Looking back over the last four years, it is now obvious that the greatest symbolic moment of President Barack Obama’s first term was the very first moment.
That is when Obama placed his left hand on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible, raised his right hand, and followed the lead of Chief Justice John Roberts in attempting to recite the oath that all American presidents must take, swearing to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Obama and Roberts mangled the oath, a poignant precursor of their subsequent exertions to mangle the Constitution itself.
The Constitution says: “Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: — ‘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.'”
After Roberts and Obama failed to recite these words correctly — as more than a million watched from the National Mall — Obama decided to take the oath a second time, on Jan. 21, 2009, in front of a few reporters in the White House Map Room.
“We believe that the oath of office was administered effectively and that the president was sworn in appropriately yesterday,” White House Counsel Greg Craig said in an explanatory statement. “But the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of an abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time.”
But if Obama’s second oath-taking was essentially a symbolic gesture, it lacked the most powerful element of his first oath-taking: This time he did not use a Bible.