Most presidents take the oath of office twice in their lives only if reelected. Yesterday night, Barack Obama took the oath – again – from Chief Justice John Roberts because of the miscues during the inauguration ceremony the day before. The media’s take, thus far, is to poke fun at what is called the “do over,” the “flub heard around the world,” (MSNBC) and the “oaf of office” (courtesy of the New York Post). Yet at the same time, we are assured that Obama’s first oath was essentially good enough or perhaps even unnecessary for him to assume the presidency because the new term began at noon on January 20, 2009 regardless. Yale’s Akhil Amar obligingly opined on NBC that the second oath was akin to “wearing both a belt and suspenders.”
Personally, I’d find it somewhat unsettling if Obama began wearing a belt along with suspenders, so I think it is worth our time to take seriously an event that obviously the President and the Chief Justice took quite seriously. I am very much impressed that Obama and Roberts thought the oath significant enough to warrant the second ceremony. Clearly it was not done to deflect the embarrassment of the day before; indeed, the second oath only underscored their abject failure to recite correctly the 35 word oath – hardly a pas de deux. I also doubt that either Obama or Roberts fretted about the legality of the inauguration ceremony; the second oath was not intended to avoid crack pot law suits.
Rather, the message sent by both the Chief Justice and the President is that both men so value the words of the oath and their official responsibilities that they are willing to endure a fresh round of chiding and gentle ridicule. Essentially, the second duet acknowledged the mistake made by two very smart, well-educated men the day before when, apparently, their nerves and wits partially failed them before hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Imagine that. Hindsight suggests that they should have just started over on inauguration day, prefaced perhaps with some gentle humor that would have captured this quite human undertaking. That did not happen. But the second oath, administered by the robed Chief Justice in comparative calm and privacy a day later, tells us that they take such matters seriously, that they are willing to acknowledge mistakes and rectify them. It coincided nicely with Obama’s call to “restore the vital trust between people and their government” and to inaugurate “a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties[.]”
Obama’s second oath is, one hopes, a sign that he will candidly acknowledge and correct the missteps and mistakes that will inevitably occur as he “faithfully execute[s]” the sworn duties of his office while acting to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The oath is a small duty, but Obama’s attention to it augers well that he will closely attend to his more daunting responsibilities.
Update: Jessica Slavin mistakenly took initial credit for this wonderful post when she posted it on behalf of Professor Dan Blinka this morning. Sorry Dan!