Every president must contend with the fundamental mortality of his political life. It's not just that presidencies have built-in expiration dates; it's that the ability to steer the course of the nation disappears long before the day his successor takes office. President Obama, for his part, is easing into the golden years of his administration with the help of the typical tonics: time with his family. A more relaxed fit in his dad jeans. Golf.
The phrase "lame duck"—first used, as a presidential epithet, to describe Calvin Coolidge—is said to have originated with Lincoln, and with his declaration that "[a] senator or representative out of business is a sort of lame duck. He has to be provided for."
But "Lame duck," with apologies to our sixteenth president, is a terrible term. It is jargon-y. It is partisan. It is poorly descriptive. It is offensive to both humans and, we can reasonably assume, the entire waterfowl community.
More than anything, though, "lame duck" is often simply inaccurate: The golden years of a presidency can be, for better or for worse, intensely productive ones—not just despite a president's ability to extricate himself from standard political pageantries, but because of it. As my colleague David Graham noted, watching this year's State of the Union, "None of the policy goals Obama enunciated would suggest a president with narrowing horizons." And, indeed, Obama, in the speech, displayed an easy confidence you could fairly describe as swagger. ("I have no more campaigns to run," the president noted, perhaps by way of explanation. When the GOPers in the House applauded this fact, he retorted, without missing a beat: "I know, because I won both of them.")