There’s always a legitimate role for bomb-throwers in politics. We need adults who operate in the realm of the possible, who drive a hard bargain but also make essential compromises to keep the gears of state turning. But we also need people who will say unpopular things and tell inconvenient truths. Just because certain things are unavoidable doesn’t make them desirable. We may have to pass a ludicrously expensive defense spending bill, for example, but someone should always be available and willing to complain about it.

I can get impatient with bomb throwers when their criticisms are directed at the adults rather than the actual roots of the problem. I also don’t think every bomb thrown at the opposition has to be completely fair and accurate–this is politics, after all–but I get annoyed when people damage the creditability of the party as a whole by spouting unsubstantiated nonsense.

In any case, bomb throwers have their place. They motivate the base and, over time, they can help change a problematic status quo.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina is a Republican bomb-thrower. I understand the role he plays for the GOP, and I can see the value he has for them. Very little that he says is true and even less is fair, but Republicans don’t worry much about their party’s credibility. Cawthorn entertains and he gives the base a tingle up the leg.

But it still startles me that Republican voters don’t seem to have a line that cannot be crossed.

On Tuesday night, Cawthorn brought a friend into the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives. Now, Rule IV of the House is very specific about who is allowed in the House Chamber.

Rule IV states that a limited number of people can set foot inside the House chamber, known as the Hall of the House. They include past and current members, presidents and vice presidents, Cabinet members, Supreme Court justices, and House staffers who have business on the floor.

Cawthorn’s friend, Robby Starbuck of Tennessee, may be a future member of the House since he’s a candidate for office in 2022, but he is not a current or former member. He’s not a congressional staffer, cabinet member, Supreme Court Justice, president or vice-president.

So, to get around this requirement, Cawthorn lied and told the House security detail that Mr. Starbuck was a member of his congressional staff. It’s still unknown if he’ll face any official sanction for this dishonesty.

Cawthorn declined to comment Wednesday night, saying he did not do hallway interviews; Starbuck did not return a request for comment.

The office of the sergeant-at-arms, which oversees House security, had no immediate comment.

It’s unclear if there will be a penalty or fine for Cawthorn, a vocal Donald Trump ally who at 26 is one of the youngest members of Congress in history. 

You can call this a minor offense. It’s not a sexual assault or insider trading scandal. But it’s a violation that impacted the security of the House and all its members and employees. It’s not an insignificant thing.

But my concern here isn’t about the severity of the transgression or what should be the appropriate penalty. I’m focused on the lie.

It is Cawthorn’s role to tell lies. But he’s not supposed to tell them to the Capitol Police or the House sergeant-of-arms. In my mind,  the stoutly conservative contituents of Cawthorn’s North Carolina congressional district may enjoy watching him troll the media, liberals and “commies.” but they shouldn’t be fans of this kind of lie. Will they care?

Will they think less of Cawthorn for this? Will they lower their estimation of his character and trustworthiness and judgment? Might someone come along and challenge Cawthorn in a primary by pointing out that he’s fundamentally dishonest and irresponsible?

The Democrats have bomb-throwers, too. Some I kind of like, while most grate on my nerves. But I’d forgive none of them an episode like the one Cawthorn acted out on Tuesday night. I’d be done with them immediately and for good.

Maybe this is a difference between the right and the left, but either way Cawthorn is a good example of how tolerating “permissible” lies can give the impression that it’s okay to lie in every situation.  I can see how Cawthorn might be confused if his colleagues decide to punish him. He’s supposed to lie until suddenly telling a lie is not okay. How was he supposed to know where the line was?

Even though Cawthorn’s ethical problems seem to be piling up, I’m not really interested in him. I just want to know why his constituents tolerate his behavior. Where are their morals?

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