Last week, Republican presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Jeb Bush mixed it up with the media over their use of the pejorative term “anchor baby.” Instead of debating the real issue – whether the 14th Amendment should grant citizenship to babies born to mothers who came here illegally – everyone’s fighting about what to call them.

The fracas does point to a far bigger issue, however: We’re so easily distracted by every phrase, video clip, or partisan controversy that scrolls across our Twitter feed or gets reported by any one of the countless 24/7 news aggregators that we’re not focusing on the critical issues confronting our nation.

Another example of this nonsense was the fiery exchange between Chris Christie and Rand Paul at the first GOP presidential debate. The dustup was over the NSA’s collection of phone metadata, which Paul seems to think violates the 4th Amendment. Actually, it doesn’t, as the National Review’s Andrew McCarthy explained so clearly way back in May.

Besides, no content is collected – just numbers, dates, and times. The courts have long ruled that prosecutors can subpoena phone records and more without a judicial warrant. You see that whenever you watch an episode of CSI or NCIS. The whole debate is pointless. There’s no there there. It’s time we face the truth: Edward Snowden was no whistleblower, just a common criminal.

Then there was Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley apologizing for responding to the “black lives matter” mantra by saying “all lives matter.” That may have been the most twisted and pathetic display of extreme political correctness I’ve ever seen. And while his groveling for forgiveness for saying something so obviously righteous and true disgusts me, it’s still not relevant in this election cycle.

Nor is the debate over defunding Planned Parenthood. For the GOP, that’s even worse than a distraction. While the current scuffle centers on the organization’s inhuman practice of selling fetal body parts, it still brings to mind the controversy of Roe v. Wade, and that’s not a can of worms Republicans should be opening.

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So what does matter? What should the candidates, the media, you and I be focusing on during this presidential election cycle? Before I get into that, let me make one point. I know a lot of you don’t live in this country, but, as the U.S. goes, so goes the world.

If the U.S. sinks further into debt, its economy remains sluggish, and it continues to treat the threat of Islamic terrorism lightly, every nation on earth will suffer. Make no mistake: the outcome of the 2016 presidential race will profoundly affect every single one of you. And that’s about as good a jumping off point for the 9 issues that really matter as we’re going to get:

Real leadership in Washington.

The last two administrations have been among the most divisive in modern history. That’s why Washington is so dysfunctional and no substantive change happens. We desperately need a real leader who can unite us and make all three branches of the federal government function as they should.

Sluggish economy.

A robust economy lifts all boats and our current annual GDP growth of 2.2 percent is barely keeping us above the water line. The unemployment rate has improved but our workforce participation rate is at a multi-decade low. In other words, our productivity sucks.

Staggering debt.

At $18 trillion, our national debt is unsustainable. Interest on the debt alone will kill us. The size of the federal government is out of control. It threatens the very sovereignty and security of our nation.

Insane tax code.

Our tax code incentivizes the wrong behavior. Two words: “flat tax.” No loopholes, no lobbyists, no crony capitalism. Throw out the 70,000-page tax code and get rid of the IRS. Allow U.S. corporations to repatriate offshore capital and put it to work here to build factories and create jobs.

Out-of-control entitlement spending.

Adding yet another enormous entitlement burden – Obamacare – to Social Security, Medicare, and a laundry list of welfare programs might have been the dumbest move in generations. We’re well on the road to becoming Greece.

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Broken immigration system.

Nobody’s had the political will to seal our borders and deal with our broken immigration system for decades for fear of alienating the Hispanic vote. We need a leader with the moral fiber and guts to put what’s best for the nation ahead of his own self-interest.

Education subsidies.

Federal funding has destroyed the effectiveness of our public-school system. Between LBJ’s “Great Society,” Carter’s creation of a cabinet-level department, Clinton’s America’s School Act and Bush’s No Child Left Behind, we’ve broken a system that never needed to be fixed in the first place. The Department of Education should be dissolved.

Islamic terrorism.

First, we need to call it what it is and fully support Israel. Then we need to can the Iran nuclear deal and lead our allies around the world to work together to defeat Isis. If that means boots on the ground, so be it.

Our beloved vets.

The way we treat the vets who bravely fought for our freedom and way of life is abhorrent. We should all be ashamed of ourselves. Period.

You’ve got to admit, that list sort of makes anchor babies, NSA phone records, the "black lives matter" controversy, and Planned Parenthood sort of irrelevant, doesn’t it? If it doesn’t, we’re hopeless.

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