an out-of-court settlement on behalf of thousands of litigants that were never granted the ability to obtain legal counsel.

The problems in our legal system, particularly the fact that lawsuits of this nature can take years to settle, are the first justifications for this course of action. It is a fair argument, but so is the case for limited Federal intervention in the legal system. There is no reason to simply ignore the option of temporarily creating deadlines for settlements of cases against BP. Extra personnel would be needed, and that would cost money – however it is already typical for court costs to be bundled into settlements. BP could be left footing the bill for judges, magistrates, and court personnel. States and localities could be given the ability to appoint and hire the people needed temporarily. Since BP has already demonstrated that they are willing to pay for the clean up, there is no reason to think that monies could not be acquired from them to pay for these people up front. Regardless, this is a far better option than telling the world – and businesses – that we have no problem with dispensing with silly things like due process for the sake of politicians saving face.

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