02/24/2012 12:48 pm ET Updated Apr 25, 2012

Historic Whoppers at the Republican Debate

Hyperbole is no stranger to political campaigns, and Wednesday night's Republican debate saw some historical (if not historic) whoppers. Here are a few that I noticed:

Mitt Romney:

"I don't think we've seen in the history of this country the kind of attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance that we've seen under Barack Obama."

Romney was talking about President Obama's plan for health insurers to cover birth control pills, and a compromise that was regarded as a good-faith step by the Catholic Health Association, Catholic Charities, and other large mainstream organizations. "Unbelievable!" Romney said. What is truly unbelievable is that Romney would so blithely mischaracterize the president's attempts to make health care affordable for all as a religious attack.

As a former lay leader in the Mormon Church, Romney should know too well what a real attack on religious conscience, freedom, and tolerance looks like. In 1838, Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs issued what has come to be known as the "Extermination Order," asserting "the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state."

Or just one other historical case that the Republican candidate might keep in mind: the 1856 Republican party platform referred to polygamy, then considered a defining feature of Mormon religious practice, as a "twin relic of barbarism" alongside slavery.

Newt Gingrich:

"You go back and look at the founding fathers, they'd have very clear messages. Hamilton would have said you have to have jobs and economic growth to get back to a balanced budget."

No one would argue with the idea that economic growth can help balance the budget, but it's particularly odd to name-check Alexander Hamilton there. As Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton created the First Bank of America and the national debt. The debt, he said "will be to us a national blessing" (he did clarify, "if it is not excessive.") Elsewhere, Hamilton presciently explained, "to extinguish a debt which exists and to avoid contracting more are ideas almost always favored by public feeling and opinion; but to pay taxes for the one or the other purpose, which are the only means of avoiding the evil, is always more or less unpopular." In other words, he supported the debt and revenues to pay for it -- tax and spend.

And Gingrich again:

"All of us are more at risk today, men and women, boys and girls, than at any time in the history of this country." And, "I believe this is the most dangerous president on national security grounds in American history."

Surely other times and presidents vie for that dishonor. During the War of 1812, the British burned the White House and posed an existential threat to the new nation, then under the leadership of President James Madison. James Buchanan let the country plunge towards disunion, and Abraham Lincoln presided over a civil war in which well over 600,000 Americans died. Over 2,400 Americans died at Pearl Harbor during Franklin Roosevelt's third term. During John F. Kennedy's tenure as president, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the nation to the brink of nuclear war. And then there were the terrible Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks which occurred on George W. Bush's watch.