Thursday, January 22, 2009

Expats watch Obama's oath

Written by Brett Worthington
Thursday, 22 January 2009

Hope and heckling on display at ‘Bye Bye Bush Bash', hosted by Democrats Abroad Cambodia to mark the inauguration of America's 44th president.
Photo by: Tracey Shelton
With eyes glued to the many TVs, revellers mark the inauguration of US President Barack Obama at Gym Bar Tuesday.

THE American flag and red-white-and-blue decorations competed Tuesday night with more than a dozen television sets, all tuned to CNN, for space on the walls of Gym Bar where at least 150 people turned out to celebrate the inauguration of new US President Barack Obama.

Hope and change, two words that figured prominently during Obama's improbable campaign to become the 44th president, dominated conversations at the "Bye Bye Bush Bash", hosted by Democrats Abroad Cambodia.

"Tonight is a sign of change and hope, not just for Americans but for anyone who has ever been discriminated against or faced hardships," said California native Teresa Dunbar.

"This shows anything is possible, and it is inspiring to see the underdog getting a happy ending."

Democrats Abroad Cambodia Chairman Wayne Weightman said, "People are excited about the hope. The cloud has been lifted, and although there are difficult times ahead, we have hope in our new steward."

Despite Obama's call for Americans to embrace "the better angels of our nature", the running commentary accompanying the live CNN feed was filled with a great deal of partisan rancour.

Out with the old
The evident disdain with which Democrats in attendance regarded president Bush manifested itself in cries of "See ya", "Good riddance" and other jeers whenever his image graced the screen. Vice president Dick Cheney, who pulled a muscle in his back Monday while moving boxes, fared no better, with many laughing when CNN showed him being steered to his seat in a wheelchair.

Cheers of approval and outright joy filled the room when the cameras turned to Obama particularly when, during a performance by a quartet featuring the violinist Itzhak Perlman and the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the network noted that at noon in Washington (midnight in Phnom Penh) Obama had officially assumed the position of president despite not yet having recited the oath of office.

While most people at the bar were apparently cheering for their preferred candidate, a handful of McCain supporters also turned up to witness the transfer of power.

"I liked McCain, and I like Republican policy," said Tong Soprach.

"But I now will support Obama. I hope he can help change the world and help Cambodia to keep developing."

Philip Shepard, a doctor from Seattle, said he had voted for Obama despite his Republican leanings.

"McCain was the same old, same old and the Republicans in their pandering to the religious right again put forward another loser vice presidential candidate," he said.

A quick scan of the crowd - which, along with many Americans included revellers from Australia, New Zealand, England and France - underscored the international interest in Obama's election.

Parroting a campaign slogan, Canadian-born Zuza Lipa said, "It's the change we have needed. There will be more thinking, more meeting of people's needs. Obama is someone who reflects people's values both locally and internationally."


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