Like a Tiny Omen

by Kieran Healy on January 20, 2009

Chief Justice Roberts misplaces an adverb; Obama realizes this, pauses to give him the opportunity to correct the error; Roberts realizes what he has said, corrects himself; Obama nods to acknowledge the correction, smiles, and repeats what Roberts originally said rather than drag things out further.

The text in the Constitution is, “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.”



MarkUp 01.20.09 at 9:58 pm

Oh, the pressure to speech right in the presence of George W must have been unbearable.


Dave 01.20.09 at 10:07 pm

I found it a very humanizing moment that a man so eloquent would flub the most important sentence of his life. Hopefully, it augurs well.


Russell Arben Fox 01.20.09 at 10:25 pm

There were two goofs, weren’t there? Obama started right in repeating his name, while Roberts was still speaking, thus having to start over; and then Roberts gets the wording of he oath mixed-up, leading Obama to pause. Made for a couple of nice, human moments.


Seth Finkelstein 01.20.09 at 10:28 pm

But doesn’t that mean he didn’t really take the oath, so he’s not really President?

[That’s a joke!!!]


John Emerson 01.20.09 at 11:38 pm

Roberts is probably conflicted about a black man becoming President before Roberts has convinced himself that they should be allowed to vote. The poor guy must be in Hell.


bob mcmanus 01.20.09 at 11:45 pm

Having been administered and repeated wrongly, Obama is not bound by the oath.


rea 01.21.09 at 12:07 am

Divine intervention, of course (in the old days, they’d have him take the oath with a piece of communion wafer in his mouth, to facilitate divine intervention through transubstantiation).


Nur al-Cubicle 01.21.09 at 12:23 am

Today the online NYT has all the Presidential Inaugural addresses, plus an analysis of the most frequently used words.


Mike 01.21.09 at 12:50 am

Obama still put ‘faithfully’ at the end.


Jon H 01.21.09 at 12:53 am

“Having been administered and repeated wrongly, Obama is not bound by the oath.”

They can repeat it as many times as is necessary to get it right, should they decide that’s necessary. There’s nothing magic about the inauguration ceremony.


kid bitzer 01.21.09 at 1:09 am

ominous of what, do you think, kieran?

or is this a klever kwote that i’m not catching? maybe from some pop culture tidbit?


Adam Kotsko 01.21.09 at 1:33 am

Think of all the “married” couples who are actually living in sin as a result of stumbling on the oath!


ECW 01.21.09 at 1:41 am

“Will faithfully execute” is a split infinitive; Roberts is a grammar maven, so perhaps he couldn’t help correcting the text as a he read. If only he’d interpret the rest of the document so flexibly…


Adam Kotsko 01.21.09 at 1:47 am

“will execute” sure looks conjugated to me.


Matt McIrvin 01.21.09 at 2:15 am

And because he didn’t repeat the oath correctly, his administration has NO constitutional authority to execute tax law so I don’t have to pay income tax! Why are you looking at me like that, your honor?


Kenny Easwaran 01.21.09 at 2:24 am

13, 14: This is the construction the Language Log people have referred to as “split verb” rather than “split infinitive”. Of course, “will execute” is not a standard infinitival phrase, but “execute” is in non-finite form there (as opposed to in the sentence “they execute the office faithfully”, where you have a similar looking finite form).


notedscholar 01.21.09 at 2:40 am

I wonder if this means he has not actually become president? Surely those conspiracy theorists who think he’s not eligible will say that. In fact, I bet by searching Google I would discover that they probably already have!



geo 01.21.09 at 2:53 am

If Kieran has quoted the full text, then where did “So help me God” come from?


Paul 01.21.09 at 3:12 am

“To err is human, to forgive devine” . And according to the Costitution BHO became President at 12 Noon – before he took the oath of office ! Historians please take note.


Luther Blissett 01.21.09 at 3:27 am

#19 is a joke, right? LMAO.


Grant 01.21.09 at 3:31 am

‘So help me God’ is not in the original text; all presidents since FDR have made use of it, however.


nick s 01.21.09 at 4:59 am

Shamelessly cribbed from ‘palinoscopy’ at the Washington Monthly blog:

I think Justice Roberts fucking up the oath is a perfect symbol of the transfer of power. Roberts deciding to “wing-it W-style” didn’t use notes and ended up fucking up a very historic event. Obama, in contrast, was left trying to fix the half cocked mess. What a wonderful symbol for what Bush is handing off and the different approaches of the two administrations.

