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Presidentiality: ‘Treason?’

“Presidentiality” is a weekly web series with Need to Know correspondent Win Rosenfeld that dissects what the candidates are saying, doing and promising on the campaign trail. Each week, “Presidentiality” deconstructs their rhetoric through the lenses of historical precedent, economic theory and science.

In one of the more notable moments from Monday night’s Republican presidential debate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman fired a barb at the front-runner and Tea Party favorite, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, for his record on immigration. “For Rick to say you can’t secure the border is pretty much a treasonous comment,” Huntsman quipped, prompting audible groans from the audience.

Huntsman’s gibe may not have scored points with the Tea Party faithful in the crowd, but it did revive a flare-up the Texas governor would probably rather forget: His controversial remarks at a fundraiser in Iowa last month, in which Perry accused the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, of “treasonous” behavior. Perry suggested that the Fed chairman’s policy of “printing more money” could warrant “ugly” treatment if he ever made his way down to Texas.

The Fed’s policy of monetary stimulus — injecting cash into the economy and keeping interest rates low — has attracted the ire of conservative activists and the Tea Party, who say programs like “Quantitative Easing,” in which the Fed buys long-term government bonds from private banks and financial institutions, has devalued the dollar and added to the mountains of government debt.

The charge of “treason” seems to stem, in part, from a misunderstanding of what the central bank is actually doing. The Fed hasn’t been “printing more money” in order to fund government programs and drive up the national debt. Bernanke and his colleagues have been buying government bonds from private banks in order to add to the reserves of those banks and keep lending rates low. The increase in the money supply eases the availability of credit — and credit, of course, is the motor oil that keeps America’s economic engine running smoothly.

So, how do Bernanke’s alleged crimes stack up against those of history’s most disdained and reviled traitors? To find out, “Presidentiality” combed through the annals of treachery, from Judas to Brutus to Tokyo Rose, to see just how high how the bar for “treason” really is.