Most of us have a censoring device in our head, a little voice that rises up when we are about to say something stupid. “Hey, champ, maybe sit this one out.” That little voice has saved me from public embarrassment so many times that I have lost count. Congressman Vance McAllister (R – LA) appears to have no such device in his head. For that, I am thankful.
I love spin. The way public figures lie to us is endlessly fascinating. I love the ways oil companies and politicians can take a disaster and, by carefully choosing the right combination of words, rise above the fray, deflect all blame and turn a loss into a victory. But what I love most of all is bad spin. Those moments when a cornered politician releases words into the atmosphere and hopes that the right combination will stick give me so, so, so much joy.
Today, Representative Vance McAllister is my favorite person in the world. Last month at a hearing before the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs, Rep. McAllister heard some testimony and viewed some photographs, which might have troubled weaker souls like you or me, but which Rep. McAllister saw as examples of America’s can-do spirit.
At the hearing, Noah Matson from Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group, suggested that maybe, just maybe, some of the oil pipelines which run through our wildlife refuges are not being properly maintained and are leaking oil, endangering the lives of the very wildlife these refuges are meant to protect. For those who don’t know, oil, when poured into the ground and into water soaked up by plants and consumed by animals, is something of a deterrent to living. You might wonder what kind of proof Mr. Matson had to back up such outrageous claims. Only a series of photos taken by the Fish and Wildlife Service, which showed damaged and leaking oil pipes patched with nothing but duct tape and garbage bags. Damning evidence to be sure, but not in the eyes of Vance McAllister.
“You took a picture of someone who was innovative and rather than leaving the fluid to drip on the ground, repaired it with duct tape and a garbage bag,” said McAllister in public, into a microphone, in a room full of people, during a government hearing, “and yet you seem to be very upset about that. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.”
Rep McAllister must have been a big MacGyver fan. He thinks duct tape can fix anything. He must also be a big fan of fairy tales. He thinks people will believe anything. And it’s not just duct tape that has magical, leak-stopping properties in McAllister’s world. “You don’t know if they’ve been using this for a while and said, ‘you know, we found the best kind of garbage bags there are and they’re actually better than any of the pipes that we can buy down at the pipe supply store.’” First of all, the pipe supply store? Is that even a real place? If it is a real place, do oil pipeline companies shop there? I would hope not. Although if pipeline companies are buying their continent-spanning pipes at Doug’s Discount House of Irregularly Shaped Pipes, it would explain all the leaks.
Everything McAllister said at the hearing was wonderfully crazy and I’m wonderfully loathed to deprive you of any of the riches. For example, while trying to bond with Matson over a love for the environment, McAllister said, “I understand you’re wanting to protect wildlife and look, I love the great outdoors and I live in Lousiana, a sportsman’s paradise and I love it, too. But I’m not for giving ducks and deer weapons to shoot back at me.” I have no idea what that means. I have no idea how wanting to hold oil companies accountable for patching leaks with duct tape and garbage bags, you know, instead of actual supplies, equates to arming ducks. Maybe Rep. McAllister knows. Maybe this analogy made sense in his mind. Or maybe he had a mini-stroke. I can’t be sure.
Or maybe McAllister is a genius. Maybe he knows something we don’t know. Maybe he’s discovered the secret of saving the environment: We don’t need to spend money on fancy metals and supplies. We can use household remedies. Stick a Band-Aid on a tanker. Wrap an Ace bandage around a rig. Cover a refinery in plastic, like grandma’s couch. Maybe this crazy sounding politician is really the sanest of us all.
Or maybe he’s just a hack in the pocket of the oil and gas industry. It’s so hard to tell.