BP and the Cosmic Lesson of Politics

BP is learning a very hard lesson about politics. It's a lesson the rest of the corporate world should learn as well. You see, throwing scads of money at Barack Obama and congressional Democrats has bought BP nada. Climbing on the cap-and-trade bandwagon to make nice with Mr. Obama and the left has won BP no protection during a crisis. And all those touchy-feely ads about how green BP is -- or wants to be -- have turned out to be tens of millions of dollars wasted chasing progressives' approval. 

In matters political, when principle takes a backseat to cynicism gussied up as practicality, the results can be as predictable as Russian Roulette -- meaning not very predictable at all. Corporate chiefs whose jaded government affairs execs are whispering in their ears about the need to cozy up to candidates or politicians whose ideological hostility or record of opposition to an industry or free enterprise is manifest should give those execs an hour to clean out their desks. Such advice is freighted with big risks and steep downsides. 

And does anyone with more than a passing interest in politics not know that Barack Obama has never been friendly to big business -- or any business? That Mr. Obama and the left-wing leadership among congressional Democrats have been unremittingly hostile to the oil industry? If one government affairs exec at BP has advised CEO Tony Hayward not to throw good money after bad by "investing" in Mr. Obama and the Democrats, he should be guaranteed a job for life -- and a handsome bonus for having the guts to advance the opinion.    

Politics, as BP is learning, isn't a game of friendships, unless friendships of convenience count. A corporate giant like BP might be able to buy political love, but that love hangs by a thread. The typically obsessive self-interest of the politicians from whom the love is being purchased almost always trumps gratitude and loyalty. Too many politicians -- Democrat and Republican -- tack with the changing winds. And yes, in the world of politics, victory has a million fathers, while defeat of whatever stripe is quite the orphan.

None of this is to suggest that BP isn't grossly liable for the Gulf fiasco, or that BP's time and dollars invested in Mr. Obama and the Democrats should buy its way out of responsibility. BP is on the hook, as well it should be.  But what Mr. Hayward and his executive team are discovering is that all their dollars dumped into Democratic coffers, all the "positioning" favorable to cap-and-trade, and all the PR gimmickry and slick advertising to rebrand BP as the environment's best buddy aren't keeping the company from being whipped mercilessly by Mr. Obama or the grandstanding libs in Congress. Burning bad guys -- so perceived -- at the stake is practically a pastime for congressional creepy-crawlies.      

Some may argue that Tony Hayward and his crack government affairs team had to find ways to ingratiate themselves with Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats. After all, the Democrats did take control of Congress in 2006. Mr. Obama looked pretty close to a sure bet to capture the White House in 2008, at least in the closing chapters of the election season. And the Obama White House and a Democratic Congress could make life pretty miserable for an oil colossus. Hence, BP had to pay to play -- and not just in terms of hard cash. 

But that's where the worldly wise are flat wrong. Hayward and BP execs had a real alternative to bedding down with Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi. Execs could have tendered a polite "No, thank you" when the stentorian John Kerry asked BP to jump aboard the U.S.S. Cap and Trade

What CEO Hayward could have staked out was clearly defined positions on principles related to his industry and free markets. There's something exquisitely powerful in being unambiguously and openly candid about what you stand for and why. On further consideration, given how "practical" BP has been in its politics, it's hard to say just what the company truly stands for. Hayward and company leaders may be as slippery as the products they sell. Yet, for the sake of discussion, let's assume there's more there in BP's executives' hearts.

To DC's hard-boiled denizens, the notion of openness and honesty may smack of hopeless naivety -- you know, doesn't this guy get how Washington really works? The response to that wisecrack is simple: Apparently, however Washington works hasn't worked particularly well for BP. Maybe the old formula of playing paddy-cake with one's opponents is just that: old, tired and failed. Perhaps the Washington Way is one enormous failure?    

Rather than BP lining lobbyists' pockets to the tune of $16 million dollars in the last year alone, the company could have spent a fair portion of that sum making the case for the critical importance of what it provides Americans. That would be petroleum -- go-go juice for the nation's economy, meaning jobs, directly and indirectly, for millions of Americans. And then execs could have talked about all the oil and gas that's still gettable but that Washington is prohibiting them from going and getting. One example is ANWAR. BP once supported drilling up in a small portion of the Great White North. No more. BP backed out of Arctic Power, the coalition that was formed to fight for ANWAR drilling.     

The old saying goes that a fish rots from the head. Maybe Tony Hayward and BP execs are just one big, rotting head. Hayward's comment that he "just wants his life back" should give us a nice little clue what constitutes the man. Hayward wants his cushy life back while millions of Americans are losing some aspect of theirs. The BP CEO is betraying the symptoms of Boomer-itis, that affliction peculiar too many Americans (and one Brit, evidently) born roughly between 1945 and 1964. The hallmark of Boomer-itis is an exaggerated focus on "Me," principles be damned.
BP is learning a very hard lesson about politics. It's a lesson the rest of the corporate world should learn as well. You see, throwing scads of money at Barack Obama and congressional Democrats has bought BP nada. Climbing on the cap-and-trade bandwagon to make nice with Mr. Obama and the left has won BP no protection during a crisis. And all those touchy-feely ads about how green BP is -- or wants to be -- have turned out to be tens of millions of dollars wasted chasing progressives' approval. 

