As his term winds down in disarray, President Bush enjoys what could be called the lame-duck advantage: He doesn't have to worry about losing at the polls.
He has devoted little attention after the Virginia Tech massacre to issues such as campus safety and gun control, except to reiterate support for gun ownership. He has left it to the Democrats to take on the gun problems that usually divide Congress. Senate majority leader Harry Reid says, "I hope there's not a rush to do anything. We need to take a deep breath."
Earlier in his administration, Mr. Bush might have by now accepted the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a liability for the administration. But these days, Bush is playing the "loyalty card" all the way.
After Mr. Gonzales's disastrous appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Bush said he has more confidence than ever in his beleaguered attorney general.
For Democrats, the most ticklish situation has become the $124 billion emergency spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan. With growing sentiment for ending military involvement, the Democrats are looking for some compromise with the White House: a timetable, benchmarks; the latest being advisory opinion.
The White House, less concerned about losing votes in the next election, is sticking to its guns (almost literally). The legislation passed by Congress this week – with its Iraq withdrawal schedule – is certain to be met with a presidential veto.
And, since he is less concerned about voters, Mr. Bush apparently feels he can afford a veto, which is not likely to be overridden anyway.
Anyone who thinks that Iraq and Virginia Tech will bring great upsets in America's government is likely to be disappointed.
Liberated from electoral pressures, other presidents might use the opportunity to take action on reforms that really matter to them. In George Bush's case, being a lame duck president allows him to let others take action – or none at all.
• Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.