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Joel's Two Cents

Inauguration Flub Watch

Barack Obama takes the Oath of Office as the 44th President of the United States as he is sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

By Joel Achenbach
The problem with Obama relying on that 27-year-old kid to write his speeches is that someone so young doesn't remember the Grover Cleveland presidency the way I do. And thus Obama opened his speech with a mistake that made every history geek in America wince and gasp (before deciding, perhaps, to call it a mere rounding error).

"Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath," Obama said.

Actually, it's 43. Obama is considered the 44th president because Cleveland, whose two terms were not consecutive, is considered both the 22nd and 24th president.

And while we're on Flub Watch duty, we have to mention the awkward oath. It appears that Obama jumped the gun at the beginning a little bit, and that threw off Chief Justice Roberts, who garbled the oath. Obama then improvised a little bit. They both closed strong, however.

The oath is specified in the U.S. Constitution, so you'd think it would be flub-proof -- especially when delivered by skilled lawyers in front of 2 million people on the Mall and trillions on television. It states: "I do solemnly swear 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."

It didn't go exactly that way. Here's a transcript of the Roberts-Obama verbal tango (complete with stepped-on-feet):

ROBERTS: Are you prepared to take the oath, Senator?
OBAMA: I am.
ROBERTS: I, Barack Hussein Obama...
OBAMA: I, Barack...
ROBERTS: ... do solemnly swear...
OBAMA: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...
ROBERTS: ... that I will l execute the office of president to the United States faithfully...
OBAMA: ... that I will execute...
ROBERTS: ... faithfully the office of president of the United States...
OBAMA: ... the office of president of the United States faithfully...
ROBERTS: ... and will to the best of my ability...
OBAMA: ... and will to the best of my ability...
ROBERTS: ... preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
OBAMA: ... preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
ROBERTS: So help you God?
OBAMA: So help me God.
ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President.

Posted at 1:18 PM ET on Jan 20, 2009  | Category:  Joel's Two Cents
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The oath of office was mangled but it was not Obama's fault. He was evidently making an effort to adhere to the practice of the last 6 swearings in. These are all viewable on Youtube. In each case, Chief Justices Burger (Ford, Carter, Reagan) and Rehnquist (Bush Sr., Clinton, Bush Jr.) prefaced the oath-taking ceremony by saying "repeat after me." Roberts failed to issue such an instruction, but Obama (after first saying "I BHO" too soon) then correctly repeated Roberts' first seven words: "I Barak Hussein Obama do solemnly swear".

THEN Roberts produced the following historic garbled line: "that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully..."

WHERE did THAT come from ??!
Certainly not the Harvard Law Review.

Yes, Obama did not quite use all the proper words in taking the oath. And George W. Bush did. BUT George W. Bush made quite a few other mistakes, including -any competent lawyer could well argue- appointing as chief justice of the Supreme Court a constitutional lawyer constitutionally unable to properly recite a 39 word phrase from the Constitution.

Posted by: PierreTroublion | January 21, 2009 6:45 PM

The Chief Justice should not read "So help you God" as a statement or a question. It should not be in the oath of office at all. The words to the oath are in the Constitution and should be read as written there. If the incoming President wants to add "So help me God" at the end of the oath, that is his or her personal choice. This is a simple concept, but one evidently hard for some religious ideologues to understand.

Posted by: ConcernedCitizen27 | January 21, 2009 10:52 AM


What "goalposts"? I still insist on him proving he is a "natural born" citizen. The oath flub was just icing on the cake. Do you think that Roberts tripped him up on purpose?

I also note that Colbert pulled some punches on this last night. So it begins.

Posted by: JakeD | January 21, 2009 9:28 AM

The presidential oath has never been recited exactly as written in the Constitution and precedent has deemed this acceptable.

The name of the President is not part of the oath as written in the Constitution, though it has traditionally been inserted between "I" and "do solemnly swear..." The exact wording in the Constitution also goes "... do solemnly swear (or affirm)..." though no one has ever said it that way and the parenthesis indicate that it isn't intended to be said that way. Lastly, many earlier Presidents did not actually recite the words themselves, instead stating "I do" or similar words after the official administering the oath said "Do you, (President's name) solemnly swear...." So, based on precedent, it is not necessary for the President to recite the oath exactly as written in the Constitution. All of the words were said and the exact meaning was retained. Shifting the word "faithfully" to a different place in the sentence did not in any way change the meaning of what was said.

