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Obama takes the "oath of hope"

The Swiss press said the future is bright for the Obama presidency

(swissinfo.ch)

The Swiss media have greeted the inauguration of Barack Obama as 44th president of the United States with cautious optimism.

Hope, future and new beginning were the words on every editorialist's fingertips on Tuesday. Commentators added, however, that while Obama was undoubtedly the best man for the job, the incredible expectations heaped on him would result in disappointment sooner or later.

"January 20, 2009 is a day that must be remembered," said the Fribourg newspaper, La Liberté. "Suddenly, in the midst of winter and an unprecedented crisis, an oasis emerged, heated by a human river. The greyness was lifted and replaced by a few moments of fleeting happiness..."

Not all papers were as poetic as La Liberté, but the general editorial message was invariably the same: lots done, an impossible amount still to do.

The image of Obama raising his hand and taking the oath was on the front page of every paper, apart from the Zurich-based Tages-Anzeiger, which decided to blow up Obama's signature across half a page. "This signature will feature on countless documents over the coming years," it observed.

Challenge

Up to two million people erupted in cheers on Washington's National Mall on Tuesday as they watched Obama stand with one hand raised and the other on a Bible used to swear in Abraham Lincoln in 1861, and repeat the brief oath to become the first black president of the United States.

Obama, a Democrat, succeeded Republican George W. Bush – "already a shadow", according to the Tages-Anzeiger – who served two terms and left office having plumbed record lows in approval ratings and leaving a legacy of two wars and economic recession.

"Eight dark, wasted years are over," began the Tages-Anzeiger, saying that the United States' new president promised to give back hope and self-confidence not only to the US but also to the world.

"But let's not fool ourselves," it warned. "Obama faces a huge, almost superhuman task."

It, and every other paper, reminded us that in the US the financial industry was on its knees, millions were looking for jobs, many children received unsatisfactory education and health care was unaffordable for many – not to mention crises abroad.

"Obama will have to take unpopular decisions if he wants to return growth to America and stability to the world," the Tages-Anzeiger said.

Underscoring the tough road ahead, Wall Street ushered in the new presidency with a record Inauguration Day slide amid signs the global banking crisis was far from over.

Saviour?

Der Bund of Bern also kept its feet on the ground. "Yesterday millions trekked to the centre of Washington, despite the biting cold, to cheer the new president like a pop star – or a saviour," it said.

"However, sooner or later Obama's fans will be disappointed. Obama might be an extraordinarily talented politician, but he is still just a politician. In practice this means there is no way he will fulfil everyone's hopes and he will not be able to transform the US into another country overnight."

It concluded: "As someone who in his campaign played more on people's emotions than virtually anyone else, Obama should be aware that positive feelings can rapidly turn negative when hopes are disappointed."

For the Neue Zürcher Zeitung of Zurich, Tuesday was a "day of renewal". The massive crowd cheering in the icy temperatures was a sign, it said, that the US, despite various crises and wars, could still generate a mood of a new era about to dawn.

"Obama is fully aware that the spirit of brotherliness won't last forever – from previous experience a presidential honeymoon lasts a month at most," it said.

"Nevertheless, when the crowds have gone home, Obama can still draw optimism from one fact: his majority in both houses of Congress is larger than any president in a quarter of a century, which gives him the chance to quickly realise reforms."

"Day of joy"

Tabloid paper Blick echoed this observation with a bilingual pun: "Jetzt [now] we can!" was its frontpage headline.

Blick proceeded to fill the next nine pages with one of the longest excerpts from Obama's speech of any Swiss paper, a couple of pages of celebrity spotting, an article on why Swiss television blacked out just before the inauguration (power cut) and a debate on whether Obama was A Good Thing for Switzerland (probably).

"For Europeans it's almost impossible to imagine what yesterday meant to Americans – especially if you're white," commented the Neue Luzerner Zeitung of Lucerne. "It was a day of joy, a day of hope, a day of symbolic power."

It was also a day of abstract nouns: "Obama proclaimed not only change but also a return to 'the ideals of our founding fathers – hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism'."

"Sense of responsibility"

Over in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, the Lausanne-based Le Matin talked about "the oath of a hero" – La Liberté's headline was "The oath of hope" – before spending a page and a half analysing what the President and First Lady were wearing.

Incidentally, Michelle Obama won applause from style-watchers for the sparkling yellow sheath dress with matching coat by Cuban-born American designer Isabel Toledo that she wore to the swearing-in and parade.

Le Tribune de Genève said Obama had "looked to give his compatriots a sense of responsibility, inviting them to unite to 'rebuild their country'".

If he hadn't spoken much about foreign policy, it added, he had nevertheless clearly distanced himself from George Bush.

The Tages-Anzeiger ended its editorial on, yes, hope and a new beginning.

"Obama sees himself above all as a pragmatist, a problem solver – a doer. And like great presidents before him – Lincoln, Roosevelt, also Kennedy and Reagen – he knows that America can always rise above itself when times are darkest."

swissinfo, Thomas Stephens

Key facts

At least one million people viewed the inauguration from Washington's National Mall.

Hundreds of thousands of additional spectators packed Pennsylvania Avenue to watch the inaugural parade. The record was set during the 1965 inauguration of Lyndon B. Johnson, when 1.2 million people attended.

240,000 tickets were distributed, free of charge, for the swearing-in ceremony on Capitol Hill.

Some online ticket brokers were selling seats for more than $8,000 (SFr9,200).

Temperatures were around minus 2°C in Washington by the time of the midday ceremony.

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