By Bob Cesca
The words "government takeover" were originally injected into the discourse by Frank Luntz in the early stages of the health care reform process and have been repeated in the pejorative sense by Republicans across the board.
Despite the fact that thousands of Americans die every month from a lack of affordable health insurance, the Republicans have argued that the government isn't allowed to "takeover" the industry. It goes without saying that the president wasn't proposing any such thing and, in fact, publicly denounced single-payer health insurance, but okay. The Republicans truly believe the health care reform bill is socialism and a total takeover of the industry. It's not.
Likewise, the Republicans and tea party people have been screeching about the bailouts. They insist that the banks and financial institutions (and GM) should have been allowed to fail, rather than receiving emergency loans from the government in order to, at the time, prevent the American economy from being dragged down along with these institutions had they not been hoisted with an infusion of cash.
Speaking of which, the Republicans also loudly opposed the recovery bill, which included, as a total dollar amount, the biggest middle class tax cut in American history as well as a considerable amount of funding for the states. Yet the Republicans, once again, screeched about state's rights and tried to block the funding.
In his response to the president's first address to a joint session of Congress, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana famously mocked such obviously hilarious things as volcano monitoring in the recovery bill. Volcanoes? Why should we monitor those?
The dominant centerpiece to all of this outrage has been the Republican idea that the states and the free market should be left alone to deal with problems and crises on its own without "socialist" -- or even "communist" depending on which AM radio station you listen to -- interference from big government and our America-hating president. No government takeovers. Freedom! Liberty! And no stupid volcano thingees also.
Americans dying from a lack of health insurance? Too bad. No government takeover. The economy about to sink into a second Great Depression? Too bad. No government takeover. The Earth growing warmer due to the burning of fossil fuels? Too bad. No government takeover.
That is until last month.
A major corporation, not unlike General Motors or Bank of America or WellPoint, failed to properly outfit one of its deep-water oil drilling platforms with the proper failsafe mechanisms and a chain reaction of death and destruction ensued. The Transocean Deepwater-Horizon oil rig, leased by British Petroleum, exploded and eventually sank 5,000 feet to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, snapping its drilling riser in several places which, consequently, is spewing black gushers of oil into the ocean at a rate of upwards of a million gallons per day.
And suddenly all of these state's rights, anti-government takeover Republicans are demanding a government takeover of the capping and cleanup process. (If only someone had blasted uninsured Americans in the face with reddish-brown crude oil, the health care reform bill might have received a few Republican votes.)
Bobby Jindal, the state's rights small government governor who tried to block stimulus money from entering Louisiana (though it didn't stop him from eventually accepting giant checks during photo-ops), is demanding that the federal government take over the handling of the disaster.
Jindal said in his now infamous TV address, "Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C."
But now, with a different kind of eruption 25 miles off the shores of Louisiana, Jindal can't walk past an open microphone without begging for the federal government's help in cleaning up BP's mess. A government takeover of a private corporation's mess for the sake of protecting American jobs and natural resources? Sounds not unlike the justification for the recovery bill and the bailouts.
Last weekend, Sarah Palin appeared on Fox News Sunday with her shrill, staccotto word salads and made a similar case. She very clearly contradicted Rand Paul, whom she endorsed, by wondering why President Obama is "taking so doggone long to get in there, to dive in there..."
So one half of the 2008 Republican presidential "drill, baby, drill" ticket which, by the way, accepted $2.4 million in contributions from oil companies (double the amount donated to the Obama-Biden ticket), called for a government takeover of the BP situation, and lamented that it wasn't happening because the president's campaign accepted oil money. This is such a twisted, Mobius Loop of backwards logic and opposite-day thinking, it's difficult to summarize it without also becoming trapped in the same tangle of stupid. Something tells me that's the whole idea. Anyway.
Here's Sean Hannity, who very likely repeated the Luntz "government takeover" meme more often than any other Republican last year, complaining that the president and the federal government "outsourced" the oil spill crisis to BP -- the very company that's responsible for actually creating the mess. "Outsourced," we're to assume, as opposed to spending taxpayer money to solve the crisis.
Hannity himself said, "This is the worst environmental disaster and [the administration] did nothing from day one." And, "Bobby Jindal has been begging for help and it's not been forthcoming."
In the U.S. Senate, the anti-bailout, anti-spending Republicans have been filibustering any Democratic effort to lift the $75 million liability cap on oil spill damages, effectively bailing out the oil companies and potentially forcing the federal government to cover any damages above and beyond the limits of the cap. Put another way, once an oil company reaches $75 million, American taxpayers take over, and Republicans like Senator Inhofe are working hard to keep it that way. Once again, just like the bailouts, the Republicans are embracing privatized, free market profits, but socialized losses.
Now that crude has begun to wash upon the shores and wetlands of Republican red states, any superficial bumper sticker griping about socialism has been temporarily forgotten.
That's the bitch about building a party platform around specious, shallow platitudes. They might be effective in terms of rallying the easily-led, low information base, but as soon as practicality steps in, all sloganeering is dropped in lieu of confronting and dealing with reality. Subsequently, these alleged free market state's rights small government anti-regulation southern conservative cardboard standee Republicans continue to demand federal help and socialized taxpayer money. The Republicans are demanding redistributed wealth from Pennsylvania and Vermont and Illinois and New York and Massachusetts with all of its socialist bleeding heart tree-hugging environmental wacko liberals.
However hypocritical the Republicans might be on this, they're ultimately correct. The federal government has a responsibility to protect our economy, our natural resources and our lives from the destruction that's often wrought by irresponsible corporations. Thanks, Republicans, for finally catching up.