Eventually we’ll know more about why Amy Koch decided to resign as majority leader, but for now we’re stuck with the same story that everyone gives for leaving every job: More time with family, and/or exciting new opportunities. Here’s how she put it: “I want to explore some other options. I want to spend a little time with my daughter.” No surprise there, nor anything revealing.
But here’s what caught my attention: Koch’s assertion that she didn’t think the Senate Republican caucus should be led by a lame duck. Huh? In what sense is she a lame duck?
Only in the sense that Sarah Palin was, when she resigned as governor of Alaska with a year and change left to her term. Those who care about language and the meaning of words have to speak up now, or “lame duck” – a useful term in talking about politics – will be lost forever.
The term refers to an officeholder who is on the way out because of term limits or a defeat at the polls. Here’s a handy look at its origins, provided in podcast form by my colleagues Curtis Gilbert and Molly Bloom.
If “lame duck” meant what Koch and Palin are using it to mean, then every politician not planning to run again would be a lame duck. Robert Schlesinger at U.S. News and World Report made the point well a couple of years ago. Under Palin’s logic, he wrote,
No president should run for a second term because they would instantly be a powerless lame duck, subjecting the country to four years of utter fecklessness. And if a president is then not going to run for a second term, they automatically become a lame duck as soon as they take office in their first term … so they should not seek the presidency at all.
(I write this in full knowledge that there’s a different word for people like me who struggle to keep language from changing: Dinosaurs. I wear the label proudly.)