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Paul Gosar and Kevin McCarthy Should Keep Alexander Hamilton’s Name Out of Their Mouths

The Republicans defame the dead in service of a scoundrel.

A close up of Paul Gosar's face.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Arizona Representative Paul Gosar

“If I must join Alexander Hamilton, the first person who attempted to be censured by this House,” intoned Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar, “then so be it.”

Oh, lord. Seriously? OK: First of all, let’s put aside the backward grammar, since I doubt it was Hamilton who “attempted” to be censured. Let’s get to the facts. There was indeed a censure vote held against Hamilton, who had allegedly mishandled some loans that Congress had authorized. But it failed. Hamilton was never censured. For the record, the first man who actually was censured by the House was Ohio Congressman William Stanbery in 1832. His crime? Speaking ill of the speaker of the House, accusing him of having presidential ambitions.

But besides that: Alexander Hamilton? Really? Hamilton was, to be sure, a very controversial figure in his time, the leader of the (usually) minority faction in the early days of the republic. Aaron Burr, you might recall, challenged him to a duel. (Hamilton lost, and they made a whole big musical about it.) But Hamilton was a major intellectual force in American history: the first secretary of the Treasury and a first-tier founder.

What is Paul Gosar? A guy whose own brothers and sisters find him to be an affront and an embarrassment.

We need to spend a moment reflecting on what it takes for this nothing-person, this dentist who beat a Democratic incumbent in the Tea Party wave year of 2010 with the backing of Sarah Palin and Joe Arpaio, this drooling simian who agreed to one debate but withdrew because he already had a knack for saying weird stuff and figured 90 minutes on a stage against a literate opponent might be death, to decide to compare himself to Alexander Hamilton. The answer—or, to be more precise, answers—are these: One, he’ll say anything, and he and whatever staff aide discovered this Hamilton factoid thought it made him sound good; two, he and his staff perhaps also knew it would make him sound martyr-like, since Hamilton was killed in his famous duel (if indeed they even knew that). But most important of all, you know that faculty that people with consciences have, the mental guardrail that makes them say, “Now, wait: Is this accurate, and fair?” This is a faculty that Gosar doesn’t possess.

He’s not the only one. Some of those floor speeches from his colleagues were doozies! The always reliable Jim Jordan tried to turn the censure resolution into some kind of complaint about muzzling free speech. Jordan’s a lawyer (believe it or not). He knows very well there are limits on free speech, as there are on every right.

But Kevin McCarthy’s speech took the gold. “Rules for thee, not for me,” he said over and over, as he cited various remarks by various House Democrats in recent years that he said crossed a line. And, yeah: Maxine Waters has said some things she should not have said, as have a couple others. Nancy Pelosi probably should not have defended these instances. But news flash: Neither Waters nor any of these other people “joked” about killing a Republican House member! (You can just imagine the hue and cry if they had.)

McCarthy wrapped his speech by stating with gravity that Gosar, “when requested,” took the video down and said “he does not believe in violence to anyone.”

Ah, so it was a misunderstanding. Except that literally within the hour, Gosar retweeted the offending video. Specifically, he retweeted someone tweeting it, but it amounts to the same thing.

If McCarthy has had anything to say about that, I haven’t heard of it. The only clip I saw of him at his Thursday press conference was him being asked to compare the Gosar affair to what happened in his conference to Liz Cheney when she was replaced by Elise Stefanik, and he cut the questioner off, saying, Hey, that wasn’t me, that was a vote by our conference members.

Yeah, right. He endorsed Stefanik to take Cheney’s place a few days before the vote. So I’m sure all his members figured they were free to vote their conscience (in point of fact, they did, since their only remaining “conscience” at this point is what Donald Trump wants and what will troll the libs, but that’s another matter).

McCarthy has become expertly adept at those skills most of America’s leading right-wingers have in abundance—projection and false equivalence. They so often, when purporting to describe a political foe, are reliably describing themselves. This week, Ted Cruz said that Donald Trump “broke” Cheney. The reality is, of course, that it was Cruz who was broken by Trump, as Cheney was quick to point out: “A real man would be defending his wife, and his father, and the Constitution.”

And McCarthy is the week’s—the month’s; this life’s—top exemplar of false equivalence. No, Hakeem Jeffries should not have tweeted that Kyle Rittenhouse should be locked up with the key thrown away. It is wrong for a member of Congress to publicly prejudge a criminal trial. Jeffries showed a severe lack of good judgment in that instance. But it wasn’t the same as, say, tweeting a cartoon showing him sticking a shiv in Lauren Boebert’s back.

Nobody in this crowd is Alexander Hamilton, by a long shot. If we’re to compare them to any founders, I’d say Gosar is maybe more akin to someone like William Houston, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention from Georgia who barely participated in the proceedings.

And McCarthy? It’s hard to say. Let’s give the last word to Hamilton himself, describing Burr:

“His very friends do not insist upon his integrity.… No mortal can tell what his political principles are. He has talked all round the compass.… As he never can effect his wish by the aid of good men, he will court and employ able and daring scoundrels of every party, and by availing himself of their assistance and of all the bad passions of the Society, he will in all likelihood attempt an usurpation.”

Sound like anyone you know?