Here we were thinking that the presidential election of 2008 was over and done with in -- well, in 2008. And that the winner was a certain junior senator from the great state of Illinois, who rolled up a victory margin of landslide proportions (at least by modern-day standards, and certainly by George W. Bush standards, to pick a name at random).
Anyway, you were somehow under the impression that all of that was settled business.
Not that you were expecting the loyal opposition to roll over and play dead. That was never in the cards -- not these days, and not with this opposition. But you might have figured that, at least on some level, the Republicans would accept the reality that Barack Obama won, and John McCain lost. That it wasn't even close. That the result was beyond dispute. (See, by contrast: Bush, George W., 2000.) That it might be time to put down the placards and the scare 'em ads and get about the business of "governing."
After all, you seemed to recall, there were more than a few problems that needed tending to. Serious national issues of policy and statecraft.
Somehow -- something in the water? mass hypnosis? -- large segments of the GOP have managed to convince themselves that if they don't treat the 2008 results as official, then they're not. That if they persist in treating last November's numbers as merely a first-inning score, or the rest of his term as a perpetual recount, then Barack Obama isn't really president. Not yet. And if they have their way, not ever.
The Looney Tunes questioning of Obama's birth records is just one part of it. This nut-ball fringe -- and their mainstream enablers -- are already fixated on the idea that Barack Obama isn't nearly as American as they are. If they can somehow turn him into a closet Kenyan, he'll have to give the White House back!
(And Joe Biden comes from Neptune.)
But it's not just the bizarro "birther" brigades that are treating Obama as electorally illegitimate. Think about the way the health-care fight has played out recently. Perfectly reasonable concerns about the scope and logistics and financing of the president's plan, seasoned with Republicans' delaying tactics and Democrats' penchant for individual expression, have somehow morphed into a full-blown, nationwide, month-long vote-of-confidence campaign.
The congressional recess has become the GOP's golden chance to "unelect" Obama. That's why the million-dollar ad campaigns and the bombast from right-wing radio. That's why the messages flooding congressional offices and the shock-troop tactics at town-hall meetings.
It's the Presidential Campaign of 2009. A chance to "break him," as one too-candid Republican famously phrased it.
And Obama's White House and congressional Democrats will respond in kind, with rallies and ads and speeches of their own. They'll try to tie the GOP to the insurance industry, to protecting huge profits instead of promoting healthy citizens. They'll try to renew their own brand as the friend of the little guy, and the little guy's little business.
An argument we've been having since the days of Herbert Hoover? Absolutely. Which doesn't mean we won't have it again. And this time, Barack Obama's fate may be riding on the outcome.
If the Republicans win the argument -- if they're able to defeat health-care reform for another generation -- they'll declare Obama a lame duck just months into his administration.
And if the Democrats win?
Not to worry -- the Republicans will find something else to argue about.