It can’t be August 2011. It must be 2012. We couldn’t possibly have candidates running for president at such a fever pitch more than 14 months before voters go the polls.

Could we?

We could, and we do.

Since last week’s Iowa straw poll and the entry of Texas Gov. Rick Perry into the race for the Republican nomination, news coverage of the presidential campaign has exploded, pushing aside even the alarming economic stories flowing from Wall Street and global financial markets. President Obama helped raise the temperature this week by barnstorming the Midwest and vowing to unveil an economic recovery plan when he returns from vacation in September.

It’s an amazing turn of events, considering that just a few weeks ago a then-stagnant field of Republican candidates for president seemed to be sleepwalking through the summer while Congress and the president staged a last-man-standing brawl over government borrowing, the national debt and annual budget deficits.

With the National Football League still trying to shake off the effects of a player lockout and Major League Baseball fighting for attention amid a severe shortage of meaningful pennant races, presidential politics is suddenly the national pastime.

Much of the credit for this development — or blame, if you prefer — goes to Perry, who energized voters, the media and even other candidates by jumping into the fray with a high-profile series of appearances and controversial statements.

He immediately leapfrogged over putative front-runner Mitt Romney and Iowa straw poll winner Michele Bachmann to grab the lead in the Republican race. In the blink of an eye, the presidential campaign was all about Perry. Even Obama had to comment on the Texas governor’s shoot-from-the-lip style of campaigning.

The president said it takes a newcomer some time to adjust to the intense scrutiny of a national campaign. Although Perry has never lost an election, until last week he had never run for office outside the Lone Star State.

Voters who would find Perry’s conservative philosophy appealing under any circumstances were probably not put off in the least by his disparaging remarks about Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke (“we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas”) and global warming (“a scientific theory that has not been proven”). The liberal-leaning media, on the other hand, were horrified and quickly raised questions about Perry’s suitability to seek the nation’s top elective office.

For all the excitement and media attention that Perry brought to the race, one thing he didn’t bring was a focus on what figure to be the real issues of the 2012 campaign: the economy, unemployment, government spending, taxes.

All the Republican candidates have made a point of criticizing Obama for his failure to present a formal plan for the economy — but none of them has presented a plan beyond promising to cut spending and to not raise taxes.

Obama did his best to seize the high ground in that discussion with his promise of a post-vacation plan and his repeated suggestion that Republicans have been putting politics ahead of the country’s best interests in the debate over debt and taxes.

Seriously, folks, can we take another 14 months of this? The truth is, no party, no candidate, no politician has put the country ahead of politics for one moment in recent years and the American people are fed up.

We all have our own definition of what “country first” would be, of course, and maybe those definitions are irreconcilable. Maybe the “dysfunctional government” we’ve heard so much about is only part of the problem; maybe we’re a dysfunctional nation, a dysfunctional people. If that’s the case, the greatest nation on Earth could be facing an extremely bleak future.

But we can hope for more. Let’s hope that Congress and the president return from their vacations refreshed and focused, and ready to address the nation’s problems in a serious and bipartisan manner.

Let’s hope that the sound and fury of the Republican presidential campaign yields to a meaningful discussion of the issues and ultimately leads to the nomination of a serious and qualified challenger to the president.

And then let’s hope that the candidates, challenger and incumbent, engage in a spirited and inspiring campaign that will set the stage for the end of dysfunction and the beginning of national renewal.