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Politics as usual, exponential factor four - Will Durst

In an age of relentless change, it's heartening to be able to count on a few simple things. Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann ranting and raving one pulse short of an aneurism. Water flowing downhill.

Congress holding hearings whose only point is to express the indignant depths of their public outrage, even though our chances of learning anything is less likely than the North Korean Minister of Medicine going on Oprah to talk about Kim Jong Il's spider phobia. It's all good.

The spectacle of politics as usual is as reassuring as a warm bathrobe. It's comforting to be reminded every now and then that no matter how urgent the crisis facing the American people, our politicians can and will find ample time to grandstand, even if their self-righteous preening cancels out the eensiest possibility of actual progress. Can't wait for them to replace the gavel at these things with a hand-held mirror.

Take the recent seven-hour theatrical farce featuring Tony Hayward. Please. Strictly following the prescribed testimony demanded of these august tribunals, British Petroleum's CEO stuck to the script and adopted the role of a character afflicted with a severe case of selective amnesia. The man didn't know anything. Including which industry he was in, or how to wipe that priggy smirk off his face.

Hayward's disingenuousness was so complete, he actually might have put himself in jeopardy of being charged with impersonating a Congressman. The deceit, the whole deceit, and nothing but deceit. His ability to be so utterly elusive, evasive and impossible to pin down could lead to a career filling in for the Roadrunner in future Looney Tunes cartoons.

Not to mention that grilling him on technical questions was predestined to be as fruitless as Antarctica in July. As CEO of a huge corporation, he's got lackeys and minions and stooges and toadies for the heavy lifting of knowing stuff. Mr. Hayward's job is to massage shareholders and pose for the cover of yearly financial reports, and in times of trouble, act as designated fire hydrant to packs of media-hungry dogs. Or cartoon coyotes posing as concerned Congressmen.

This televised dramaturgy wasn't ever about answers. This was pure stagecraft. Congressional hearings are to hypocrisy what green felt is to pool tables. Especially the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Which is code for the Big Oil Boys.

The same politicians who receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions every year from the very people they're supposedly regulating. Foxes, hen houses and flying feathers spring to mind.

The only person briefly maintaining a semblance of integrity was Rep. Joe Barton (R- Exxon-Mobil), who opened the proceedings by apologizing to BP for what he called a White House "shakedown." At least this guy knows who his friends are. The very definition of an honest politician: one who stays bought.

But buyee's remorse prevailed. Mere hours later, after a quiet tête-à-tête with the biggest dogs in the Republican Party, Barton emerged to call another press conference where he retracted his apology. That's right. He apologized for his apology. For which we should apologize. Reportedly, the wolves threatened his committee seniority. And so he caved. And covered his comfortable butt. Reverted to form. Back to the normal scheme of things. Politics as usual, exponential factor four. Ain't it grand?

Will Durst is a San Francisco-based political comic who oftsen writes. This being a curious example. He has performed around the world, and is a familiar pundit on te.