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We Already Went Through Our 'Banana Republic' Phase

05/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, Republicans keep using the phrase, "Banana Republics," but I don't think it means what they think it means.

On Tuesday, Karl Rove argued on Fox News that accountability for Bush administration officials who broke the law would make United States "the moral equivalent of a Latin American country run by colonels in mirrored sunglasses."

Almost immediately, the right embraced the argument as their new favorite. In just the past few days, in addition to Rove, the notion of the United States becoming a "Banana Republic" has been touted by Sean Hannity, Bill Cunningham, Mark Steyn, and Glenn Beck, among others.

Yesterday, this blisteringly stupid argument reached the level of the United States Senate. Sens. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) actually repeated the Rove-inspired nonsense in public.

There are a lot of errors of fact and judgment here, but let's just address the broader point: these Republican lawmakers and officials are all using the same coordinated phrase, but they don't seem to know what a "Banana Republic" is.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of a "Banana Republic" is an unaccountable chief executive who ignores the rule of law when it suits his/her purposes. The ruling junta in a "Banana Republic" eschews accountability, commits heinous acts in secret, tolerates widespread corruption, and generally embraces a totalitarian attitude in which the leader can break laws whenever he/she feels it's justified to protect the state.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Rove, McCain, Bond, Hannity, Beck, et al are so caught up in their partisan rage, they've failed to realize they have the story backwards.

If our goal is to avoid looking like a "Banana Republic," then we would investigate those responsible for torture, which is, not incidentally, illegal. The accused would enjoy the presumption of innocence and due process rights. The process would be transparent, and those who act (and have acted) in our name would be held accountable.

It's the hallmark of a great and stable democracy: we honor the rule of law, even when it's inconvenient, and even when it meets the cries of small men with sad ideas.