"What's hot today?" I asked Big Freddy as I joined him on a bone chilling morning.

"I take it you're not talking about the weather," Freddy said, "so take your pick."

"And I take your point," I said. "So, what's going to be left of Democrats in Congress when the turn of the year does not make for Ho! Ho! Ho! for the holidays?"

"Two years and who knows what after that," Freddy said. "We've been overloading on political gratification for this and that since Bush and the Congress cut taxes from one end to the other, and all of a sudden, it's show-and-tell time on Obama's watch, and it's costing him and the Democrats more than somewhat."

"Republicans took their big hit two years back," I said.

"Which means both parties were living on long leashes," Freddy said. "But the economy sinks like the Titanic on Bush's watch, but Obama and Pelosi go for broke on universal health care as though the piggy bank was still full. Pelosi turns up the heat in the House, Reid does the same in the Senate, and Republicans sit on their hands. November comes around, and it's 'Katy bar the door' for the Democrats."

"But now Obama's taking more hits from Democrats than the Republicans for trying to move to the middle," I said. "Pelosi's making like the president had switched parties, and to make matters worse, Harry Reid blows a compromise with Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins on a deal to pass 'don't ask, don't tell' before the year's up. That takes the 'merry' out of Christmas in both houses."

"But not for both parties," Freddy said. "According to what I've just been reading, there's been some mending going on between them for a tax deal between Obama and the Republicans."

"House Democrats dumped it in a caucus vote because it left those making more than $250,000 still untouched," I said.

"Pelosi's still playing hardball, but the Senate's working on it to clean the chimney for Santa Claus before Christmas," Freddy said.

"They'd better find some way to get Pelosi to put out the fire, or Santa's going to be getting more than a hot foot," I said.

"From what I read, she's trying to do that, but she's dealing with her party's non-survivors of the November election," Freddy said. "It wasn't just the far-left House Democrats who got the ax. Some of the long-term Blue Dogs took hits, as well."

"They're going to have to do something, because a lot of people, besides the poor, are hurting," I said.

"Unemployment is one thing, but reduced employment is a major problem, too," Freddy said. "The last tally was 9.9 percent are unemployed, but I read somewhere you can add another 6 or so percent to that for those having to work on short leashes."

"With no economic turnaround in sight," I said.

"We've out-placed too much to other countries," Freddy said.

"Well, the world is a lot smaller than it was in a number of ways," I said. "A lot of what we buy that we used to make here comes from there. I just bought some Christmas cards. Turns out they were printed in China. As far as I know, Chinese don't celebrate Christmas."

"Christmas is a business opportunity; cards are part of it, and China's feeding big-time on our marketplace." Freddy said. "It celebrates something like Christmas in January. They probably print cards for that, too."

"That's not my point," I said. "What I'm saying is that the world we grew up in bears no resemblance to the one we have today. The government we deal with does things we never dreamed of it doing, but it's at a cost we can't afford. Makes you wonder why anyone runs for president or Congress."

"Because there's always tomorrow, and hope springs eternal," Freddy said. "Our Constitution's not a plan for moving down a dead-end street. It's an open invitation to make bad times better. They're trying to do that on both sides of the aisle. It's been done before, and it will be done again."

"We should live so long," I said.

"Take deep breaths and eat your spinach," Freddy said. "This is one go 'round we don't want to miss."

• • •

Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist.

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