There are a few conversations going on about the oath of office that didn’t go so smoothly for Barack Obama, some of them interesting, most of them – not so much.

Beginning in the latter category, from best to worst, Adam Liptak:

People will argue about what the failure to utter the words in the precise order required by the Constitution means. But it will be an academic argument. It is not clear who would have standing to raise the argument that Mr. Obama had not become president as a consequence, and it is hard to believe that any court – or other body – would want to adjudicate the question.

It’s beside the point.  It’s not the oath that makes the President, it’s the Constitution.  At twelve noon on the 20th of January, one President becomes past, the President-elect becomes present even if no one says or does a thing.  The oath, by the way, does not include the words “so help me God”, which Justice Roberts posed as a question:  “So help you God?”.  The oath has to be sworn before the President can execute the office.  Historically, it has not always been uttered at the inauguration, as in the cases of Lyndon B. Johnson, who did it on an airplane at Love Field in Dallas (Sarah T. Hughes did an excellent job of providing Johnson with manageable prompts), and Calvin Coolidge, who was at his Dad’s house in Vermont when President Harding died.  His Dad was a Notary Public and he swore Calvin in.  There is no recording, so we’ll never know if he did it right.

Then this from comments at Reuters Blogs:

Who cares about misplacing a word. That is insignificant. What really matters,as t harrison points out, both Roberts and Obama have violated the part of the oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” when Obama either can’t or won’t prove that he is legally able to take office. Roberts should be impeached and Obama prosecuted.

The above-named “t harrison” had said, in part, this:

Any departure from our Republic’s Constitution is treasonous.

Another theorist posits that Roberts did it on purpose:

Possibly Mr. Roberts wanted to trip up the President at this momentous occasion. President Obama obviously knew the right order, but felt he should follow the lead of Mr. Roberts. Shame on Mr. Roberts.

It was a conspiracy:

I believe Roberts messed up on purpose. He wanted to give his conservative cronies something to banter about – they could say that Obama didn’t know the Presidential Oath, but Obama didn’t take the bait.

Like the gameshow host in “Slumdog Millionaire”, who tried to persuade the young hero to give the wrong answer, Justice Roberts tried to get Obama to say the wrong words.

Here’s my favourite:

Perhaps it was a tribute to the outgoing President who was famous for his malapropisms, n.k.a. Bushisms. Of course, neither of these gentlemen can mangle a phrase with the literally effortless ease of Mr. Bush, our first President for whom English was a second language. Unfortunately, he did not have a first.

There have been ongoing discussions at American Creation about the addition of the words “so help me God” to the oath.  A secular activist named Michael Newdow actually sued to bar Justice Roberts from saying the words, since they don’t appear in the oath of office as set out in the Constitution.  Here’s Tom Van Dyke:

Newdow’s initial bid for an injunction was denied on First Amendment grounds of Obama’s right to free expression of religion. It’s possible that by turning the phrase into a question, Justice Roberts may have found a clever way around Newdow’s very narrow argument that the Chief Justice, as a government official, cannot issue religious tests. Since one may swear or affirm in taking the oath, to tell the Chief Justice beforehand that one intends to swear might be enough to dodge the prohibition against religious tests.
Now, whether that argument would hold up throughout the appeal process, who knows? But I have no doubt that the Chief Justice rephrased “So help me God” as a question precisely with Michael Newdow and his ilk in mind. Or perhaps it was President Obama’s idea. I think we’ll find out more about this…  



By far the best discussion of the flubb has to be this one, from Language Log:

Chief Justice John Roberts’ administration of the presidential oath to Barack Obama was far from smooth. Early reports differ in saying who stumbled: NBC and ABC say the flub was Roberts’, while the AP says it was Obama’s. I think both men were a bit nervous, and the error that emerged from their momentary disfluency came down to a problem of adverbial placement.  


Read the rest here

UPDATE:  Obama and Roberts do it over

UPDATE II:  And the beat goes on


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