Avoiding the Lame-Duck Label

As 2007 draws to a close, President Bush is enjoying a mild resurgence.

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During the United Nations Climate Change Conference, former Vice President Al Gore criticized the United States for refusing to compromise on emission reductions."My own country," he says, "is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali." The conference kicked off talks on a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

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As 2007 draws to a close, President Bush is enjoying a mild resurgence. Contrary to the predictions of critics who expected him to become a lame duck, Bush retains enough political juice to block many Democratic initiatives from Congress and throw his adversaries into a frustrated funk. House Democratic leaders, for example, have grudgingly decided to give Bush nearly all of the spending limits he has sought in a huge domestic appropriations bill. And even though they still hope to shift priorities a bit, they seem to realize, finally, that the president, benefiting from his loyal cadre of conservatives on Capitol Hill, can't be dismissed just yet.

As for Bush, his optimism is based in large part on the fact that the military situation in Iraq has improved substantially. Violence is down, U.S. troops are effectively taking control of trouble spots, and the American public is getting the message. Bush acknowledges that political reconciliation lags far behind, but he is described by aides as believing that eventually the Baghdad government will get its act together. "The president always said what mattered most was progress on the ground in Iraq, and we've got that," says a senior Bush adviser. "This has gone a long way toward making the year a positive one." Congress is even likely to approve his latest short-term funding request for the war.

Still, Bush's job-approval ratings at home remain awful, and many political analysts, even Bush loyalists, don't hold out much hope that he can be very persuasive in promoting any of his new ideas in 2008. Stalemate is widely considered a likely outcome. His critics and some of his friends say that Bush's upbeat mood is due to his nature but that he is misreading the mood of both the electorate and the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill. Both, they say, have turned irrevocably against him.