Presidential OCD ?

President Obama having to retake the presidential oath because a single word was out of sequence when he was sworn in last Tuesday, January 20, 2009, made me thing of the relation between ritual and Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviour (OCD), as suggested most notably by Pascal Boyer and Pierre Lienard (in "Why Ritualized Behavior? Precaution Systems and Action-Parsing in Developmental, Pathological and Cultural Rituals" Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2006) 29: 1-56 available here; see also a shorter paper of theirs here).

Obama repeating the oath

The White House counsel, Greg Craig, reassured the public that Obama's inauguration was effective and that he has indeed been president since inauguration day. However, he said, the repeat was motivated by "an abundance of caution". Which means… by obsessive-compulsive behaviour. Note that the misspoken sentence was 100% identical in meaning, but contained a single slight difference in word order. According to the US Constitution, the oath reads: "I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States", while Obama said: "I will execute the office of president of the United States faithfully."

Ironically, some claim that even the second oath is not valid and that Obama is still not president, because he forgot to bring a Bible for the second oath. And although the Bible is not a legal requirement, the fact that it is traditionally used in presidential inaugurations makes it part of the ritual. And as ritual practitioners often tell anthropologists, a ritual must be performed accurately in order to be effective…






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