The same oath has been taken since the first US President said it in 1789, as it says in the constitution: on the same date, 20 January every four years, and at the same time: high noon.
When Barack Obama stepped up to the podium his first time, the entire Washington Mall was on a high. The number of people there or watching on television and so on broke a global audience record.
And then the Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. fumbled the words. Obama knew them, waited for a correction, then rose above it. They did it properly later.
Obama used a Bible that Abraham Lincoln had used.
Obama inspired with optimism, but Lincoln, in his second inaugural address in 1865, spoke of the nation’s sadness as the Civil War was ending, while condemning slavery.
Presidential historian Paul Boller said: “I think Lincoln’s second is really beautifully done and it’s much quoted, (‘With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right…’)
and it should be, and even in Europe they were just impressed by it. They said nobody in Europe could do such a beautiful statement as Lincoln’s.”
If Lincoln’s brevity was matched with profoundness, not all others’ were short, deep or appreciated.
Boller said: “The longest one was a guy named William Henry Harrison in 1840 and he spoke so long, not about America, but about ancient history — the most boring thing ever delivered — and after a month as president, he got sick and died of pneumonia.”
John F Kennedy’s patriotic dedication went over especially well in 1961.
Kennedy said: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
Though they lived a century apart, one in a nation staggered by war and the other awash in wealth and confidence, sadly, Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy met the same fate: assassination.
When Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Vice-President Lyndon Johnson’s oath-taking was also exceptional in that he was flying aboard Air Force One, with no frills or joy.
It could hardly have contrasted more with the traditional pomp and celebration, such as the Stars and Stripes nation has come to enjoy.
Going back to just after WWII, the parade was for President Harry Truman.
Charlie Brotman, who is 85, was there as the announcer. President Eisenhower made that official, and he’s been doing it ever since then: one man, honoured and thrilled to do it, chatting, welcoming, informing and entertaining.
Brotman said: “And here I am announcing the President of the United States, it’s incredible, I can hardly believe it and even though I’ve done it this many times, I think it’s like 64 years, from 1949-2013, I still get the adrenaline going, it’s not the same old same old, been there done that, not all. Every time is like the first time.”
Charlie knows the ropes to the point where he guides the President in what to do, like when to salute, wave or put his hand on his heart.
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