Tuesday, January 20, 2009

History is made: But who is the 44th President?
A truly historic and memorable day, and I'm glad I managed to watch the entire ceremony (my American cousin was very upset that she had to work during it, which may have something to do with the fact that she works in the heart of McCain country, in Arizona). Whilst some have claimed President Obama's speech wasn't as memorable as they expected, its climax certainly had the "Bartlett factor" that I was looking for.

A couple of small things marred proceedings, however: Firstly the annoying commentary of Huw Edwards and others on the BBC, who seemed determined to fill every second of airtime with their inane drivel, speaking over the music, the announcements of the guests, and even some of the speeches. It was highly annoying, as well as detracting from the impact of the ceremony, and I see I'm not alone in thinking so.

Secondly, there were some notable hiccups in the ceremony itself: Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chairman of the organising committee, will doubtless have some explaining to do about the late running of events, which led to Obama swearing the oath five minutes late. This leads to the intriguing question of who was actually President between the expiry of George Bush's term at midday and the belated Swearing-in of his successor? As Joe Biden took his oath before midday, was he technically the acting President for five minutes? The situation doesn't arise in the UK, where the office of Prime Minister can be vacant, but with the US Order of Succession, there should never be a gap. I'll look into it...

Speaking of the oath, most people will have noticed the confusion caused by Chief Justice John Roberts, who misread the oath, causing a slightly alarmed-looking Obama to promise "I will execute the office of President to the United States faithfully" instead of "faithfully execute the office of President...", which is laid down in the Constitution. Most reporters have glossed over the mistake, but it is potentially pretty serious - the new President hasn't actually sworn (or affirmed) the Oath required of him by the US Constitution. A small change admittedly, but the original wording is precise, and must have been set out verbatim for a reason.

To stop me worrying, perhaps someone could fetch a bible and a judge before the Inaugural Balls tonight so he can have another go?

UPDATE: Someone has been in touch to point out that the 20th Amendment specifies that the new President assumes office at midday, regardless of the Oath. What it actually says is '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'. To my mind, that doesn't cancel out the requirement to take the oath. But it does at least clear up the matter of the Feinstein interregnum...

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