Today’s weather was bearable, for February in Michigan. The temperature was around 27°F and the air was calm when Al and I headed out for our walk. Our neighbor, Beau, who you met in an earlier diary, must have been craning his neck to see us as soon as possible. He practically sprinted out of his house before we even reached his driveway. Something was obviously up.
I’ve known Beau for a few months now, ever since he moved here from Mississippi. I know him well enough to recognize when he’s wearing a smug grin. It didn’t take long to find out what had put it there.
“Big news in politics t’day. I was listenin’ to Rush t’day and he said the DemocRATS are droppin’ like flies,’ Beau said with obvious glee in his voice. “Droppin’ like flies.”
It was obvious he was referring to the announced retirement of Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana. I’d heard about the retirement earlier in the day, but decided to play along. Our conversations have developed their own pattern and I decided to stick to it, so I said simply, “Is that right?”
Beau was so excited his words practically ran over themselves as he said, “Yeah, Dems are in real trouble. Another Dem senator retired t’day. That makes five ah them. They’re afraid of the big whoopin’ they’re goin’ ta take in November.”
“You heard that on Rush, did you?”
“Yup! Rush said the Dems are runnin’ scared,” Beau said with evident glee.
I decided to have a little fun with Beau, so I said, “Well, which is it?”
“They can’t be both running scared and dropping like flies at the same time.”
That didn’t throw Beau off his game, “Rush said they was droppin’ like flies.”
“Well, if Rush said so…”
Beau is a fairly sharp fellow. His biggest fault, as I see it, is his choice of news sources. He’s also had enough conversations like this with me to recognize that doubtful tone of voice I’d just used is an indication that things may not be what he’d assumed.
His voice wasn’t quite as gleeful when he said, “Rush is usually right ’bout things.”
“Usually isn’t always,” was my reply.
“Cain’t see how he can be wrong here. Are ya tryin’ ta say there aren’t five Dem senators retirin’.”
“Not when you actually look at the five seats in question,” I replied.
This was too much for Beau. He stopped dead in his tracks and turned to me and said, “Five is five where I come from.”
“Oh, there are five Democratic senators that aren’t running this fall, but it’s a stretch to say there are five ‘retiring'”
“Wha’ duh ya mean?”
“Chris Dodd of Connecticut is retiring, so is Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. Bayh’s announcement today makes it three. The other two were interim appointments. Ted Kaufman of Delaware was appointed to finish Joe Biden’s term and Roland Burris of Illinois was appointed to finish Barack Obama’s term. Neither one was expected to run for the full term this fall.”
Beau wasn’t buying it. “That’s still five Dems.”
“But not five retiring, like Rush said,” I pointed out.
“Still, there’s ah bunch ah them,” Beau replied.
It was time to throw Beau a little further off his game, so I asked him, “Did Rush mention how many Republican senators are retiring this year?”
“Uh, not that ah can ‘member.”
“Six. All elected senators who are really retiring. Six.”
“That doesn’t sound right. Rush would have mentioned that,” was Beau’s weak counter.
I had been reading about this all day so I knew the names. I said, “Oh, there are six alright. Mel Martinez of Florida, Kit Bond of Missouri, George Voinovich of Ohio, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Jim Bunning in Kentucky. All six real retirements by elected senators.”
The shore of the lake was around the next bend in the trail. Our conversations usually took a break then while we drank in some of nature’s beauty. I decided to get in one last dig before the pause.
“You say five is five where you come from. Up here we say six is more than five.”
Beau chewed on that thought as we rounded the bend in the trail and then said, “Yah, t’is down home too.”
Al took a break from rummaging in the woods for fresh scents and came to sit beside me as I stood and looked at the winter lakescape. I reached down to pat him on the head and then turned and headed back. As usual, Beau stood a moment longer to look at the, still alien to him, view of the frozen lake covered with snow before turning to accompany us.
Beau was the first to pick up the conversation on the way back. “So this isn’t such big news after all?”
“Oh, it’s big news. At least, in political circles. It was probably a safe Democratic seat with Bayh running. Now they’ll have to fight for it.”
Beau didn’t reply.
We trudged on in silence for awhile and then we both stopped to watch Al tearing through the woods like a brown cruise missile. I knew immediately that he had spotted a squirrel. Al’s main mission in life is to catch a squirrel. He wouldn’t know what to do with one if he caught one of the hundreds he’s chased in his life, but, by God, he always gave it a heck of a try. The thought that popped into my head as I watched him run at full speed was to hope he didn’t pull a muscle. Neither one of us is getting any younger.
Al must have lost sight of the squirrel when it went up a tree, because he didn’t bark as he would have if he could see it. He sniffed around a bit and then came trotting to catch up as Beau and I moved on.
I continued the conversation as we walked towards our homes, “It’s not just about the senate. You know, Beau, there are more Republicans retiring from the House this year than there are Democrats.”
“No, I didn’t know that.”
“Hmm, Rush must have forgotten to mention that. There are fourteen GOP congressmen retiring this year and only ten Democrats. That adds up to twenty Republicans and fifteen Democrats, even counting those two that aren’t really retiring.”
That comment was the last thing either of us said until we reached the end of our walk. Beau didn’t seem quite so cheerful on the way back as he had been in the beginning.
I was feeling pretty good about the conversation, but Beau had one more shot in his arsenal. His last words were, “See ya, tomorrah.”
At the beginning of our walks, Al pulls hard on the leash. He runs so hard that by the end of the walk I have to slow down so he can keep up with me. Old man and old dog ambled towards home. I don’t know what was going through Al’s head, other than thoughts of a warm fire and a full food bowl, but I was thinking about Beau’s last words.
Al didn’t answer when I asked him, “I wonder what Rush will come up with tomorrow?”