BANANA REPUBLICS…. To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, Republicans keep using this phrase, 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 radio host Bill Cunningham, Sean Hannity, 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:

McCain: “In Banana Republics they prosecute people for actions they didn’t agree with under previous administrations.”

Bond: “This whole thing about punishing people in past administrations reminds me more of a Banana Republic than the United States of America. We don’t criminally prosecute people we disagree with when we change office. There are lots of questions that could have been asked of the Clinton administration failing to recognize the war on terror. They did not. The Bush administration went forward, and that’s the way our country should. The President said he was going to be forward looking and now he has opened up the stab in the back.”

It would take too long to go through this foolishness word by word, so 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. They’re so far gone, they’re so blinded by their rigid ideology, they have no idea that they’re projecting. It’s genuinely pathetic.

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.

To do otherwise, to retreat because a right-wing minority whines incessantly, would do more to make us look like a “Banana Republic” than anything else.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.