Wednesday, June 12, 2013

44 or 43?

(A Conversation With John Dobbin, Jan 20, 2009)

Posted by: jfdobb | January 20, 2009 at 02:54 PM

So today Barack Obama became the 44th President. So far so good.  In his speech (Yes, my source for the speech is an Australia based blog. They were also my source for recall information with the recent salmonella peanut butter thing.), Obama says "Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath." Hmmm. Is that right? I feel like 43 is the right number here. I do admit that I'm absolutely not a history expert, and it does seem unlikely to me that in a prepared speech Obama would make a factual mistake like that. I mean come on, didn't anyone read it over? But I just can't figure out how he gets 44. The White House website lists 43 counting Grover Cleveland only once as I tend to think is appropriate particularly since Obama phrased it as Forty-four Americans. There are ways to make 44 sound right, but he didn't use them.  Anyway, it's not that big of a deal. I would expect Jon Stewart to make fun of it though. If I'm wrong, let me know.  

Posted by: GregB | January 21, 2009 at 08:53 AM

So you and I both notices, but imagine if he had been accurate and said 43 people. I think more people would have been confused by the correct number.

Posted by: Richard Goodman | January 23, 2009 at 10:36 AM

You are right, much as it pains me to say that. When he was sworn in (or rather, when noon elapsed and he became president despite not taking the oath yet), he became the 44th president but only the 43rd unique person to take the oath.  Wikipedia says: There have been 43 people sworn into office, and 44 presidencies, due to the fact that Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms and is counted chronologically as both the 22nd and the 24th president. Of the individuals elected as president, four died in office of natural causes, one resigned, and four were assassinated. The first president was George Washington, who was inaugurated in 1789 after a unanimous Electoral College vote. The incumbent president is Barack Obama, whose term will end on January 20, 2013.”  I would amend that to say "His first term will end on....." You should mention this to Jon Stewart, since you two went to school together. I'm sure he'll cover it. If Bush had said it, that would have been the lead on the news that night.

Posted by: jfdobb | January 23, 2009 at 02:43 PM

It now seems clear to me that 44 is wrong and 43 is correct. There was a discussion of this on the New York Times Political blog, and nobody there could produce any evidence that there was a 44th oath taker. Some actually managed to reduce the oath takers to 41. What amazes me is the number of people who make the comment that Greg made here about how it would have confused the public if he said 43. So what? It's better to be wrong than to have people think you're wrong? I just don't see this. Oddly, being right would have generated lots of press coverage of the comment, and led to a greater historical awareness by the general population. The other comment I see a lot is people asking why this matters and accusing those who bring it up of picking on the current president. Yeah, because nobody ever picked on a president before... Also, it's the kind of error that's so alarming. People always accuse Bush of grammatical missteps and of generally not sounding intelligent. Most of the examples of this are when he got flustered or was just talking without a prepared speech. Obama hasn't shown himself to be exactly great in these situations either, so everyone should have a fun few years making fun of him too. But Obama had two months to craft this speech and made a factual error in the second paragraph. It shows a lack of attention to detail and either an unwillingness to solicit the opinions of others (a really scary thought given how inexperienced Obama is) or a desire to surround himself with people who don't want to correct him or aren't smart enough to know what the facts are. I'm hoping this turns out to be an isolated incident, but it just doesn't help me to gain confidence in a man who scares the crap out of me.

Posted by: Richard Goodman | March 15, 2010 at 10:33 AM

I just thought of one more possible explanation for when you said "nobody... could produce any evidence that there was a 44th oath taker." Vice President Bush took the oath when Ronald Regan went into surgery. Of course, he then became President (and would also have been re-elected if not for that insane munchkin Ross Perot) so that is still one unique person, not two.

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