Most of them were somebody back in the day, in the gubernatorial cabinet of Jim Guy Tucker, or on the staff of Dale Bumpers or David Pryor, or in college administration, or lobbying for a professional organization.
Some might have been--and I'm not saying for sure or implicating anybody--news sources of mine in my pre-column reporting days.
Now these seasoned political creatures get around more slowly, watch their diets more carefully and lament the wholesale upturning--which is to say deterioration--of Arkansas politics.
And they compose a monthly meeting "dialogue group" that invites me by every year or two, depending on the intensity of the political situation.
Currently the political situation is somewhat intense.
The evening goes like this: Wine gets poured, and poured, and poured, particularly by and for the guest presenter; a salad-centric buffet is served, and I get recognized to hold forth. Before I can much get into the broad scribbled outline I've pulled from a pocket, they commence asking questions, or, as often as not, making assertions to which I am invited to have input.
It goes like that for 75 minutes or so, until two smart guys forget about me altogether and start talking to each other about the global perils of the war in Ukraine. Others commence gathering up their things, less because of the two fellows than because they're tired and 9:30 p.m. is no time to start pondering nuclear war. Older folks need sleep, which entails despair-avoidance.
Basically, I assert between chardonnay sips what I've written here: Joe Biden has blown the presidency tactically and stylistically; the Democrats have overplayed their policy hand exceeding a mandate they never had; Donald Trump conceivably could be president again in or out of jail; Asa Hutchinson is all right for a contemporary Republican and I'd take him as president if only to keep Trump or Ron DeSantis out; Arkansas is a static place where the political culture, now ever-more right-wing Republican, embeds for decades, and the one thing congressional Democrats are finally doing right is the execution of hearings on Jan. 6 by the House special committee.
They're doing that mainly by letting a story unfold using more credible Republican narrators. They are producing no notable difference in the thinking of embedded partisans. But they possibly are moving independent swing voters from Trump if not another Republican.
Keeping a mad seditionist out of the White House is the most important thing, unless it's dealing with another and perhaps worse crisis for our constitutional democracy after the 2024 election. Those things probably go together.
The folks weren't thrilled with my outlook, but I didn't so much get pushback as explanations that they, as true-believing partisans, didn't enjoy my luxury of resignation and fatalism. A few had been at a function the night before with Grant Tennille, the state Democratic chairman, and that discussion apparently had been more hopeful.
Speaking of that, I'll tell you that a question came up as to whom the Democrats might best run for president in 2024. As a group we seemed to hope, or at least predict, that Biden would bow out with one term, and to agree that Kamala Harris simply doesn't have the political chops.
We kind of agreed that Pete Buttigieg is a genuine talent but that the country may not be ready to hand the presidency to a boyish gay man.
We seemed to think by a nodding or acquiescent majority that surely Bernie Sanders is finished running; that Elizabeth Warren can't begin to cut it because stridently liberal economics can only get you to second place in a Democratic presidential primary to someone perceived as more electable; that Amy Klobuchar is too un-warm, Cory Booker too hyper-eager, and Beto O'Rourke a grandstanding flake; and that the unconventional and stroke-afflicted new Democratic senatorial nominee in Pennsylvania is interesting as a new kind of politician, except that Jesse Ventura may have been that kind of politician already.
Prompted by that discussion, I've since been exploring the question of Democratic presidential prospects for 2024. I ran across a top-10 ranking in The Washington Post. And I picked a favorite. He was sixth-ranked. He became my favorite because I knew nothing about him, which made him instantly preferable to the nine I knew about.
The name was Roy Cooper, which I googled. He's the second-term Democratic governor of a Southern purple state, North Carolina, who has fought enough with the Republican legislature to earn the disdain of the right but worked well enough with the Republican legislature to earn the disdain of the left.
He sounds almost as perfect as Steve Bullock in 2020. Google him. There might be something online about him still.
In my online perusal I ran across a piece in Politico magazine by venerated analyst Jeff Greenfield. He wrote that the Democrats' options for 2024 are Biden burdened by age and, at present, failed performance; Vice President Harris with baggage filling a 747; or to defeat Harris and deny the natural ascension of the historic first Black woman vice president at great peril to the vital Black vote, which has been more reliably female than male.
Of course Greenfield shares with me the luxury of resignation and fatalism.
I continue to believe the Democrats' best hope is that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had a baby 40 years ago and we find her.
I say that with a nod to Jon Stewart, who presented Bruce Springsteen for the Kennedy Center Honors years ago by saying Springsteen was the child of the interracial, same-sex union of James Brown and Bob Dylan.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.