Big Freddy was mopping his brow with his oversized handkerchief as he came through the door and waved to the waitress for the usual as he made his way to our booth.

"The heat getting to you?" I asked, as he shoved the table toward me to make room for himself.

"There may be something to this business of the world warming up," Freddy said, "but I don't think it's because of what environmentalists say it is, it's what's been coming out of Washington is what it is."

"Ah," I said, "you have read the morning paper already."

"Papers," Freddy said. "And marking who said what and why on the TV, but not for just this morning. What's been going on in Washington has been hotter than somewhat, and I don't mean it's because of the global warming."

"The debate over the financial reform bill," I said.

"The window-dressing over the financial whatever you want to make of it reform bill," Freddy said.

"And I take it you are going to tell me what you make of it," I said.

"It's not what I make of it," Freddy said, "it's what Obama makes of it, which is not necessarily what those who voted for or against make of it, because he's going for broke with what would be a losing hand for himself if he had to run for re-election this year. He's putting it all on the table while he still has the House and Senate votes, because he won't have what he has now after November."

"He's not alone," I said.

"Correct," Freddy said. "The vote had to be a party line thing. Democrats have to hang together on it, which they do because it's sink or swim, but Republicans get to play both sides of the board in the Senate by giving up three votes from Brown, and Snow and Collins from up in Maine. That lets the bill pass, which protects them for their bases back home, and other Republicans stand rock-solid, which protects the party for whatever comes up later."

"That's a safe bet," I said. "It's another huge one with nobody knows how many trap doors until the unexpected happens. Voters want something different from what has happened."

"Correct," Freddy said, "which means Republicans get to put the tail on the donkey for whatever goes sour, which it's a sure thing something this long and complicated will."

"But that doesn't explain why Brown, Snow, and Collins get a free ride to oppose it," I said.

"Snow and Collins have already made their peace with the voters in Maine, because they've established themselves as the go-to Republicans Maine needs whenever. But it's Brown that both parties need, and Massachusetts in particular, because he's the only Republican we have in either the Senate or the House down there.

"Right now, he's the hottest member of the U.S. Senate, which, by the way, is why his campaign chest is overloaded and getting bigger every day. No freshman senator of recent memory is as important to both parties as he is because of how tight the split is in the Senate. Obama needs him, the Democrats need him, and that's why they're knocking on his door. Massachusetts needs him, because he's able to work both sides of the aisle with a clout Kerry doesn't have."

"But he could be just a flash in the pan if Republicans win big in November, because his power would be diminished," I said.

"True, and he knows it," Freddy said. "So, he has to play his cards with that in mind. What he has is short-term clout, which could fade in November if the Republicans pick up some Senate seats. Obama is going to have to move to the center the way Clinton did if the Democrats lose the House. That happens, Brown has less to put on the table, but he'll still be a voice to be heard."

• • •

Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and a staff columnist.

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