View all Articles
Commentary By Max Schulz

Bad Case of the Shakes

Big Oil’s biggest congressional critic sets attacks on repeat mode.

Big Oil’s critics were ready, none more so than Rep. Edward Markey (D., Mass.). The 30-year House veteran was first out of the gate, quoted in the initial wire service stories with a stinging denunciation of both the Dallas-based company and the Bush administration: “While American families get tipped upside down and have their savings shaken out of their pockets at the gas pump, the Bush-Cheney team devises even more ways to line Big Oil’s pockets.”

Pithy, hard-hitting, amusing visual. As Capitol Hill sound bites go, it’s top-shelf material. But ... but ... haven’t we heard that one before?


As a matter of fact we have. Many times. Over and over. Rep. Markey is one of Congress’s most accomplished media hounds. The upside-down consumer shakedown is easily his most reliable political trope, a failsafe formulation to pull out any time he feels compelled to denounce some greedy corporate or Republican interest.

On the day last year that ExxonMobil announced its first quarter earnings, the Washington Post quoted the congressman lambasting oil companies that “are asking for subsidies at the same time they’re ‘shaking money from out of [consumers’] pockets at the gas pump.’”

Markey often made this point during consideration of last year’s energy bill. He was quoted in the Boston Globe: “For months the White House has turned a blind eye to the concerns of Americans, letting the oil industry tip consumers upside down and shake money from their pockets.” Another Washington Post story recorded him saying, “This is a huge giveaway for the oil and gas industry. ... The bill just tips the American consumer and taxpayer upside down and shakes money out of their pockets. The bill is an historic failure.”

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine Markey discussing energy issues without him invoking the oil-industry shakedown. This is just a sample of what a quick Nexis search turns up:

“A 2001 op-ed by Markey: “Here again the public is aware that something other than simple supply-and-demand economics is giving profiteers an opportunity to tip the public upside down and shake money out of their pockets. Sadly, the administration has chosen to ignore the needs of ordinary Americans facing the prospect of $50 visits to the filling station this summer. Once again it’s, ‘Have a tough summer.’”

A 2001 appearance on CNN’s Crossfire: “The Bush administration, in addition, should be putting the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department — investigating any of these industries withholding energy from the market so that they tip American consumers upside down and shake money out of their pockets, which is going on all over the country.”

A 2000 press conference to demand President Clinton release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve: “We are gathered here today because we are announcing the release of a letter to the president, asking him to begin the process of tapping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a weapon to be deployed on behalf of American consumers against Big Oil, whether it be here in the United States or across the world, who are tipping American consumers upside down and shaking money out of their pockets, in price-gouging practices at every gas pump across the United States of America. Now why is this happening? It’s happening because Big Oil thinks it can get away with it.”

A 1996 Crossfire appearance, hectoring co-host Bob Novak: “Do you point the finger at the oil industry? No. For partisan, political purposes you point the finger at President Clinton and his very successful deficit-reduction program rather than the oil companies who are tipping consumers upside down and shaking money out of their pockets.””

Of course, it’s not just oil. It seems Congressman Markey cannot fulminate over any topic without sooner or later identifying a villain who holds the consumer by his ankles to shake loose his spare change (you would have never guessed!):

“NPR story about cable competition in 1999: “All of the world is gonna be looking at this industry on April 1st to see how many of the cable companies take the absence of any regulation as the opportunity to tip consumers upside down and shake money out of people’s pockets.”

A 1999 congressional hearing on Social Security reform: “For example, we could raise the regressive payroll tax. Or we could cut benefits. But it is no accident that these alternatives have few political champions. After all, they both involve tipping people upside down and shaking money out of their pockets.”

A 1995 Chicago Tribune story on GOP tax cuts: “Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) earned the wrath of GOP colleagues when he suggested the Republican budget plan was designed to ‘tip (seniors) upside down and shake the money out of them.’”

From a 1995 AP story about a contentious Commerce Committee hearing: “In the House, the war over Medicare produced angry words and theatrics. The GOP — Grand Old Party — ‘now stands for Get Old People. Tip ‘em upside down and shake money out of their pockets,’ Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said before stomping out of the Commerce Committee meeting.”

Another dig at cable television operators, this from a 1993 Boston Globe story: “They’re tipping the consumers upside down shaking money out of their pockets.””

Nexis mercifully stops there, though one guesses Rep. Markey has been using this rhetorical crutch since he first came to Congress during the Ford era. It’s a dependable quip. Reporters fall for it every time. And used in a particular instance, it certainly drives home his point.

But considered all at once, the dozens of invocations of the embattled, shook-down consumer drive home the notion that congressional Democrats have little to offer in the way of ideas and policies other than immediate and reflexive opposition — to business, to markets, to Republicans, to reform of busted institutions like Social Security and Medicare. In Markey’s impassioned vignettes, the consumer is broke because he’s been turned upside down. Markey’s bereft of ideas. What’s his excuse?

This piece originally appeared in National Review Online

This piece originally appeared in National Review Online