Washington, April 30: A hundred yards from the front entrance to the White House the Secret Service has erected a double security barrier around a four-foot square enclosure. Inside is a plump mallard. Hanging on the railings a sign proclaims: 'Quiet Please. Duck Nesting.'
It is a little early to seize on President George W. Bush's 'nesting' neighbour as a metaphor for his presidency. There are 18 months before the mid-term congressional elections when a second-term President's influence starts to wane and the phrase 'lame duck' takes hold.
But if Bush's sticky domestic run continues, the mallard can expect the attention of more than just the tourists and White House aides. For the nation's cameramen it may prove an irresistible image to reflect the president's travails.
Bush yesterday clocked up one hundred days into his new term ' the traditional time scale for a President to make his mark ' in the wake of a spate of opinion polls giving him an approval rating below 50 per cent, lower than any re-elected President's at this stage of a second term since the World War II.
Against the grand backdrop of the White House's East Room he made clear to the nation on Thursday night that he was far from ready to 'nest.'
It was his first prime-time press conference in more than a year. He brushed aside the opening questioner who asked if he was not frustrated by the polls and the unexpected obstacles he has faced from the Republican-controlled Congress.
'We're asking people to do things that haven't been done for 20 years,' he said. 'I'm not surprised that some are baulking at doing hard work.
'I have a duty as the President to define problems facing our nation. You know if a President tries to govern based upon the polls, you're kind of like a dog chasing your tail.'
And yet, frustrated White House aides are having to pinch themselves to appreciate how their horizons have narrowed since that triumphal press conference 48 hours after last November's election when he vowed to spend his 'political capital'.
Then Bush announced a domestic agenda of breathtaking scope: he would reform social security, a seven-decade-old bedrock of the state that long ago earned the intimidating sobriquet the 'third rail of politics' ' meaning, you touch it, you die. With the Republicans having increased their control over both houses of Congress, and the Democrats in the Senate leaderless, anything seemed possible.
Yet today, at the end of a 60-day tour of the nation to sell the centrepiece of his second-term agenda, a plan for a partial privatisation of pensions, the proposal is being panned in the polls. And that is not all that is floundering just three months after the President had the levers of power firmly in his grasp.
David Broder, the Washington Post's veteran columnist, wrote this week that Bush was guilty of 'over-reach'. He accused Bush of losing sight of the limits of his power: a President can revolutionise foreign policy, but domestic policy requires the close co-operation of Congress.
Fred Barnes, the executive editor of the Weekly Standard, received a torrent of e-mails from irked White House staffers this week for suggesting a climb-down on social security. 'There is a price to be paid for being the President he is, for not making friends in Washington and not courting Democrats,' he said.
'His outreach is terrible. He doesn't have friends on Capitol Hill. I don't fault him for this. But there is a downside to his presidential style.
''Even on the Republican side he is not friends with any of them.'
'He's not dead in the water,' said David Hawkings, senior editor at the Congressional Quarterly. 'It's more that he's off to a slow start.'
But, he added, Bush's claim of a sweeping mandate for domestic reform had already proved a 'vast exaggeration of what was possible'.
Yesterday Bush was back where he appears happiest, on the trail to sell his reforms. But he knows the clock is ticking.
On Thursday night when he over-ran the scheduled hour of his press conference two of the three networks cut him off mid-sentence and rushed to their prime-time shows.