Since the oath was administered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court with the rest of the Supreme Court as witnesses, it would appear that the ultimate arbiters of Constitutional Law have accepted the Constitutional requirement properly met.

Posted by: cjenns | January 21, 2009 2:08 AM


I see you have moved the goalposts, which is, basically, academic self abuse. I'm glad it makes you happy, but... you've just lost all credibility.

My best wishes to you.

Posted by: Kili | January 21, 2009 12:09 AM

I do not "hate" Obama -- I simply love the Constitution -- you want me to get you some examples of real Bush hate from these threads?

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 11:02 PM

OBAMA haters,

NO WEAPON and I mean NO WEAPON formed against this man will prosper.

So jaked and the rest of you similarly worthless posters, GET A LIFE! There is a new sheriff in town and he is BLACK, beautiful and is going to lead this Nation into a future that is filled with the promise that the founders promised, but never delivered!

Posted by: roxlaw | January 20, 2009 8:48 PM

The "oath flub" was entirely Roberts'. Each president recites the following oath, in accordance with Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution:
"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."

Saying the oath may not be what makes the president the president, but the wording is not, to my knowledge, optional.

Roberts gave Obama the line "I Barack Hussein Obama...", and paused (as is ALWAYS DONE---see here for G. W. Bush inauguration in 2005--- and look up any others you like); and then Roberts jumped in with " solemnly swear..." before Obama was finished saying his name. Then he changed the word order in a section of the oath that my 14 year old knows by heart, as do most intelligent sentient Americans: "...that I will faithfully execute..." Putting faithfully at the end, if not deliberate (and I'm not saying it was), was certainly a Freudian slip for a guy whose confirmation vote as Chief Justice lacked President (then Senator) Obama's "yea."

And then, instead of saying "So help ME God," for Obama to repeat, like he's been repeating all the rest of the oath, he is cute and says "So help YOU God?" Although, I suppose maybe Obama asked for it this way?

Posted by: sheila8 | January 20, 2009 8:26 PM

For the record, my prediction ("Barack HUSSEIN Obama will not be sworn in as President on January 20, 2009") came true.

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 7:58 PM

Jake D,

It was a statement in the declarative. It was not in the subjunctive. Had it been a prediction, I would never become so angry had it been stated as a prediction.

The silly petty criticisms of Obama in the face of his enormity I have ignored. Prattle on.

Posted by: Gator-ron | January 20, 2009 7:12 PM

Aaaaand we're OFF!



State your name,

"State your name"...

Posted by: SAINT---The | January 20, 2009 6:54 PM

(williamjohnson1: Annapolis was the temporary capital of the United States in 1783–1794)

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 6:53 PM


1) Glover Cleveland, whose two terms were not consecutive, is considered both the 22nd and 24th President;

2) "I will execute the Office of President of the United States faithfully";

3) "The capital had been abandoned ..." when there was no capital in 1776-77;

4) Attributing Thomas Paine's words to General Washington; and (my personal favorite)

5) Michele Obama not knowing which hand to shake between Laura or George Bush at the White House beforehand.

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 6:45 PM

I = It

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 6:37 PM

Mark me as one of the dorks who immediately thought about Grover Cleveland when Obama said he was the 44th American to take the oath, and I'm only 25, two years younger than the green speech writer.

Posted by: BaseballGal83 | January 20, 2009 6:30 PM


I was a prediction, come true since he did not legally take the oath of office today, as I have an understanding of this country's laws -- one of those being a "natural born" citizen requirement to become President -- care to comment on the 4-5 flubs on topic though?

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 6:11 PM


Have you reminded people of your statement that Barack Obama will not be inaugurated on January 20, 2009. That was not a prediction but a statement. I called you arrogant and you asked why. You have no shame.

