‘Power corrupts’ is a famous dictum throughout human history. One of the most well-known versions comes from Lord Acton, a 19th century English historian, and writer who declared, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” America, of course, has a long tradition of suspicion over centralized power. So much so, our entire Constitution places strict limits on the strength of our government. U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-North Carolina, landed in hot water this week for upping the ante on the debauchery and abuse of power in Washington D.C., comparing it to the popular Netflix show “House of Cards.”
“‘Well, hey, we’re going to have kind of a sexual get-together at one of our homes, you should come,’” declared Cawthorn on the podcast “Warrior Poet Society.” Cawthorn was directly asked how close D.C. is to “House of Cards” behind the veil. “I’m like, ‘What did you just ask me to come to?’ And then you realize they are asking you to come to an orgy.” The 26-year-old congressman added that some lawmakers trying to advance anti-addiction legislation are themselves doing cocaine.
Cawthorn is being made fun of relentlessly for his comments in the news and on social media. His credibility is waning, and he often makes headlines for unfavorable reasons. He recently called the popular Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky a “thug.” Cawthorn himself faces sexual harassment allegations, and his marriage lasted less than a year. In other words, he’s easily dismissed.
Republicans in the House are mad at him, too. Cawthorn is being called on the carpet for his words. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican minority leader, wants a sit-down to discuss the allegations.
According to a report in Politico, Rep. Steve Womack, R-Arkansas, a rare speaker during closed-door caucus meetings, stood up to voice his concerns about Cawthorn. “Womack remarked that many lawmakers go to bed at 9 p.m. and still use fax machines and flip phones, stating that it was inappropriate to paint them with a broad brush, as Cawthorn did.”
Perhaps Cawthorn is making it all up. It’s not the first time somebody in their 20s exaggerates either to impress people or make themselves look better than their peers. Perhaps it’s a way to take the attention off his own failed marriage, moral shortcomings, and other public or private sins. Maybe Cawthorn’s addicted to being in the news cycle. Still, it’s believable because the accusations are, in part, proven out continually through history.
Who remembers the recent sexual scandals of former U.S. Rep. Katie Hill, D-California, Anthony Weiner, D-New York, Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, Mark Foley, R-Florida, and Tim Murphy, R-Pennsylvania? Of course, that names just a few.
If Cawthorn’s remarks are true, maybe the bigger story is that even somebody with his own moral failings is scandalized by the debauched behavior in D.C. While I never had the kind of access as Cawthorn, I can remember going to Capitol Hill and seeing some of my heroes from C-SPAN sloshed by mid-morning as they roamed the corridors of power. Young women were warned to avoid certain members, some who are now in much more powerful positions today. The tawdry gossip and storytelling seemed like something more akin to the life of Caligula than a “conservative” congressman.
We don’t have to like or be a fan of Cawthorn to know that power is corrupting, and it can quickly debase us. The American Founders themselves put on a big show of not desiring power because that was perceived as unvirtuous and, not to mention, incredibly tacky. Anybody pretending the vast majority in Washington are merely putting their heads down and toiling for the common good is either ideological cheerleaders or not paying attention to the news.
We may not like Cawthorn, or may believe he’s one of the biggest frauds in Congress. Still, it’s just as likely he’s telling us something we already know about Washington and the human condition itself. That’s an important reminder not only for our lives, but who we elect, and what kind of power we want them to have over us.
Ray Nothstine is Carolina Journal opinion editor and Second Amendment research fellow at the John Locke Foundation.