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Favorable reactions to President Obama's call for hope

President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech earned generally high marks here in Geneva, especially for its emphasis on taking America in a new direction and the importance of Americans taking responsibility for their own destiny. The ceremonies ran live on all the major television channels, and the sheer size of the crowds massed in Washington had almost as great an impact on viewers here as the speech itself.

Geneva’s leading international newspaper, Le Temps, noted that after briefly thanking former president George Bush for his service, the speech deftly laid out a nearly complete break from the policies of the Bush administration by focusing on unity in the place of conflict, hope instead of fear, and a rejection of the “false choice” between security and American ideals.

Political scientist, David Sylvan, quoted in Le Temps, observed that President Obama emphasized a return to American values several times, and focused on domestic challenges. Sylvan also pointed out that a significant portion of the speech concentrated on the economic crisis, but that on an international level, it also emphasized a readiness to negotiate with those seeking to know peace, which may be a coded way of opening the possibility for a dialogue with Iran.

Although President Obama stressed his determination to return America to a position of leadership in the world, he also stressed the need to work with others. The call for renewed American leadership disturbed several American expats who work for international organizations and were attending a party celebrating the event in downtown Geneva. They were concerned that it seemed to echo some of the Republican rhetoric of the last several years. If the speech had a fault, it may have been in trying to offer something for nearly everyone, and that is likely to be the major challenge president Obama will face when he actually begins the work of being president. The BBC noted that the inaugural address lacked the soaring rhetoric of some of Obama’s campaign speeches, but then observed that this was a serious occasion and called for a serious approach.

Nearly everyone remarked that the inauguration coincided with a sharp drop on Wall Street, and the consensus is that the first problem that President Obama will have to deal with is going to be the economy.

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