How Lame Ducks Work


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com.

Josh Clark: Hey there, and welcome to the Podcast. I'm Josh Clark, a staff writer here at howstuffworks.com. With me always is my trusty editor, Chris Pollete. Chris, today I want to talk about lame duck presidents, agreed?

Chris Pollete: Absolutely.

Josh Clark: Okay. Let me give a little background first on what a lame duck president is. A lame duck president is basically any president that has already either not been passed over for election or has swerved both of their terms and basically they're just sitting around in office waiting to finish out the rest of their tenure before the next president takes over, correct?

Chris Pollete: That is correct.

Josh Clark: And where did this come from, lame duck? Do you want me to explain that part?

Chris Pollete: Why don't you do that?

Josh Clark: Let me.

Chris Pollete: Okay.

Josh Clark: Basically, lame duck originally was a financial term for somebody who couldn't pay their debt. Our current use of that term has nothing to do with debt anymore. As I said, it's a president who has finished out their term and it can also refer to congress but there's an amendment in the constitution called the lame duck amendment and it is the -

Chris Pollete: Twentieth Amendment.

Josh Clark: Absolutely. The 20th Amendment is the lame duck amendment and it was instituted in I believe 1933 during the Hoover Administration. Basically, what was going on was members of congress had 13 months in between the time they found out that they were not reelected and the time they actually left office. Thirteen months is a really, really long time to do a lot of damage. Basically, robbing their constituency blind! Right.

Chris Pollete: Well, you know, they had the opportunity to use the powers of office for all sorts of projects and once they're not - once they don't feel like they owe the voters anything anymore they can vote any way they want to.

Josh Clark: Exactly. They also could pick the president under circumstances. Those being, you know, at the time, electoral college which frankly I don't even want to go get into, but Chris, it seems like there's somebody out there right now who's a lame duck. Their name is slipping my mind, can you refresh my memory?

Chris Pollete: I think you're thinking of President George W. Bush.

Josh Clark: Exactly. That's who it was. Tell us a little bit about his lame duck status, will ya?

Chris Pollete: Well, you know, he's actually been fairly busy during his lame duck period. I saw that people have been talking about his presidency being - entering the lame duck phase as early as the first part of 2007 so if that's true, obviously that's a subjective thing, but he would've been a lame duck for almost half of his second term in office.

Josh Clark: I heard that the associated press actually tagged him with lame duck in 2004.

Chris Pollete: Wow. Well, see as soon as you get elected for your second term, I guess technically your lame duckness starts but he's been actually pretty active as of late with the economic stimulus package and recently too pushing for a permanent extension of the surveillance package, pushing congress to extend that permanently instead of a temporary extension. He's been very vocal about doing that so he's not just sitting on his hands and waiting for his term to end.

Josh Clark

No, also, one of those little balls with the raccoon tail that is battery-powered and cats like to play with, that's also very active too but I think that that has just about as much of a chance of pushing legislation through as George Bush does at this point. From what I understand in doing some research for this podcast, I found that it's pretty much open season on Bush. It seems like he spent all of his political currency and suddenly the wolves are at his door as it were. I quote David Frum, who's a former speech writer, "There's no possibility at all of the president advancing anything that is acceptable to both the democrats and the republicans," talking about what he'll be able to do in his last term. It looks like nothing, Chris. What do you think?

Chris Pollete: Well, he's only so powerful anyway as president because the members of congress are the ones who have to push the bills across his desk for him to sign. So, there's only - he can talk all he wants but if they don't give him a bill to sign into law, you know, he can't do anything whether he's a lame duck or not.

Josh Clark: Exactly, too. And I think a further sign of the presidents lame duck status is I was really surprised to find this out but Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, in July 2007, flew to Syria to hold talks with the president of Syria who Bush was ignoring at the time, going completely behind the president's back. Now, if that's not a sign that you're a lame duck, I don't know what is. How about you?

Chris Pollete: I do think you have a point there.

Josh Clark: Okay. Well, please, please read, "How lame is a lame duck president," on howstuffworks.com. It'll change your life.

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