It is not merely tradition, but a requirement by law that every U.S. president must recite the oath of office: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
It was not only ceremony when George Washington first recited the principles written by the founders. And it was not a mere formality when Abraham Lincoln voiced the oath and later proved through his actions that it was more than lip service.
At the end of every president’s term, there is an invaluable amount of hindsight. Reflection and honest introspection have left some presidents talking in terms of could-haves and should-haves.
When President Bush first assumed office in 2001, his approval rating hovered around 50 percent. The country was hopeful, and the economy was comparatively strong.
However, public opinion isn’t the authority on assessing presidential achievements. Perhaps a more accurate indicator would be the conditions of the nation as a result of the departing administration’s policies.
Directly after the attacks of Sept. 11, Bush’s approval rating skyrocketed to more than 90 percent in some polls, most likely as a result of national solidarity. After two wars, a dwindling economy and some disregard for the Constitution, his rating upon leaving office is the worst in history — as low as 22 percent, according to a recent CBS/New York Times poll.
What is it that allows a president to slip so far from the idealistic principles promised at his inauguration? Is it lacking ability — or an unfaithful execution of his presidential duties?
The oath of office should not be disregarded as mere convention. It was written into the Constitution with the explicit purpose of protecting that document. The actions of the outgoing administration have raised numerous constitutional issues that have been given great scrutiny, and for good reason. If President Obama is to uphold his inaugural promises, he must give careful review to important issues that directly affect American freedoms.
Restoring habeas corpus, respecting privacy by forgoing warrantless wiretaps and reviewing the misuse of signing statements should be primary concerns to those invested in the preservation and protection of the Constitution.
Time will prove Obama’s ability to serve. He, like the presidents before him, will be judged as either a noble statesman in pursuit of serving the people — or something less than what was required of him by law and country.