You have no understanding of this country and its people. The hyper-conservative minority that has governed for the past decade. The unaware think that this country is center right but it will become apparent over the next few years is this is going to be a centrist country and ideologues like yourself will just be an anachronism.

We are a blessed country, the albatross is gone. A leader has arrived.

Posted by: Gator-ron | January 20, 2009 5:51 PM

Also, did General Washington really order Thomas Paine's words read aloud? Or, does Obama think there's a different "father of our nation"?

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 4:08 PM

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 3:48 PM

What about the "44 Americans [in Fantasyland] have now taken the presidential oath"? Maybe those were the 44 Presidents of the 58 United States?

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 3:46 PM


You believe that Obama (or his speechwriter) was referring to New York?

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 3:42 PM

From Wikipedia for DemsHateAmerica

The British plan, and Howe's blunder
The original conception of the campaign had been for Burgoyne, with some eight thousand men, to advance south via Lake Champlain and Lake George to the Hudson River and then to Albany. There he would meet Colonel Barry St. Leger coming east along the Mohawk River valley with a mixed force of about 600 Tories, Canadians and 1,000 Iroquois Indians. At the same time, William Howe, commanding the main British army in New York City, would march north, taking control of the lower Hudson and joining Burgoyne in Albany. This would cut off the New England states from the rest of America. However, Howe decided instead to make a strategically irrelevant assault on the American capitol of Philadelphia. In addition, Howe chose to approach the city by sailing the army to Chesapeake Bay rather than marching overland across New Jersey, rendering his army totally unable to come to Burgoyne's aid. On July 23, 1777, Howe and his army set sail and did not return to the mainland until August 25. Howe succeeded in taking Philadelphia, winning victories at Brandywine on September 11 and Germantown on October 4, but the Continental Congress simply retreated to York, Pennsylvania, and evaded capture. Because of the slow and difficult communications of the period Burgoyne did not hear of this change in Howe's plans for several weeks; by then it was too

Posted by: williamjohnson1 | January 20, 2009 3:39 PM

New York or Philadelphia or Annapolis were acting capitals esp. New York which is why British captured it. There was no D.C.

Posted by: williamjohnson1 | January 20, 2009 3:34 PM

Figures a Bush appointee would try to rewrite the Constitution, although he did try to put the adverb in a correct place grammatically. Maybe George Will will write a column about that.

Posted by: williamjohnson1 | January 20, 2009 3:31 PM

As an aside, does anyone really think that TRILLIONS watched the flub on TV? Last I checked, there were only billions of people on the earth. Maybe aliens from outerspace? Is this the signal for invasion?

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 3:19 PM


First of all, he did not accurately take the oath of Office so there's a legal argument to be made. Second, if he is not a "natural born" citizen, he is not "OFFICIALLY" President at all. Time will tell.

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 3:15 PM


No, I don't believe that JRM2 thinks.

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 3:13 PM




Posted by: LOONYBIN2000 | January 20, 2009 3:11 PM

Can we at least agree that it was an awkward oath all around, regardless of who was at fault? I do have to also agree with Joel Achenbach, above, in that "[i]t appears that Obama jumped the gun at the beginning a little bit, and that threw off Chief Justice Roberts ..." Please review the links to YouTube, below (previous Bush oaths), with NO PAUSE after their names.

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 3:11 PM

If "America is in dire straits".
Can Fleetwood Mac be far behind?

JRM2, I enjoyed the occasion, the spontaneous gathering of millions on the Mall. The fact that we have a POPULAR president is nice. Don't you think?

Hey JakeD - I've got a few notes too.

Nice to see Dick Cheney as Mr. Potter. He's a dead ringer!

John Boehner looked like somebody just said, "hold my beer while I kiss your girlfriend."

Too bad Obama booted his lines, but at least he'll be rehearsed for his second term.

Posted by: JohnQuimby | January 20, 2009 3:10 PM

After we are done with his own oath flub, let's discuss the "44 Americans have now taken the presidential oath" and the "capital was abandoned" flub : )

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 3:08 PM


You will have to explain for the class how reciting the oath INCORRECTLY translates to "excellently" catching it? Was it a double, reverse move?

