What Now? The Inauguration

January 15, 2009

The ceremony itself is fairly formulaic, but there is still room for individual touches. President Carter shed the usual morning coat and striped pants for a standard business suit. President Reagan moved the ceremony to the Capitol’s west front terrace from the traditional East Portico. (So you will now face the Mall and an audience of many thousands.)

Within patriotic limits, you can choose the musical selections. A chorus from Atlanta University sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” at Carter’s inauguration. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang “This Is My Country” for President Nixon. The Marine Band performed Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” at the inauguration of President Clinton. Pick a grand voice for “The Star- Spangled Banner.” Past presidents chose the operatic voices of Dorothy Maynor (Eisenhower), Marian Anderson (Kennedy), and Marilyn Horne (Clinton). President Kennedy opened a new vein of creativity by asking Robert Frost to recite a poem; a second poet, Maya Angelou, read for Clinton.##1##

Choosing the “right” clergy will be noted, of course. Kennedy’s invocation was delivered by Richard Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, a close family friend. Billy Graham was there for Nixon, George H. W. Bush, and Clinton. Almost as difficult as trying to select a cabinet that “looks like America” is trying to arrange a “four faiths” inaugural ceremony, in which your options include Catholic, Protestant (possibly one white, one African American), Jewish, and Greek Orthodox. There has not yet been a Muslim.

Immediately before you take the oath of office, your vice president will be sworn in. There is no set protocol for the vice presidential swearing-in. The oath of office was administered to Vice President Lyndon Johnson by his fellow Texan, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn. Vice President Richard Nixon chose a fellow Californian, Senator William Knowland, and Vice President Dan Quayle chose Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The oath of office was administered to Vice President Al Gore by retired Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Once this is done, you will join the chief justice of the United States and place your hand on a Bible, opened to a passage if you wish. You will then repeat the thirty-five-word oath from Article II, Section I of the 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.

You will probably also add the words “So help me God,” as most of your predecessors have—a tradition that is said to date to the very first presidential inauguration. Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover are the only presidents to “affirm” the oath.

Now, for the first time, ruffles and flourishes and “Hail to the Chief” will be played for you. In the distance a twenty-one-gun salute will be fired from howitzers of the Military District of Washington. You will be given the card that unlocks the nuclear code.