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Republicans and their imaginary president

The bizarre story of Manti Te'o, the Notre Dame football player, and his dying girlfriend gives new meaning to the term "fantasy football."

Te'o very nearly rode the heart-rending story of his tragic online romance into a Heisman Trophy (college football's highest individual honor) and a national championship.

There was hardly a dry eye in the press box as Te'o told of the death from leukemia of his online love and how he would soldier on because that's what she would have wanted him to do.

It was a great story with but a single flaw -- he had no girlfriend, she didn't die or, in fact, ever exist. She was Te'o's imaginary playmate.

Notre Dame has said that the young man was a victim of a "cruel hoax" and he himself says he was the unsuspecting dupe of an online prankster but the more you learn about the mess the less faith you have in anything the school or player have to say about the matter.

Whatever the genesis of the tale, it's now quite clear that Notre Dame and Te'o both knew it was phony days before the National Championship game and decided to say nothing about it.

The school's athletic director said he kept mum out of concern for the player's safety, the privacy of students and -- this one will kill you -- the integrity of the national championship game.

Thank God the integrity of the national championship game remains intact.

Jon Chait, New York Magazine's excellent political writer, has delivered the most telling comment on the matter. He wrote:

"Fake, schmaltzy inspirational tales are the essence of the culture of the (Notre Dame football) program. The ... story of Knute Rockne and his dying player, George Gipp, became a famous movie that helped enshrine Notre Dame football. ... In reality, Rockne was an ethically dubious sports gambler, Gipp a pool hustler, and the main events of the story -- Gipp's dying wish to 'win one for the Gipper,' Rockne's inspirational halftime speech -- never happened.

"Likewise, Rudy is the inspirational story of a walk-on who overcame the odds to play football at Notre Dame, but the story is also filled with falsehoods. Rudy, by the way, turned out to be a stock scammer."

In other words, Notre Dame football, through the years, has majored in imaginary playmates.

Which should not be a big problem -- it's football, right? -- except for the fact that one of our major political parties has become infected with the Notre Dame virus.

Schooled by its spiritual leader, Ronald Reagan (who played Gipp in his most famous movie role), the party just makes things up as it goes along and pretends they're true.

The Republicans' chief imaginary playmate is a Barack Obama that none of us has ever seen. Their Obama is a hard-core ideologue, a borderline socialist who, on international affairs, favors weakness as a strategy. This is a vague figure of murky background, perhaps even an enemy alien, who stole the 2012 election from its rightful owner, Mitt Romney.

Which is a sharp contrast to the real Obama -- a mildly liberal centrist who would love to find a Republican Party he could split the difference with. And as for weakness in foreign affairs, there are a lot of dead villains who would argue otherwise if they weren't, you know, dead.

Obama, it's said, does not reach out to Republicans. He doesn't have them over for drinks and dinner like Lyndon Johnson used to. That's the problem.

Which ignores the fact that Republicans, both ideologically crazed and sane, live in fear that someone will take a picture of them standing next to Obama while looking friendly. They know it will be used against them in the next Republican primary.

He could offer to come to their homes and tuck them in at night and they still wouldn't cooperate.

Any real reform of our political system must await the destruction of the Republican Party at the ballot box. Perhaps that would lead to the rebirth of a reality-based party.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Mich.