Joe Barton deserves an apology. He’s no corporate toady, no congressional shill. When he took it on himself to apologize for the White House’s outrageous insistence that BP be financially liable for the disaster its broken well has wrought on the Gulf of Mexico, Rep. Joe Barton was something much greater than a mouthpiece-for-hire.
Congressman Barton is in fact a modern day sooth-sayer. A prognosticator for the society to come.
Let it ever be remembered that the death of accountability was first and most eloquently proposed by the ranking Republican House member from Texas.
Joe Barton moved the ball forward. His wasn’t just a plea for impotent government, but a prayer for a major cultural shift.
Of course he was arguing against government’s pesky tendency to hold people and corporations accountable. But that’s old hat, really. His artistry lies in his willingness to extend that argument to the greatest environmental criminals of our time. He doesn’t just move the bar, he transforms it.
Joe Barton, like some mystic cult leader, seduces us. Take a deep breath, he whispers. Breathe in the old-fashioned air of personal integrity and duty to the community. Pull it deep in your lungs, then, presto-changeo, exhale the brave new air of permissive abandonment.
Police powers are a pain in the ass in this new world, something we can brush aside if we so desire, and if we have adequate resources.
If Congressman Joe Barton, that Sage of the Lone Star State, hadn’t been so rudely interrupted, there’s no telling how many outmoded notions he might have apologized for. His only real failing was not going far enough. He should have said:
Sorry, tax cheats, that you ever have to share the burdens of society. Sorry, motorists, that you have to pay to rebuild and expand our highway systems.
Sorry anyone who ever had to pay for something they broke. Sorry to people who have to post a deposit before renting a car, or a house, or anything else. Sorry deadbeat dads: Why should the mother of your child, or the child himself, get to shake you down month after month, year after year, just because of a single, constitutionally protected emission? And, for that matter, sorry to any individual or business that find themselves subjected to emission control at all.
He didn’t invent the death of accountability, he simply proclaimed it. He has simply thrown another corpse on the boneyard of history. Accountability is about as desireable as a sentence diagram or long division.
Consider some of the other quaint notions tossed aside, even without Joe’s help.
Civility: Especially in the political arena. Americans have abandoned eloquence and logic for cage-fighting. Failing any real ideas, they resort to name calling, fifth-grader style.
Oblamer, they called the president after he “shook down” those choir boys at BP. Democraps, they call people like me. Republican’ts. They shout online, in poorly spelled outbursts of capital letters, that their counterpart is a “typical” liberal or conservative, then ascribe all the attributes that make a fine straw man.
Privacy: This was no murder, of course. Privacy committed suicide. If you have any doubts about that, check your Facebook.
Journalistic Integrity (with the exception of this paper): Consider those despicable anonymous comment sections at the end of nearly every story. There’s no denying it’s compelling (just try to look away), but it fosters a cowardly sniper mentality where even a grieving mother can be attacked for the loss of her child. Also consider the general sloppiness of the 24-hour news cycle. In a recent live interview about Bonnie Lowenthal’s bill to delete a section of state code that calls for a cure to homosexuality, cable news giant CNN not only interviewed Assemblymember Lowenthal, but also a previously discredited huckster who falsely claimed not only to be a shrink, but to cure gay people of their same-sex desires.
With all those things dead or dying, can it really be so wrong for Joe Barton to pop a cap into the head of “accountability?” Isn’t he just, after all, pushing us a little faster toward a future already taking shape?
So, to embrace this brave new world, and doing my best to channel the spirit of Joe Barton himself, I’d like to offer one final apology, one that cuts close to home.
Sorry, kids, for all those years of making you do your homework and get to bed on time. Those ideas are so yesterday.