A ‘heartbeat’ away from the presidency

Since the inauguration of President Obama, there has been much talk of the fleeting moment when Chief Justice Roberts and Barack Obama stumbled over the Presidential oath. Obama’s second oath, which omitted the apparently dispensable inaugural ingredients of a bible and television coverage, neatly resolved the confusion.

But as several commentators have noted, that meant that Vice-President Joe Biden enjoyed a short period of time as President of the United States of America, having been smoothly inaugurated three minutes earlier. No doubt such an incident will be remembered in American inauguration history, along with President Franklin Roosevelt’s statement that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and President John Quincy Adams’s pioneering resistance to conformity, by being the first president to be inaugurated in long trousers in 1825.

However, we should not forget the greater significance of the event and the importance of the office of the Vice-Presidency. In recent months, since our favourite Alaskan hockey-mom sadly returned to her moose-filled homestead, we have forgotten that the Vice-President really is ‘a heartbeat away’ from being arguably the most powerful person on the planet. To put this into sharper relief, it could have been the woman who seemed confused on serious matters of state and intent on carrying on George Bush’s relentless battle with the English language who was President for a day; a most sobering thought.

Whether we believe the constitutional analysts who point out Biden’s brief ascendancy, we must not forget that his views and actions could be of great consequence in the years to come. A Senator from Delaware, of Irish-Catholic descent, Mr Biden has notable foreign affairs experience through his work in the Senate and although he supported the war in Iraq initially, was a critic of the strategy employed by Bush and General Petraeus. He argued that a federal solution was needed in Iraq, loosely organised along Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurd lines. He has also already met President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan this month, the second theatre of war in which Mr Bush and Dick Cheney, another recipient of Mr Biden’s scorn, involved the United States. Although the Vice-President has said that he will adopt a supportive role rather than taking on the extensive powers that Cheney reserved for himself, he will not merely be a passive observer in the times ahead and seeks to be part of the economic task force set up to cope with the current recession.

In the aftermath of Obama’s historic inauguration it may be easy to forget Biden, sandwiched between President Obama and the immutable Secretary of State Hilary Clinton; however, the confusion over the oath reminds us of the gravity of his position and his possible role if the worst should ever happen.

Finally though, on a lighter note, for all his qualifications, we might be able to expect similar gems of oratory that characterised the previous presidency. During the Presidential Campaign, an impassioned Mr Biden excitedly called on Chuck Graham, Missouri State Senator to stand up at a Democrat meeting, only to realise that Mr Graham was in a wheelchair; Mr Biden apologetically added, “You can tell I’m new.”


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