Bush a lame duck but still powerful

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The first lame ducks, those extraneous politicians christened as such, waddled into American history nearly 100 years ago, courtesy of the New York Evening Post. They made their appearance at the White House, but in refuge, not residence. It was there that Republican members of Congress who hadn't survived the 1910 midterm elections assembled in a hallway that the Evening Post dubbed "Lame Duck Alley." The defeated lawmakers were hoping for a presidential appointment from William Howard Taft, or, at the least, the fellowship of their fellow has-beens.

Today's pundits feel free to confer lame-duck status on the occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue no matter how much time is left in their terms. The Houston Chronicle, the largest paper in Texas, pronounced the state's favorite son a lame duck on the day in 2005 that he took the oath of office for the second time. The Associated Press made that same assertion on the day that he was re-elected in 2004.

"This president is a lame duck," Stuart Rothenberg, author of The Rothenberg Political Report, recently intoned after the latest defeat of the latest version of the immigration-bill-that-wouldn't-die (or pass). "A president who was not a lame duck would have been able to muscle at least some Republicans to support his position on immigration."

Political science professors Samuel Popkin of the University of California (San Diego) and Henry Kim of the University of Arizona went Rothenberg one better: "President Bush is a lame duck and an albatross," they wrote. Given the way that Republicans are seeking to shed their association with this president, albatross may be the better metaphor. Bush might be thankful that while dispensing their avian cliches, Popkin and Kim didn't call him a dodo....

"President Bush may be a lame duck politically, but he is not a lame duck as chief executive and will lose many of his powers only on January 20, 2009," said James Pfiffner, professor of public policy at George Mason University. "He is still head of the executive branch and commander-in-chief, and has many unilateral powers that he can -- and has -- used, including executive orders, pardons, control over many regulations, control of executive branch execution of the law, secrecy, and classification of documents."

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