Bob Franken: Lame-duck mucking

OK, I get it. After an election, when the incumbent is about to be transformed into the former, we need a transition period. All in all, it’s a good idea. It allows for a smooth changeover. Yada, yada, yada. But like all bright ideas, this one is invariably tarnished, because humans are involved. (How’s that for Yuletide cheer?)

As we all know, the time between outgoing and incoming is called the “lame duck” period. But do you know why? Do you care why? Boredom alert: In American politics, it dates back to the 19th century, when somebody or other referred to “lame ducks or broken-down politicians.” Maybe that’s a bit harsh, or maybe not, considering what so many leave behind before they have flown the coop. (Ducks can have coops too. I looked it up.)

Consider the current flock of them. Actually, it’s flocks. In Wisconsin and Michigan, the Democrats who were victorious in winning the governor’s races and other statewide races are crying “fowl” because of the Republican tactics to change the rules of engagement, as they have in other states.

The way it’s supposed to work is that the voters choose between not only candidates but policies. Another long-familiar expression is they can elect to “throw the rascals out.” The new rascals get to implement their approaches, changing those of the old ones because, and prepare to suffer through still another cliche, “to the victor goes the spoils.” But these GOP lame ducks in Wisconsin and Michigan are spoiling things. With their fading quacks, they are trying to override the voice of the people by duck-walking over the new guys before they take control. They are using partisan sleight of hand to feather their nests with their rich patrons, and otherwise taking some important ruling powers away from those who will replace them. It’s not just a state problem. In Washington, we have a Congress with Republicans ruling both roosts until next month. The lame ducks, and there are a lot of them, are trying to pull a fast one and jam through a budget and other priorities of the gaggle up at the other end of the street.

It’s not a pretty sight, nor is there much hope that it will improve when the Democrats take over one of these animal houses, the House of Representatives. If anything, the barnyard squalling will get louder. It’s not just the Republicans who abuse their lame-duck status. Bill Clinton issued 140 pardons on his last day in office, including one for fugitive Marc Rich, who had been prosecuted for massive tax fraud and evaded arrest by residing in Switzerland. It became known as “Pardongate” (what else?) because his former wife Denise Eisenberg Rich had made big-time donations to both the Clinton Library and Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign. Even after he left office, Bill Clinton was formally scrutinized but ultimately cleared. Interestingly, the head of the investigation who legally exonerated him was none other than James Comey — yup, the very same guy, all of which proves there’s nothing new in politics, and also that Comey has a real knack for keeping his profile sky-high.

Of course, our current president is no slouch at that; he’s probably the ultimate self-promoter. Unfortunately for him, once Congress gets past its current lame-duck status, the Democrats, with their new majority in the House, give every indication that they will make his first two years in office look tame by comparison. For the most part, they’re avoiding the “I-word” — oh, let’s just say it, the “impeachment” word — particularly since they don’t want to look overly anxious. Besides, they have Robert Mueller doing all their heavy lifting. But assuming that Donald Trump avoids removal, he’ll presumably run for re-election against a Democratic someone. Democratic candidate TBD will be determined to make him a lame duck. Imagine how dangerous he will be if he feels like he has nothing left to lose.

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