The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico threatens to damage the environment, the livelihoods of local commercial fishermen and others, as well as affect the region's residents for months, if not years, into the future. But the response from the Right to the disaster so far also threatens for the long-term any credibility that the so-called tea party movement claims in representing such bedrock conservative principles of limited government, controlled federal spending, or strong national security.
If they truly cared about these core notions of what conservatism at least used to be about, the tea party activists would have been already been plenty angry about the relationship between big oil companies like BP and the federal government. And the disaster now unfolding off the coast of Louisiana only would have increased their outrage.
That the tea partyers seem so unconcerned — and in the case of Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul, outright hostile, who went as far as calling President Obama "un-American" for holding BP's feet to the fire — indicates either a profound ignorance of the situation, or more likely, just further unmasks the truth that conservatives today are motivated by unfettered corporatism, not the supposedly high-minded ideals to which they pay lip service.
Were a supposedly limited role for the federal government and spending restraint truly motivations for conservatives, they would be trying to pass legislation to make sure BP pays to clean up its own mess. Instead, it's the conservatives who are blocking such a bill in the Senate, leaving the American taxpayers to pick up the check.
Make no mistake, BP ain't hurting. As the fourth-largest corporation on the planet, BP reported $5.5 billion in profit — not revenue, but take-home profit — in the last three months.
It doesn't need a bailout, but by obstructing legislation to hold the company accountable for paying for its cleanup, the conservatives are offering BP just that.
In so doing, conservatives are talking out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, they wail about deficits and debts, but when push comes to shove, it is the right who needlessly adds to the nation's red ink.
BP's bosses aren't even the only Big Oil executives to be reaching into our wallets to take our money. All five of the largest oil companies are reporting huge profits, but they each are taking $20 billion in taxpayer-funded subsidies over the next five years. Are conservatives outraged over this federal corporate welfare, which even George W. Bush has described as an unnecessary for oil production? Nope, quite the opposite: they are complicit in it. When President Obama proposed eliminating these wasteful tax giveaways — which truly represent an unwarranted federal hand in the private sector — it was a top conservative who howled.
Sen. John Cornyn is the Texas conservative who heads up his party's campaign to elect more Republican senators. He pounds Democrats on the one hand for deficit spending, but the moment someone tried to pull his oil buddies' hands out of your back pockets, Cornyn screamed bloody murder.
Where were the tea party folks during all this? Nowhere that I could see. Apparently, it's easier for the tea-party crowd to talk the limited government talk than it is to walk the walk.
Meanwhile, many conservatives and tea partyers are also busy betraying American national security. By shilling for Big Oil, they are helping to prop up a number of regimes and groups known to be unfriendly toward the United States. Specifically, it's known that each $1 increase in the price of oil provides an additional $1.5 billion to Iran annually. In this way, conservatives who side with Big Oil are giving direct aid and comfort to Iranian strongman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Fortunately, conservatives can turn this around and start helping, not hurting, their fellow Americans. One way that they can do this is by supporting the Senate's new American Power Act. The American Power Act aims to contain greenhouse gas emissions, while simultaneously reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Even if you're one who thinks global climate change is bunk, you should still support the American Power Act. Many serious conservatives for years have recognized that the things they need to do to ensure strong U.S. energy security and national security are the exact same things others want to do to mitigate climate change. This includes such things as government mandates on automakers to manufacture increasingly fuel-efficient vehicles. That means everyone needs to be doing all of the same things in energy policy, even while they may disagree on why they are doing them.
The choice conservative activists face today is as big as the Gulf oil spill itself. They can either live up to what their ideals demand of them, or they can just keep spouting the same empty, angry platitudes in the defense of corporate greed.