It is hard to think of something more cynical than the Republican reaction to President Obama’s deal with BP. Then again, it should have come as no surprise that Republicans have reiterated their official decree on the supremacy of corporations over individuals. Without getting into the merits of Obama’s $20 billion shakedown of BP(to be honest, I haven’t been paying much attention), the Republicans’ outbursts against the Executive Branch strong-arming a corporation completely ignores the reality of the entire American prosecutorial system and how it treats individuals.
As Joe Barton first said (though he later apologized),
I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday . . . I think it is a tragedy in the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown — in this case a $20 billion shakedown — with the attorney general of the United States, who is legitimately conducting a criminal investigation and has every right to do so to protect the American people, participating in what amounts to a $20 billion slush fund that’s unprecedented in our nation’s history, which has no legal standing, which I think sets a terrible precedent for our nation’s future.
Would Mr. Barton feel the same way about prosecutors who every day use the threat of the death penalty, lifetime sentences, three-strikes-you’re-out, and other means of arm-twisting at their disposal to persuade criminal suspects to reach a plea bargain? Prosecutors particularly love the death penalty because it is the most effective negotiating tool they’ve got. So where does Mr. Barton stand on terrible precedents: you plea or I’ll do everything in my power to send you to your death or “show me the money”?
This may sound exaggerated, but this is in fact what people – not corporations – are up against every time they right or wrongly face a prosecutor. Have Republicans ever seen an episode of Law & Order? Remember that prosecutors are agents of the Executive Branch, and as such their decision to prosecute a case is always a political decision; there really isn’t much of difference between Obama’s political tactic and that of your average district attorney. Apparently for Republicans, though, it is only scandalous when the poor, helpless corporation faces the prosecution.
Even though the Republicans feigned disgust at Mr. Barton’s original statement above, they quickly sent their pundits out to regurgitate their talking points about how Obama was ignoring the rule of law, denying BP due process, and of course, setting a dangerous precedent. Ignoring the obvious error in the due process claim (BP very much has the right to contest the “strong arming” in court), the Right’s sudden passion for due process is remarkably cynical.
Tony Blanky on Left, Right and Center was seriously concerned about “protecting the process of law” (even citing Thomas More), and out of the blue, David Brooks on the NewsHour felt that Obama “very brutally strong armed BP” and was worried about “the erosion of the rule of law”. He was so noble to claim that the law was there to protect “even people who do bad things.” Then George Will on This Week compared Obama to Hugo Chavez, calling his actions the “use of raw political power without recourse to courts that exist for this sort of thing without due process . . .”
Must I state the obvious? Misters Blanky, Brooks, and Will are arguing the exact opposite of what they have been fighting for for the past eight years: the president’s unfettered, unchecked power to indefinitely detain terror suspects without due process. If corporations, according to Citizens United, have the same First Amendment rights as individuals, shouldn’t individuals (even the ones “who do bad things”) have, at a minimum, the same basic rights corporations do when it comes to due process in a court that, as Mr. Will says, “exist[s] for this sort of thing”?
For example, would these gentlemen disagree with President Obama’s continued, indefinite detention in cages of Guantanamo detainees without any recourse whatsoever, even when they have been determined – as in the case of Mohamed Hassan Odaini — by the military and the courts to be completely innocent? Or would they continue to aspire to a world where corporations are free from government interference while individuals are subject to the full force of government’s brutal wrath?