Jay Ambrose: Show trials for BP executives 

What we have here in the United States is a constitutionally ordered republic of public servants who get it that bully-boy strutting is not the American way. Why, look at Congress - a collection of mature, humble, self-effacing citizens taking on difficult responsibilities purely for the sake of the rest of us.


Oh, I am sorry. You maybe caught the recent House session during which representatives mindlessly beat up on BP CEO Tony Hayward for the Gulf oil spill and you think the above paragraph is the intro to a Saturday Night Live skit.


It's not. It's a preamble to a declaration of outrage at elected officials who think nationally televised tantrums are evidence of statesmanship.


The hearing was worse than a farce; for what we were primarily treated to was congressional members behaving as they so often do in these soap operas: like autocrats on a witch-hunting mission. Mostly, they gave heated speeches to the TV cameras, trying to impress the voters back home and doing precious little to gather information that might be useful either for future legislation, for public understanding or as a means of better enabling executive-branch oversight.


The questions that followed the long tirades were themselves mostly tirades aimed at making the CEO plead guilty to recklessness, which he was not about to do, of course, because his words could be used against BP in civil suits, because there's yet to be a complete investigation and because he genuinely is not the one who focused on what was done early on in this particular operation.


When he noted that his company is involved in hundreds of drilling operations, he was telling the truth, and anyone who knows anything about the role of CEOs knows they cannot possibly master - and do not try to master - the myriad details that are instead the province of others several removes from the offices in which they sit.


The hearing's most unexpected moment came when a Republican backed up from the verbal assault. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, instead criticized the "shakedown" when President Obama got the CEO to pony up $20 billion for distribution by the federal government to deserving spill victims.


"Gotcha," said Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff, carefully explaining in a televised interview how one congressman's politically inept characterization meant the whole GOP dangerously wanted to let BP off the hook.


Emanuel knows better. I've yet to hear anyone from any political perspective say that BP should not pay dearly for errors that appear to have come at least in part from negligence. The Obama move was in fact an extra-legal piece of tough-guy political showmanship in an inexcusably postponed meeting that even then seemed to have precious little to do with stopping the oil gush.


There's at least something to be said for the episode, however: It was highly preferable to an idea suggested by Robert Reich, a Clinton cabinet member who has spiraled downwards from having been an almost interesting leftist to becoming a Hugo Chavez impersonator.


At least until the hole is plugged, he has written, he wants the United States to seize BP and call all the shots in the Gulf. On top of the despotism, you'd be giving the operation to an administration that has blown every spill issue from regulation enforcement to accepting proffered assistance from foreign countries. BP is not the only entity with much to answer for. Too much of our government is too frequently involved in making itself a joke that very few of us find funny.

Examiner Columnist Jay Ambrose is a former Washington opinion writer and editor of two dailies. He can be reached at: Speaktojay@aol.com.

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