"You know, I was on airplanes this weekend, and more than one person I was talking to about this whole deal pending with Iran, and they were saying, this might be a diversionary tactic by the administration, which is desperately looking for good news. Would you put it in that category yet?"
On Saturday night, for the first time in a generation, the West and Iran reached a diplomatic breakthrough. Love the deal or hate it, the agreement on Iran's nuclear program was a historic development with sweeping international implications.
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), an 11-year veteran of the institution and the second most powerful Republican in the chamber, immediately turned to Twitter: "Amazing what WH will do to distract attention from O-care."
I kept waiting for the "just kidding, folks" follow-up, which never came. The Republican leader wasn't mocking the caricature of unhinged GOP lawmakers; he'd become the caricature of unhinged GOP lawmakers. Indeed, as the notoriety of Cornyn's message spread, he added, "Isn't it true that WH are masters of distraction?"
It's unsettling, of course, when powerful congressional leaders approach foreign policy with all the seriousness of a right-wing blog's comments section, but it was even more disappointing when CBS's Bob Schieffer asked House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on "Face the Nation" yesterday:
Why lend credence to such silly conspiracy theories? The international diplomacy, involving major world powers, involved months of behind-the-scenes talks. Why would any serious person perceive this as a domestic political ploy, intended to "distract" or "divert" attention from a health care website that's slowly improving?
The answer, I suspect, is that Republicans and much of the political establishment has become preoccupied with the Affordable Care Act in ways that are hard to defend.
Late last week, for example, National Review's Jonathan Strong published an interesting piece, explaining why the Republican response to the "nuclear option" was muted: "Harry Reid may have detonated a nuclear bomb, but Senate Republicans don't want a war if it would distract from the disastrous Obamacare rollout, senior GOP aides say."
As hard as this may be to believe, many Capitol Hill Republicans believe Senate Democrats rebelled against obstructionism, not to improve the confirmation process, but to shift the focus from "Obamacare" and bait Republicans into a big fight that has nothing to do with health care.
Naturally, then, when months of diplomacy resulted in a deal with Iran, Republicans once more assumed this, too, must relate to the health care law -- because "Obamacare" is the prism through which all light shines.
The obsession has reached farcical levels and it's well past time for a reality-check. To think that every development, everywhere, is some kind of ploy related to health.gov is to lose all sense of reason. Democrats are heavily invested in improving Americans' health care security, but it doesn't dominate their every waking moment.
I don't seriously expect Republicans to end their crusade against moderate health care law first championed by Mitt Romney, but a little perspective is clearly in order.