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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sen. Gillibrand's Oath

And Also: Balkinization has comments once more, if not for all posts. [Update: See here. Seems silly not to even supply a thread there for discussion. The hosts never seriously addressed the issue (e.g., a post to warn, have a debate) and now it's "fine. no candy for you!" As to it being "successful," well, depends on what you want on a blog. Handled badly all around.]

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

The coverage of Gillibrand's appointment, as shown in large part by Internet discussion, belies the implication of a NYT opinion piece* that the latter is just some sort of "cesspool" of misinformation vis-a-vis newspapers. As I also discuss here, dealing with fiscal matters is not the only or even maybe the primary concern the hard copy press should be concerned about. Not when I read an AP piece on the swearing-in that yet again labels her as a gun supporting Democrat (in the very first sentence) as if that moniker suffices and/or is not just plain misleading standing alone. Media Matters etc. also will have something to say about where the true "cesspool" lies. This was so in Jefferson's honored press too.

[I should note that her status on immigration issues has also been conservative, not just guns and opposition to the bailout in late 2008. All the same, coverage of that issue in the NY Daily News etc. does not note that she is traditionally liberal in a majority of issues, even with her stance on guns and immigration -- opposition to the bailout is not per se really conservative, given flaws with the stance, especially given problems experience has shown. Also, immigration is not what had been noted as "conservative" as compared to guns/bailout by most coverage I have seen before today. Anyway, the matter has been addressed in the NY Daily News and Times today.]

I wanted to watch the brief ceremony where Rep. Gillibrand became Sen. Gillibrand via an oath supplied by President (of the Senate) Biden. As an aside, when taking mandatory oaths or affirmations (I reckon the last line is removed for the latter), is it required that someone give it? IOW, can someone just say the necessary words aloud? Probably not, since the person giving the oath/affirmation serves as an authorized witness to the act.** This is probably an implied requirement to the oaths/affirmations set forth by Art. II (wording supplied) and Art. VI (wording to be provided by the relevant offices).

Anyway, the replay was at eight last night, but the Senate was still in session. So, didn't see the two minute ceremony (C-SPAN website has it being played from 8:00-8:01). C'est la vie. It is notable all the same that an oath was taken. Some found it a bit much to be so concerned that Clinton allegedly broke his oath over some sexual business. Still, oaths mean something. They are special acts that suggest a certain special responsibility. Just look at a marriage oath. Thus, especially back in the days when religious and royal disputes were big deals, oaths meant a lot in the days of the Founding Fathers. A "test oath" that you would honor and obey (and perhaps, always did) the Church of England, deemed by some the work of Satan, meant something.

And, oaths continued to be a controversial matter through American history, including during the Civil War (see, Amendment XIV, sec. 3) and during the Red Scare. Vague open-ended oaths in particular, especially those respecting past conduct ("have you ever been ...") were trouble. Some absolutist types might not even like this one, since the uprightness do not need oaths, and fools/knaves will say them with an empty heart.

But, it helps if one remembers that "support and defend" does not mean denying that current policies can be flawed or open to revision. After all, Sen. Feingold swore that oath, and now wants to amend the Constitution to require popular election of senators after vacancies arise, to avoid the troubles N.Y. and Illinois recently had. "Faith and allegiance" to a spouse also does not mean never criticizing them, or enabling them down a bad road. It does suggest a certain degree of support, akin to a prosecutor who does his/her best to promote one side, even if they might think there is some reason to think they are wrong. The job of a senator is to carry out the office as it is spelled out in the Constitution, not to spend most of the time trying to change its contours. So, if one is that critical of the Constitution, you might not be fit for the office. Still, blind affirmance to the status quo is problematic too.

The revolutionary, even if peaceful/law-abiding, is often not the best legislator. True enough. All the same, nor is the blind patriot, whose patriotism is more misguided in the long run. Putting that aside, the agreement to "well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office" is a big responsibility, one that takes into consideration various matters. And, this is done "so help me God," putting a veneer of the sacred on the whole thing. So, when we expect a lot from our public servants, we do so advisedly. They have responsibilities, even if it goes against partisan or other desires.

Again, let's see how she does, now and at election time in 2010.


* The term "op-ed" is misleading in this context since it implies the editorial board is providing the opinion, when in fact a columnist, here a guest too boot, generally does so. The term "op-ed" is better applied to the editorial page in particular.

** This is the basic function of notaries, who also are qualified to handle oaths and affirmations. President Coolidge was sworn in by his father, a notary, after Harding died. I wonder if any sort of notary is technically qualified for such a job.