“We are the United States of America,” Pawlenty said today in Chicago. “We settled the west and went to the moon. We liberated billions of good people from communism, fascism, and jihadism [bold mine-DL]. We’ve lit the lamp of freedom – for the entire world to see. The strength of our country is our people – not our government. Americans believe our country is exceptional. And they deserve a president who does too.“ ~Stephen Hayes

Most of this is Pawlenty’s standard stump speech, but the line about liberating billions of people is a new one. It also happens to be a massive exaggeration, which seems to match up well with the details of his economic plan. If we take the most self-important interpretation of historical events since 1941, and the United States gets at least partial credit for all of the people liberated from “communism, fascism, and jihadism” in the last seventy years, that won’t get us remotely close to one billion people, much less the multiple billions Pawlenty seems to think were liberated. And those were just the good people. There’s no telling how many bad people Pawlenty may think were liberated.

Then there is the small matter that the actual liberation of the hundreds of millions of people in the USSR and eastern Europe was overwhelmingly the work of the people in those countries. They freed themselves. It’s hard for some of our latter-day Bonapartes to understand, I know, but this is what happened. Yes, the U.S. lent some moral and practical support, but the trade-off of containment strategy was accepting the communist oppression of all those nations for as long as it continued. The weakness and failures of the communist system caused it to implode. The U.S. put some pressure on that system, and that had some effect in hastening the unraveling of the USSR, but it was the fundamental flaws of that system that led to its collapse.

All in all, this doesn’t matter very much, but it is typical of the tendency of defenders of a triumphalist version of American exceptionalism to exaggerate vastly the accomplishments and sacrifices of Americans throughout history and to overstate the uniqueness and superiority of America in the present. For Fred Thompson, it was the false claim that Americans had shed more blood for the freedom of other people than all other nations combined, and for Marco Rubio it is the false claim that the American economy is “the only economy in the world where poor people with a better idea and a strong work ethic can compete and succeed against rich people in the marketplace and competition.” Not content to acknowledge the actual accomplishments of American efforts overseas, Pawlenty has to inflate the numbers of liberated people, as if he can demonstrate his greater enthusiasm for America by telling flattering falsehoods about our history.