Republicans and Democrats differ about the retirement of Dave Obey. The former want to say that he read the handwriting on the wall and dropped out rather than, as Reince Priebus put it, have a knife fight at 72. The Democrats say that an old soldier, having passed health care, has decided it's time to fade away. For his part, Obey says that his "progressive district" will never elect a Republican.
My guess is that there is a little truth in all of it. It's hardly shocking for people in their seventies to retire. But the health care reform that was passed was not the reform Obey wanted and, whether or not it can be repealed, it is hardly a finished product. It would require ignoring the obvious to think that the Seventh wasn't potentially in play and Obey must have anticipated at least the possibility that the 112th Congress will be much more Republican than the 111th. A younger Obey may have decided to stay and fight to preserve - or to reshape - such important legislation.
Nor can he be sure that his seat will stay blue. The district is hardly firmly "progressive." Although President Obama carried it comfortably in 2008, it was a toss-up in the preceding two presidential elections. It may very well elect a Republican.
A more plausible scenario is that Obey was disappointed in what the Democrats, with extraordinary - perhaps even unprecedented majorities (large Democratic majorities in the past contained many more conservatives) - and understands that things are, from his perspective, going to go south for awhile. Rather than risk having a long career end in defeat or frustration, he decided to call it a career.
The legacy of that career is a huge mess. He may have, as he likes to say, outlasted George W. Bush, but the fiscal disaster that has been brewing ever since Mr. Obey went to Washington outlasted him.