Why Is Everyone Picking on Joe Barton?

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Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Republican congressman Joe Barton of Texas did something very dumb today — he took sides with BP against the citizens of the Gulf, saying he was "ashamed" that a government "shakedown" forced the oil company to create a $20 billion victim's trust fund, which he referred to as a "slush fund." It was one of the most tone-deaf things a politician could say at this moment in time, and Barton was immediately and appropriately savaged for it. As expected, the White House, sensing an opportunity to deflect criticism from President Obama, came out with a statement condemning the remarks. Perhaps more surprising is the reaction from Barton's fellow Republicans. Florida congressman Jeff Miller called for Barton to step down as the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and House Minority Leader John Boehner, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, and House Republican Chairman Mike Pence issued a statement calling Barton's remarks "wrong." According to the Daily Caller, Boehner and Cantor privately told Barton, "Apologize, immediately. Or you will lose your position, immediately." Barton chose an apology, first during the hearings, and then more thoroughly in a written statement.

The thing is, Barton's "shakedown" comment was not entirely original, as we pointed out earlier. The Republican Study Committee, through its chairman, Georgia's Tom Price, released a statement yesterday calling the creation of the fund a "Chicago-style shakedown" that is "emblematic of a politicization of our economy that has been borne out of this Administration’s drive for greater power and control." Guess who has membership in the Republican Study Committee? Jeff Miller, Eric Cantor, and Mike Pence. And yet, not a peep from the GOP.

So why did Barton's comment invite so much more friendly fire than Price's? Maybe it's because he said it on TV. Price may have expressed the same sentiment as Barton, but he did it in the unentertaining medium of a written statement, which don't tend to go viral very often. Videos of politicians saying stupid things are exponentially more alluring, however. When a political gaffe is posted on YouTube, blogged, tweeted, and replayed on cable news, it'll be seen by more people and survive longer, which makes it much more damaging to the party. If you switched the setting of each "shakedown" remark — if Price had made his on TV, and Barton had made his in a written statement — it's not hard to imagine Price finding himself at the center of a firestorm right now, instead of Barton.

House Republicans told Barton to apologize or lose his committee seat [Daily Caller]