Like many millions of Americans and others worldwide, I watched the inauguration of President Obama on Tuesday. Like most of those, I had a variety of emotions and thoughts. Not the least of these thoughts is that I am blessed to live in a country where racial perceptions have shaped much of our culture, but still the race that constitutes about 80% of the population elected and supports a member of a minority race that constitutes less than 20%. AND there was a peaceful, respectful transfer of power. Much credit has rightfully been given to Dr. Martin Luther King and many of his contemporaries for bringing us from a hateful, abusive environment to the one that exists today. The speeches and actions of Dr. King had an influence on me as a school-age boy growing up in the first forced-integration schools in the south. I grew up caught between white elders that resented the "trouble-makers" and my own growing perception that some of the treatment just could not be right. The events of this week cap a long transition that most young white and black citizens could not possibly appreciate fully. Because of these thoughts, I have been reluctant to forward e-mails (some funny, some not) that utilize racial stereotypes like spinner wheels on the limousines and purple suits on the secret service personnel. I want to make my best, honest effort to observe this president based on "the content of his character" and not the color of his skin. Besides, during the summer he is not that much darker than I am.
Having said all that, I want to address the goof during the administration of the oath of office. No, I don't want to join a conspiracy group claiming Obama is not really the president. And the stumbling over the words seemed to be primarily the fault of the chief justice who chose to recite from memory rather than read the oath. That choice is key to the point I wish to make. Why would you choose that? My contention is that only ego would drive that decision--an attempt to impress. There was lots of that on Tuesday. It would be difficult to suppress one's ego if selected to be part of the pomp and circumstance associated with the transition of power. In my opinion pride and ego was evident in most who had a public part, including the two that led prayers. Really? Is that a time for elementary rap? As most Americans know by now, the oath was administered again in private out of an "abundance of caution".
The two things that startled me during the inauguration were (1) the fumbled oath--which made me slide to the edge of my chair and say out loud "Are you kidding me?" although nobody else was in the room and (2) prior to that, the comment on the network I was watching that Obama had already taken office before the oath. Although I printed a copy of the constitution a few weeks ago (because I don't even remember taking a civics class) and have read over it some, I only learned since the slip-up that the presidents term begins at noon on January 20, but (depending on interpretation) the powers of the executive office are received after taking the oath. Obviously, the ideal is for the two to coincide. Can you imagine how many protocol experts were involved with planning and orchestrating this event? How would you like to be a civil servant tasked with keeping celebrities and politicians at the highest level on schedule? My question (from one who is ignorant of constitutional law) is; "Why in the world would you not schedule the events and maintain the order so that the oath is taken before noon--no matter what?"
My guess is that many who bother to read this far are saying "So what?" What does it matter if he gets the right words or gets them in the right order? What does it matter how much time elapses before he has the "legal" power of the president?
And here we are at my point. The oath itself is a promise to uphold the constitution of the United States. The importance of that can not be overstated. The reason we have an orderly transition of power is that wise leaders hammered out a process and wrote it down as part of our "constitution" (pun intended). Those few minutes were the reason millions stood in the cold for hours and countless millions more watched on TV. The assembly was not about Aretha Franklin or Yo Yo Ma or Joseph Lowery or Rick Warren. It was about fulfilling a constitutional requirement to replace the president of the United States. Words make a difference. Legal requirements matter. Good intentions and warm feelings can not replace doing what is required. May I add that great speeches, impressive intellect and warm relationships with celebrities can not replace doing what is required. I pray that President Obama will have wisdom and humility enough to do what is required to move our nation in the way it should go over the next four years.