This is my last issue as physician editor of The Hospitalist. It has certainly been an interesting and rewarding two years. It has been an exceptional experience working with Lisa Dionne, Wiley, and SHM.
I look forward to the changes my worthy successor Jeff Glasheen, MD, will put into place. As I approach the end of my tenure, I can glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel.
I have a sense of déjà vu. I have a sense of déjà vu. I know the feeling well. I’ve noted it on the last day on a rotation, the last hour on a shift; I even remember it from the last month of residency. All of these were periods of transition, variations on the well known theme of “senior-itis.” A colleague, a one-year hospitalist named Jeremy Cetnar who is off to greener oncologic pastures, suggested his final few weeks on service were like being a lame duck president; a combination of temporizing and survival.
What is a lame duck beside the punch line for a corny joke? The term may have originated in the London stock exchange in the mid-18th century. When settlement day came, and a member was unable to meet his debt, he “waddled” out of Exchange Alley. From an avian standpoint one could also be a rook (a type of crow), which was a swindler. That was better then being a dove, which was the rook’s prey (hence the saying “They got rooked”).
Perhaps better to be a mammal like a bull or a bear, than a lame duck. Lame ducks are also seen in entertainment. There is a Finnish rock band and a Norwegian ska punk band by that name. The lame duck is also a well-known tango position, but my orthopedist has forbidden me from demonstrating.
The 20th Amendment (the big XX) is called the lame duck amendment. It comes right after XIX, also known as the “No shoes, no shirt, no service” amendment. (Actually XIX is “The right of the citizens of the U.S. to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex”—a biggie for sure).
Amendment XX was established in 1933 to reduce the time between the election of the president and Congress and the beginning of their terms. Having a delayed inauguration could lead to problems, as in the case of Abraham Lincoln: The Confederate States seceded before he could be sworn into office.
It is never easy to sit in office as a lame duck, whether a senator, congressman, or president. As a president, the current two-term limit creates the lame duck situation more frequently. Prior to the inception of this limit, there was always the possibility of running for a third term to add spice to those last years in office. The first Roosevelt to run for a third term was Teddy, running as a “Bull Moose.” He lost his bid to Woodrow Wilson in 1912. After FDR, there would be no more two-term-plus presidents.
There have been five lame ducks since the amendment was passed: Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and our current lame president, Bush. The last two years of the second term can be hard. For Eisenhower and Reagan their prestige and public admiration carried them through. Nixon and Clinton were significantly less lucky in this regard. How the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. finishes his term will be of great interest to historians—and to those of us who live through it.