In the Beginning: The Oath Is a President's First Act, but Everyone's Not on the Same Page

By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 18, 2009

Thirty seconds to change the country. Thirty seconds to keep it the same. Just give your lovely wife that Bible, put your hand on it and repeat after me.

I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear . . .

The oath of office: Heavy with tradition, 39 words plus your name, recited then repeated.

. . . that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States . . .

These seconds are the pinpoint of circumstance in a hurricane of pomp. It says more about the country than the teeming parade, the mess of bunting, the whump of the 21-gun salute, the just-so dais. The only thing that matters is this half-minute, these 39 words, every four years. So simple, so direct and over so quickly. Let's slow it down to half-speed. Let's see what it reveals.

. . . and will to the best of my ability . . .

It's a pledge. It's a paradox.

. . . preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States . . .

It's how we've changed. It's how we haven't.

. . . so help me God.

* * *

If you surrender to the grandeur, you'll miss the tension.

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