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The Panderlympics

Republican presidential candidates are painting themselves into corners they won't be able to escape next fall

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The Republican "debates" can more accurately be called The GOP Show, as they feel more like a reality TV series than an American presidential election. So far, this passel of candidates has presented little more than a cacophony of pandering to the base. But listen close, and you'll hear notes come through — a state of denial, mistaken beliefs, superstitious mythologies, along with fearful descriptions of bogeymen and hobgoblins of all kinds. Consider examples of all four, with reference to key issues for the 2016 race: health care, the Middle East, immigration and climate change.

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Health Care

BELIEF: Before that socialist Obama came to office, America had the best health care system in the world.

REALITY: Nonsense. America spends a greater percentage of its GDP on health care than any other industrialized country — upward of 18 percent. Compare this percentage to Canada (11.2 percent), Japan (9.6 percent) or the UK (9.4 percent). Meanwhile, our results aren't anywhere near "the best." Compared to 17 peer countries, America has a terrible infant mortality record, the third-worst mortality rate caused by nutritional deficiencies, and the second-worst rate of death through respiratory disease. Worldwide in life expectancy, the World Health Organization ranks America an uninspiring 34th — tied with Cuba.

The Middle East

BELIEF: Obama inherited a peaceful Iraq, but then he pulled out all the troops, and the very next day? ISIS arrived, and Putin became the world's de facto leader.

REALITY: "Peace" had never broken out in the Middle East. Obama did make a tactical error when he chose to stay on the "high road" and let Bush/Cheney off the hook; in retrospect, perhaps he should have trashed them both instead of getting sidetracked by that illusion of a "post-partisan" America. And yes, calling ISIS a "jayvee team" of terrorists was dumb. But it did no damage, certainly not when compared to Bush's MISSION ACCOMPLISHED whopper. Most certainly, the Republican "base" to the contrary, ISIS did not form on Obama's watch. The culprit — and this, I suggest, will end up as the biggest elephant in the smelly Republican tent — was, once again, George W. Bush. First came his disingenuous and poorly thought-out invasion of Iraq (just ask Colin Powell). Then came Paul Bremer: Chosen as Iraq czar by Bush, Bremer summarily disbanded the Iraqi army in 2003 and set up a Shia-dominated government. The ISIS trail leads back to these two decisions, as explained by former intelligence officer Joel Rayburn in his book Iraq After America:

At first no one fought the Americans, not the British, not the army officers and not the tribes. But when the Americans formed the Governing Council (2003) with thirteen Shiite and only a few Sunnis, people began to say, "The Americans mean to give the country to Shia," and then they began to fight and the tribes began to let al Qaeda in.

Immigration

BELIEF: Immigrants are taking our jobs.

REALITY: Many of them are doing jobs in America that most Americans don't want to do.

Climate Change

BELIEF: The federal government can't be trusted and can't do anything right. As regards climate change, this charge typically leads back to Senator James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and a former insurance salesman. Inhofe speaks for all the debaters when he charges that federal agencies are "colluding" (the word he uses) on the question of climate change. He is arguing that NASA, NOAA, the U.S. Navy and scientists from many agencies across government and the private sector are colluders in league to perpetrate this hoax for some nefarious reason.

REALITY: Republicans have denied climate change for the past 30-plus years. They still aren't talking about it, even as downtown Miami prepares for flooding due to warming oceans. But President Obama is now forcing the issue — from the Paris conference, to his treaties, to his clean power plan, to his torpedoing the Canadian pipeline, to his ever more successful efforts to promote wind power and solar power. The president has taken control of the narrative. Meanwhile, our batch of presidential debaters reflect their perceived "base" by staying far away from this issue. But rest assured, they will face it next year in a national election that won't be decided by the GOP base alone.

When viewed as a hobgoblin, the federal government is viewed as more reason to maintain a state of denial about observable facts. That is always troublesome, but it can be flat-out dangerous. The New Republic just ran a lengthy article on the state of climate change worldwide which closes with this warning: "The most ominous threat to climate progress may be a Republican taking the White House in 2016 or 2020."

Why? Think denial, beliefs, mythology and hobgoblins.♦