Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Great Speech, Botched Oath

Today's inaugural will no doubt be remembered for President Obama's stirring speech. To say it was marred by the clumsy oath would be far too strong, but it is an interesting footnote, and most but not all of the blame rests with the Chief Justice.

Here's the oath as it appears in the Constitution:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Not exactly a tongue twister. And yet . . .




1) Roberts begins: "Are you prepared to take the oath, Senator?"

That's a mistake. Obama was already President at this point. The oath is a prerequisite to the new President's "Execution of his Office," per Article II, Section 1, but Obama became President at noon sharp (while the musicians were playing), per the 20th Amendment, Section 1. But we can excuse the Chief Justice for not consulting his wristwatch.

2) "I Barack Hussein Obama," Roberts begins, at which point Obama follows him, but Roberts is continuing, "do solemnly swear," requiring Obama to start again. Let's say they share the blame for this one, for having failed to come up with a game plan during the rehearsal dinner.

3) Roberts: "that I will execute the office of President to the United States faithfully."

Ouch! First of all, in the Constitution, the "faithfully" immediately precedes "execute."
And President to the United States?!

4) Then Obama is either surprised at what Roberts had just said because that's not how Obama practiced it, or he can't remember everything Roberts has said, so he says "that I will execute" and stops, waiting for help from Roberts.

5) Whereupon Roberts stumbles again: "The off . . . faithfully the Pres . . . the office of President of the United States." Obama continues "the office of President of the United States faithfully." I.e., he too now puts the "faithfully" in the wrong place.

6) Now they both seem to recover a bit. Roberts correctly says "And will to the best of my ability, " which Obama repeats, although he appears to drop the "the."

7) Both the former Managing Editor of the Harvard Law Review and the former President of the Harvard Law Review, each now heading a branch of the federal government, flawlessly recite "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

8) Roberts then asks whether Obama wants God's help, to which which Obama says yes.

Whereupon, Obama delivers a stemwinder of a speech.

Posted by Mike Dorf