REPUBLICANS IN GLASS HOUSES SHOULDN’T THROW STONES…. Of all the issues for Republicans to seize on, ethics in Congress may be the most tone-deaf of them all.

In the wake of a handful of Democratic scandals, Republicans are piling on, hoping to associate Democrats with the same stink that brought down the Republican majority: corruption. The GOP has tarred Democrats who accepted campaign money from Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), and continue to attack the Democratic leadership for what they call hypocrisy on ethics and transparency.

“Nancy Pelosi said in the very beginning that this is going to be the most open, honest ethical congress in history,” said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor on Meet the Press at the end of last month, “and what we are seeing is that she is breaking that promise every day.”

Many in the media actually seem to be falling for this. The NYT had a piece the other day trying to draw parallels between some recent Dem controversies — Paterson, Rangel, Massa — and the Republicans’ infamous culture of corruption in 2006. Even Time‘s Karen Tumulty, who usually knows better, lent credence to the idea.

So, let’s clear things up a little. First, there’s a quantitative difference. Have there been some Democrats who’ve run into trouble of late? Obviously, yes, but the list includes a modest number of isolated incidents.

In contrast, the corruption that overcame the Republican establishment during their reign of error was systemic and overwhelming. After a while, so many GOP officials were involved in scandals, the names started to blur together. Which one was Abramoff’s buddy? Which one took bribes from defense contractors? Which one had his home raided by the FBI? Which one was locked up in a federal penitentiary? If Republicans really want to talk about ethical lapses, it’s worth reminding them of names like DeLay, Cunningham, Ney, Foley, Lewis, Burns, Stevens, Craig, Vitter, Miller, and Renzi, among others.

By August 2007, Republican strategist Scott Reed said the party’s corruption scandals were “approaching a level of ridiculousness…. Republicans think the governing class in Washington are a bunch of buffoons who have total disregard for the principles of the party, the law of the land and the future of the country.”

But that’s not the only difference.

Also note that Republicans went to great pains to shield their scandal-plagued allies from punishment. In one particularly egregious incident, the GOP caucus changed its own rules to allow Tom DeLay to stay on as the House Majority Leader after he’d been indicted.

In contrast, Dems cut their scandal-plagued allies off quickly. Paterson has no support. Massa is a pariah in Democratic circles. No one returns the phone calls of Rod Blagojevich or John Edwards.

And finally, the Republican argument is premised on the notion that the GOP scandals are a thing of the past, and now it’s Dems’ turn to look awful. But that’s silly. Not only were there more scandal-plagued Republicans before, there are arguably more scandal-plagued Republicans now. Indeed, the entire ethics push comes as a sitting GOP senator is in the midst of a humiliating sex scandal involving likely crimes and ethics violations.

It’s not just Ensign. In the midst of Republicans’ new-found interest in propriety, the list of current GOP members with ethics troubles is already pretty long: Vitter, Sanford, Pete Sessions, Nathan Deal, Don Young, Ken Calvert, and others.

Do Republicans really want to go down this road?

Steve Benen

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.