So we all know that Barack Obama became president at high noon (eastern time) on Tuesday. He didn’t take the official oath until a few minutes after that, but according to the Constitution, the time, not the oath, marks the beginning of his term. The oath itself was administered not exactly flawlessly by Chief Justice John Roberts, who should have taken a page from the book of John Paul Stevens, the much older, much more liberal and, at least as far as oaths are concerned, much wiser justice, who brought along a cheat-sheet to swear in Vice President Joe Biden. Some conspiracy theorists, bless their lefty hearts, believe Roberts was trying to render invalid Obama’s presidency. I have a different view.
At worst, Roberts was just being a know-it-all and thought he didn’t need any help remembering any old oath, thank you very much. At best, he was correcting it. Here are the words that tripped up Roberts:
I, Barack Hussein Obama, 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.
Grammarians and school marms everywhere will tell you that a compound verb should remain intact. The adverb “faithfully” should follow the verb phrase “will execute,” rather than split it as the oath does. Nowadays, of course, this is more of a preference than a hard and fast rule. Likewise, the even more egregious error of splitting an infinitive — to go, for example — happens all the time now. No thanks to the folks at Star Trek for “boldly” inserting such bad grammar into the popular vernacular.
So when Roberts said, “will execute the office of President of the United States faithfully,” instead of “will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States,” he was doing nothing more than paying homage to some elementary school teacher who grilled good grammar into his head. Perhaps he was being presumptuous in correcting the words of the founding fathers, but I can’t blame him. Everybody needs a copy editor.