Roberts never did get ‘faithfully’ in its right place. Cue lots of texturalism jokes from the constitutional lawyers.


Dave 01.21.09 at 8:24 am

Yes, Roberts, what a f**k-up. However, the wingnuttery response will probably be exactly as several above have pointed out. Not that they needed encouragement, but it’s a shame. Maybe we could impeach the Chief J? Just for shits an’ giggles?

24 01.21.09 at 8:29 am

There appears no law that the Chief justice of the Supreme Counrt has to administer the oath to a president. Nancy Pelosi could have administered the oath.

Justice Roberts goofed twice, by talking over Barack Obama when he first began the oath and then put faithully after the phrase. It almost looked like Justice Roberts wanted to Trip up President Obama.

You can watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann on the net at Tell your friends.


Kieran Healy 01.21.09 at 12:53 pm

Democratz, feel free to comment — but stop pimping your site.


DC 01.21.09 at 2:05 pm

I’m surprised nobody has even mentioned the fact that Roberts said “President to the United States”, which was another odd slip.


Paul 01.21.09 at 3:14 pm

People come on – how many of you have not made verbal slips and in much less important circumstances. These are human beings that we are talking about here. Obama and Roberts are very intelligent men but all too human and subject to making a slip once in awhile. Now BHO has the burden of being President to deal with. Now that is pressure!


Matthew Kuzma 01.21.09 at 4:12 pm

I took President Obama’s pause to be a stumble, but it does look rather deliberate. The real stumble, then, is splitting the difference between going with the oath as misquoted and waiting long enough for the Chief Justice to correct himself.


Dave S. 01.21.09 at 4:57 pm

Luther, no joke there. Section 1 of the Twentieth Amendment states: “The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January… and the terms of their successors shall then begin.”


peter 01.21.09 at 7:12 pm

Clearly, Obama stumbled since he’d been practicing the oath in his real mother tongue, Bahasa. That Roberts also stumbled shows that he, too, must be a secret Muslim. We’re all doomed!


Muhammed 01.21.09 at 8:09 pm

We’re all doomed!

Saved, rather.


Beryl 01.22.09 at 2:54 am

But the only evidence of the event is a photocopy…


Righteous Bubba 01.22.09 at 4:01 am

I trust the vault copy of that photocopy remains available…


bad Jim 01.22.09 at 5:01 am

The ceremony was arguably improved by this bit of comic relief.


Wissen 01.22.09 at 7:24 am

So he took the oath again. Conclusive proof that Obama reads Crooked Timber.


Dave 01.22.09 at 8:37 am

Comic relief maybe, but he just retook the oath, to be on the safe side – though according to the BBC it’s not the first time that a fluff had has to be corrected later. Which implies that getting it right is in fact taken seriously.


Ciarán 01.22.09 at 9:33 am

He didn’t use a Bible the second time, proof if it was needed that he’s a Muslim. Also the Antichrist.


Ben 01.22.09 at 9:47 am

Also, that BBC website does state that he amended the oath to say “So, God, help me to CRUSH THE INFIDELS”, before cackling manically and having Justice Roberts flayed alive.

For some reason this hasn’t been widely reported in the rest of the liberal media. Probably something to do with one or other of those secretly powerful social groups that I feel are threatening to my particular status quo.


bad Jim 01.22.09 at 9:51 am

Everything is taken seriously. Civilizations have been rent by the question of which end of an egg to break, or whether the lsb is presented first or last.

In replay I’m impressed by Obama’s patient playing along (in contrast to my own immediate rage at Roberts’ fumbling). A monumental fuck-up, faced with a calm smile and no drama. This may actually augur well for the future.


Beryl 01.22.09 at 12:25 pm


PHB 01.22.09 at 2:42 pm

The day would not have been the same without some ritual incompetence from a Republican to remind the assembled masses of what had taken place for the past 8 years, plus the time the Republicans on the SCOTUS were finding excuses not to count the vote.

They have redone the oath. Which is hardly a surprise. The problem is that every single act following might have been challenged in court and it is not such a trivial case as it may seem. Every person affected by any act of an Obama appointee would have standing. Even though the outcome is certain, it would eat up months of court time.

Now can we impeach Roberts?


PHB 01.22.09 at 2:53 pm

George W. Bush, inaugural 2000:

“A hundred years from now, this must not be remembered as an age rich in possessions and poor in ideals.”

Looking at the results of Republican era economics, I think we can be sure that future economists will not make that particular judgment.

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