Thursday, January 22, 2009

Inauguration Day Impressions

The Inauguration of President Barack Obama occurred under sunny yet cold skies. I cannot recall a time when I saw that many people filling Washington, DC. (One estimate put the total at 2.5 million, and that number is plausible.) Despite the cold, the enthusiasm level among the attendees was truly impressive, likely topping even that found at a Super Bowl. Certainly the enthusiasm far exceeded the enthusiasm that greeted then new President George Walker Bush in 2001. The spontaneous, boisterous chant of “O Ba Ma! O Ba Ma!” that greeted him as he stepped up to the podium felt very genuine and spontaneous.

I really enjoyed the chamber music composition “Air and Simple Things” by John Williams and played by a truly world class quartet. To me, this affirming composition suggests that the Obama Administration will be a much kinder, gentler, more humane Administration than the one that ended yesterday. At Greg Laden’s Blog (, several commentators suggested that Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare For the Common Man” would have been more appropriate. While they do have a point, I disagree. While this is also a timeless American masterpiece that I never get tired of hearing, it sets the wrong tone for this new Administration. The “Fanfare” conveys a bit of a militaristic tone. Conversely, the Williams composition is affirming and healing.

The decision to include this composition in the Inauguration is a master stroke from another angle. Within the composition, the “Simple Things” part comes from an old Quaker hymn. Including this in the Inauguration, particularly immediately before Obama’s Oath of Office, can be seen as affirming Obama’s independence from any background Muslim influences. Whether it will quiet his critics or not remains to be seen.

The Oath itself nearly turned into an embarrasing event. Right at its start, Chief Justice John Roberts appeared to fumble the Oath script he was reading from. There were several tense seconds while he got squared away and left Obama unsure of how to proceed. Once squared away, the Oath did proceed smoothly until the closing affirmation,

The Presidential Oath traditionally ends with the affirmation “so help me God.” The Chief Justice is expected to read this as the statement it is. Then when the President elect echoes it back, the swearing in is officially concluded and the Chief Justice confirms the successful conclusion by saying “Congratulations, Mr. President” as he shakes the new President’s hand.

Chief Justice Roberts, however, departed from this standard script. Instead of reading the expected text for Obama to repeat, Roberts quite pointedly restated it as “So help you God?” Obama looked a little surprised at this, so he repeated the expected text any way. My lingering impression is that, instead of going on and saying “Congratulations, Mr President” the Chief Justice again pointedly asked Obama the same question. Although gracious, frankly, President Obama looked irked the second time through.

I don’t know exactly how to interpret this unusual Oath administration. First, was the initial fumble due to unfamiliarity of the process by the Chief Justice? Possibly, although he had plenty of time to practice the text and process. Could this have been a subtle way of showing his intent to use the Supreme Court to thwart the Obama administration whenever possible? Only time will answer this question, but it does seem possible.

Second, what motivated his startling departure from the Oath’s wrap up? Suspicion about the new President’s loyalty to the US is one somewhat plausible answer. Suspicion about his loyalty to Christianity is another plausible answer. Either way, I feel his actions merit close investigation by the new Administration. The question that needs to be answered is whether his actions violated the clause prohibiting religious tests or affirmations as a condition of qualifying for elected office. Personally, I saw his latter action as sufficiently suspicious to warrant consideration for a possible impeachment action by the US House.

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