COLUMBUS _ ``Not long ago, they were talking about a `permanent Republican majority,''' said Uncle Chet, who was helping Buddy and me split wood.
``Karl Rove said that,'' I said.
``Ole Blossom,'' he said, tipping up a 20-inch ash log.
``I want to hit it,'' said Buddy, who's eight, but sturdy.
``This is heavy.'' I held out the fiberglass-handled splitting mall.
``I know.'' He stepped forward to take it.
``Okay,'' I said, ``but hang on tight and don't hit hard the first time.''
``This is my second time,'' he said. ``I did some with Mom.''
``Take it easy, anyway.'' I stood back and watched as he raised the mall, then brought it down near the center of the log, making a dent.
``Not bad," I said.
``Regular Paul Bunyon,'' said Uncle Chet.
``I know who he was,'' said Buddy, who was lining up another shot. ``He had a blue ass.''
``Ox,'' I corrected.
``Probably both,'' said Uncle Chet.
``Watch what you're doing,'' I warned the boy, who had the mall over his head and started to laugh.
``I meant ox,'' he sputtered and put the tool down.
``Settle down, Samson,'' I said.
``Now with Specter and Franken, the Democrats are in the driver's seat,'' said Uncle Chet. ``And it's hard to see the Republicans dislodging them. I mean, who wants to join the party of torture and war, of Michelle Bachman and Rush Limbaugh?''
``Anyone who does is already enrolled,'' I said.
``But we need Franken seated ASAP _ all 60 votes in the Senate _ so they can reform health insurance this fall.''
``Open up Medicare to everyone,'' I said.
``Absolutely,'' he said. ``Let people keep their private plans if they want, but give everyone a chance to enroll in Medicare.''
``That's the one thing I really hope they do,'' I said.
``That's the one thing that could really turn the economy around,'' he said. ``Businesses would love it, because they could operate without the headache.''
``But health insurers are going to fight it like crazy,'' I said.
``Well, if the Republicans are right and private plans are much better than a public plan, those companies should do just fine,'' he said.
``On the other hand, if they're soaking us, as seems to be the case, people are going to drop 'em faster than a mattress with bed bugs.''
``How about those workers?''
``We'll have to retrain the rank-and-file to do something useful, and as for the investors, they've already made their billions,'' he said. ``Think about the greater good. With affordable health care, small business would take off because people could risk capital without gambling their health.''
``I'm ready to hit it again,'' said Buddy.
``Wait, let's look at this log,'' said Uncle Chet, who wore a black-and-white Obama hat and sunglasses. ``See that crack?'' He pointed a crooked finger.
``Try to hit it there.''
``Okay,'' said Buddy. He walked around the log until he found the right angle, hefted the splitter and came down harder this time.
``You broke it a little,'' I said. ``Want me to take over?''
``No.'' The boy shook his head.
``Okay,'' I said.
He swung again, but was off the mark and the log tipped over.
``Why don't we start with something smaller?'' I suggested.
``No. Do the big job this year while we've got momentum,'' said Uncle Chet. ``Enough with the baby steps, like children's health plans. What a great step forward: if your kid gets sick, she's covered, but if you, her provider, get sick, you're on your own. No, they don't do it like that in the Army, and they don't do it like that in the Congress, where members know a good deal when it's their own deal.''
``I was talking to Buddy,'' I said. ``I'm all for health care reform now, but let's find him a smaller log.''
Cooperstown News Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week.