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 2:57 PM

Is it possible that Chief Justice Roberts's botched wording of the brief oath -- so excellently caught by the new president -- was just one last case of the government trying to impose a literacy test?

Posted by: royharris | January 20, 2009 2:50 PM

For the record, I am registered Independent so I am used to being out of power as the GOP is not "my party". I also posted the previous Bush oaths from You Tube (no pauses). Regardless, The One was a CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR, right? Why didn't he simply recite the oath correctly?

More importantly, of course from a legal standpoint, is Obama a "natural born" citizen?

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 2:43 PM

Here is what you can "LOL" at: Your GOP has ZERO power...59-41 in the Senate...down 40+ seats in the House. If laughing at something so trivial makes u feel better, go ahead, but you better rememeber: we have the power now and we are gonna change things!

Posted by: RussellNewYork | January 20, 2009 2:33 PM

The fact is that most of the time there is no pause, but sometimes there is.

W's oath in 2005 contained a pause.

While we're on jumping the gun. Bush Sr. started to do it. It didn't throw Rehnquist off in the slightest.

Roberts got completely flummoxed from a fairly simple anticipatory flub.

You guys need to relax. If you want to jump down Obama's throat, find something real.

Posted by: johngift | January 20, 2009 2:32 PM

On another thread, a rabid Bush hater is claiming that Chief Justice Roberts affirmatively TRIED to trip up Obama on the oath -- VAST RIGHT WING CONSPIRACY here we go again -- any of you here concur in that opinion?

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 2:22 PM

Chief Justice Roberts flubbed by misplacing "faithfully" in the oath.

Chief Justice Roberts has a history of epileptic seizures.

Epileptic seizures can be brought on by stress.

Some say that the thought of Obama living in the WHITE House was so stressful for Chief Justice Roberts that he had a seizure while administering the oath.

Posted by: HughBriss | January 20, 2009 2:21 PM

Another incorrect transcript.

Let's be precise about Justice Johnny's "President to the United States" flub. In Line 9 he misspoke:

ROBERTS: ... the off...faithfully the pressed office of president of the United States...


Posted by: alsticky | January 20, 2009 2:18 PM


George H.W. Bush got it right too (no pause after his name).

Feel free to look up Clinton if you really think there's a pause after the name.


Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 2:08 PM

Even Bush can get the oath of office right. Time to put Bush back in charge until we get a leader, not this media invention. This FRAUD. This empty suited "Messiah".

Obama clearly jumped the gun and flubbed it, screwed up the cadence, timing and blew it.
Then Obama flubs the number 44 when its 43.
The bigger historical inaccuracy was when he told the story of Washington's troops during the harsh winter of 1777. Obama said "the capital had been abandoned..."

Fact is, there was no capital in 1777.

Just treating Obama the exact same way the Rats have been treating others. You better get used to it.

Posted by: DemsHateAmerica | January 20, 2009 2:01 PM

P.S. even George Walker Bush got it right (no pause after his name):

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 1:56 PM


Very embarrassing, for The One.

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 1:53 PM


Was his flubbing the oath "pitch-perfect"?

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 1:51 PM

The 44 flap notwithstanding, Obama did not flub the oath. Roberts was supposed to pause after he said "I, Barack Hussein Obama..." as is traditional in all oaths. He didn't do that despite Obama himself following the traditional oath. Then Roberts, flustered to end, blew up. Very embarrassing...

Posted by: parkerfl1 | January 20, 2009 1:48 PM


I thought that Haliburton and Wall Street were what is wrong with America? Please, get your feigned enemies straight and then get back to me.

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 1:47 PM

JakeD, it really is sad that you, and others like you in this time of great difficulty for many in America in several regards, choose to try and invalidate or mock the renewed spirit of cooperation and yes, hope.

In case you didn't notice America is in dire straits.

You and others like you are what is wrong with America.

Posted by: JRM2 | January 20, 2009 1:44 PM


Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 1:35 PM

How about Michele Obama not knowing which hand to shake between Laura or George Bush at the White House beforehand?

Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 1:31 PM


Posted by: JakeD | January 20, 2009 1:29 PM

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