Monday, January 19, 2015

Duck Soup

In the early years of World War II, when Britain had successfully resisted German air attacks, Prime Minister Winston Churchill recalled the dire prediction of the French Vichy government that England would collapse under the German assault, just as France had done: When I warned them that Britain would fight on alone whatever they did, their generals told their Prime Minister, 'In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.' Some chicken! Some neck!"

There have been similarly dire predictions—citing a different hapless bird—about the final two years of Barack Obama’s presidency: that he would be a “lame duck,” unable to accomplish anything. In view of his whirlwind of actions—restoring Cuban relations, issuing executive orders on immigration, agreeing on a climate change plan with China, making progress on a nuclear pact with Iran, securing approval of key appointments, steadily improving the economy—one can only echo Churchill by saying, “Some lameness!  Some duck!”

The phrase “lame duck” was coined in the 18th century at the London Stock Exchange, referring to a stockbroker who defaulted on his debts. The allusion is to an injured duck, unable to keep up with its flock, and thus becoming a target for predators. In 1861 the British historian and politician Horace Walpole used the term in a letter to Sir Horace Mann. Thomas Love Peacock wrote that a “lame duck is a man who cannot pay his differences, and is said to waddle off.”

“Lame duck” became a political term in the 19th century, used to refer to a public official serving out a term after losing an election (or becoming ineligible for re-election). The term is used in the official record of the U. S. Congress in 1863, when “lame ducks” was used to refer to “broken down politicians.” A newspaper article in 1878 recounted Abraham Lincoln’s earlier reference to a “senator or representative out of business” as a “lame duck” who “has to be provided for.”

Before the 20th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, he President and members of Congress continued to serve until March 4 of the year following the November elections, even if they had been defeated. The Amendment changed this to January 2 or 3, shortening the “lame duck” period.

When it comes to fowl, the Bard of Buffao Bayou prefers goose, hoping that someday it will lay him a golden egg. 

            When folks said Obama was just a lame duck,
            And predicted two years of his passing the buck,
                        McConnell and Boehner
                        Could not have been plainer
            In hoping the POTUS was bogged down and stuck.

            But Obama then showed he had plenty of pluck,
            And said, “The Republicans’ principles suck—
                        If executive orders
                        Overstep borders,
            Too bad—but you fellas are just out of luck.”

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