In matters political, when principle takes a backseat to cynicism gussied up as practicality, the results can be as predictable as Russian Roulette -- meaning not very predictable at all. Corporate chiefs whose jaded government affairs execs are whispering in their ears about the need to cozy up to candidates or politicians whose ideological hostility or record of opposition to an industry or free enterprise is manifest should give those execs an hour to clean out their desks. Such advice is freighted with big risks and steep downsides. 

And does anyone with more than a passing interest in politics not know that Barack Obama has never been friendly to big business -- or any business? That Mr. Obama and the left-wing leadership among congressional Democrats have been unremittingly hostile to the oil industry? If one government affairs exec at BP has advised CEO Tony Hayward not to throw good money after bad by "investing" in Mr. Obama and the Democrats, he should be guaranteed a job for life -- and a handsome bonus for having the guts to advance the opinion.    

Politics, as BP is learning, isn't a game of friendships, unless friendships of convenience count. A corporate giant like BP might be able to buy political love, but that love hangs by a thread. The typically obsessive self-interest of the politicians from whom the love is being purchased almost always trumps gratitude and loyalty. Too many politicians -- Democrat and Republican -- tack with the changing winds. And yes, in the world of politics, victory has a million fathers, while defeat of whatever stripe is quite the orphan.

None of this is to suggest that BP isn't grossly liable for the Gulf fiasco, or that BP's time and dollars invested in Mr. Obama and the Democrats should buy its way out of responsibility. BP is on the hook, as well it should be.  But what Mr. Hayward and his executive team are discovering is that all their dollars dumped into Democratic coffers, all the "positioning" favorable to cap-and-trade, and all the PR gimmickry and slick advertising to rebrand BP as the environment's best buddy aren't keeping the company from being whipped mercilessly by Mr. Obama or the grandstanding libs in Congress. Burning bad guys -- so perceived -- at the stake is practically a pastime for congressional creepy-crawlies.      

Some may argue that Tony Hayward and his crack government affairs team had to find ways to ingratiate themselves with Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats. After all, the Democrats did take control of Congress in 2006. Mr. Obama looked pretty close to a sure bet to capture the White House in 2008, at least in the closing chapters of the election season. And the Obama White House and a Democratic Congress could make life pretty miserable for an oil colossus. Hence, BP had to pay to play -- and not just in terms of hard cash. 

But that's where the worldly wise are flat wrong. Hayward and BP execs had a real alternative to bedding down with Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi. Execs could have tendered a polite "No, thank you" when the stentorian John Kerry asked BP to jump aboard the U.S.S. Cap and Trade

What CEO Hayward could have staked out was clearly defined positions on principles related to his industry and free markets. There's something exquisitely powerful in being unambiguously and openly candid about what you stand for and why. On further consideration, given how "practical" BP has been in its politics, it's hard to say just what the company truly stands for. Hayward and company leaders may be as slippery as the products they sell. Yet, for the sake of discussion, let's assume there's more there in BP's executives' hearts.

To DC's hard-boiled denizens, the notion of openness and honesty may smack of hopeless naivety -- you know, doesn't this guy get how Washington really works? The response to that wisecrack is simple: Apparently, however Washington works hasn't worked particularly well for BP. Maybe the old formula of playing paddy-cake with one's opponents is just that: old, tired and failed. Perhaps the Washington Way is one enormous failure?    

Rather than BP lining lobbyists' pockets to the tune of $16 million dollars in the last year alone, the company could have spent a fair portion of that sum making the case for the critical importance of what it provides Americans. That would be petroleum -- go-go juice for the nation's economy, meaning jobs, directly and indirectly, for millions of Americans. And then execs could have talked about all the oil and gas that's still gettable but that Washington is prohibiting them from going and getting. One example is ANWAR. BP once supported drilling up in a small portion of the Great White North. No more. BP backed out of Arctic Power, the coalition that was formed to fight for ANWAR drilling.     

The old saying goes that a fish rots from the head. Maybe Tony Hayward and BP execs are just one big, rotting head. Hayward's comment that he "just wants his life back" should give us a nice little clue what constitutes the man. Hayward wants his cushy life back while millions of Americans are losing some aspect of theirs. The BP CEO is betraying the symptoms of Boomer-itis, that affliction peculiar too many Americans (and one Brit, evidently) born roughly between 1945 and 1964. The hallmark of Boomer-itis is an exaggerated focus on "Me," principles be damned.

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