Monday, January 21, 2013

Second Terms & Second Chances

Yesterday was the official inauguration of Pres. Obama into his second term - it was set by the 20th Amendment to take place on Jan. 20, so the fact that it was a Sunday didn't matter.  But that was a small, one-minute ceremony - today's the party!  Only it's not really a party - second inaugurals tend to be smaller and a tad more subdued that the first one.

Nevertheless, it provides me with an opportunity to point out a few things that I think are worth noting, mostly because I love trivia about this sort of thing.

The oath of office for President is set out in the Constitution itself in Article 2, Section 1(8).  The oath for other federal offices, including the one Joe Biden takes as vice president, is not.  The oath permits the office holder to "swear (or affirm)."  Franklin Pierce (President from 1853 - 1857) and Herbert Hoover (President from 1929 - 1933) both chose to affirm rather than to swear.

The ending of the oath - "so help me God" - is not an official part of the oath as laid out in the Constitution.  Washington apparently added in the words and it's become usual and traditional to include them.

While most presidents have chosen to swear the oath on a Bible (Obama is using the Bible used by Abraham Lincoln at the public ceremony and used a family Bible at the private ceremony), three presidents have not.  John Quincy Adams - that rebel! - swore his oath of office on a book of law.  He was also the first president to wear trousers instead of knee breeches to the ceremony.  Teddy Roosevelt didn't use a darned thing at his first inauguration in 1901.  (This was Teddy "I kill bears before breakfast" Roosevelt - but the lack of a book had more to do with the circumstances of the inaugural,which followed the assassination of Pres. McKinley.)  Lyndon Johnson was sworn in on Air Force One as he was hastily flown back to Washington following Kennedy's assassination.  He used Kennedy's Catholic prayer book for his unscheduled swearing-in.

Regardless of the trappings of the ceremony, there's a heap of work to get done.  The country is bitterly divided about the future of our nation and the amount of common ground seems to be shrinking by the day.  I still have hope for the future - we've weathered more severe storms and I don't see us throwing in the towel any time soon.

But it'll be nice to watch the pomp and ceremony and think, just for a little while, that we're all pulling in the same direction.

*Also, let's not overlook the nigh-perfect symbolism of Obama's Inauguration Day falling on the holiday set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Without a doubt, Dr. King was the face of the American Civil Rights movement and his murder at the hands of a coward had a massive impact on this country.  The New Yorker put together quite a good playlist of songs inspired by Dr. King and his legacies.  Check that out here, won't you?

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