The Accountability gap

Published April 29, 2022

By Thomas Mills

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy lied…and lied…and lied. After the release of a book that claims McCarthy told people he would call on Trump to resign during the wake of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, McCarthy denied that ever happened. And he denied it again and again. This morning, the book’s authors released a tape of McCarthy saying exactly what they claimed. 

The revelations come on the heels of a report that McCarthy’s counterpart in the Senate, Mitch McConnell said that Trump should be impeached just days before  voting against impeaching him. The two men are profiles in cowardice. They represent a party that has little use for accountability or the truth. It’s a party led by cynics who only care about achieving or holding power. They will say anything. 

So as the liars are exposed, expect social media to explode with whataboutism. Republicans and conservatives will endlessly post Obama’s lie, “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” In North Carolina, Republicans will remind us of a slew of corrupt Democrats who went to prison in the early aughts, as if the Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans. 

 There’s a difference, though, and the difference is accountability. Democrats paid a steep price for Obama’s broken promise. He made the statement while trying to push through a massive overhaul of the health care system in 2009. The next year, Democrats faced the biggest midterm blowout in 70 years. As for all those corrupt North Carolina Democrats? They were disgraced and sent to prison. The base lost their enthusiasm for Democrats and hung them out to dry, punishing them for making misleading statements and for corruption. 

Republicans have no such accountability. The base doesn’t penalize Republicans for lying. They create an alternative reality in which they claim the lie is the truth, as if they live in an Orwellian society. Kevin McCarthy won’t pay a penalty for lying, but he likely would have paid a price if he had followed through on his threat to ask Trump to resign. 

 The lies spread by Republicans are backed up by an entire information environment that feeds disinformation and misinformation to an ignorant and reactionary base. In contrast, Democrats are still held accountable by the mainstream media that Republicans loath. Politifact was the organization that called Obama’s statement “Lie of the Year,” giving Republicans election year fodder to hammer Democrats in the midterms. When Democrats lie, they’re bashed by both the right-wing media outlets and the mainstream press, firing up the GOP base and depressing their own. 

In addition, not all lies are the same. Obama’s lie was about the effect of a policy that had not been passed. He was wrong, maybe because he thought it would work differently and maybe because he hoped saying it would garner support. Had it failed, nobody would remember it. Republicans lie about what they do. Trump said he didn’t try to blackmail Ukraine but he did. McCarthy says he never said he would call on Trump to resign but he did. At worst, Obama lied in a Machiavellian belief that the ends justified the means. Republicans lie about what happened to try to change the reality of history. The two are not the same. 

There’s an accountability gap in our politics. Democrats are routinely punished by the mainstream media and their own base for making misleading statements or corrupt behavior. Republicans may be held accountable by the mainstream media, but those outlets have been discredited with the GOP base by years of Republicans calling them the “liberal media.” One party tends to pay a price for its dishonesty and one party does not. In fact, dishonesty and disinformation have become weapons in the Republican political arsenal.