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After election 2010, Europe asks why US no longer smitten with Obama

In the wake of Republican gains in Tuesday's midterm elections, Europeans are wondering why a president who captivated their hearts was dealt such a blow.

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Europeans are using the tenure of President George W. Bush to gauge the direction in which the tea party could move the country. While Peggy Noonan, former Reagan White House speechwriter, described the tea party in a recent Wall Street Journal Op-Ed as moving Republicans beyond Bush, Europeans appear tone deaf to that nuance.

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“The coverage was more than I’ve ever seen in a midterm,” says political scientist Nicole Bacharan at the Paris-based Sciences Po, a leading academic institution in France. “We want to see if it is again the Bush America, the tea party, the very conservative, the intolerant. Is that America still there and powerful and maybe not what we thought?”

Correct or not, many Europeans find elements of the tea party similar to new far-right movements in Europe, particularly in nativist and anti-Islam rhetoric and irritation at political elites.

Reaction and commentary is focused on how Obama can or can’t work with Republicans, what affect a divided Congress will have on policies favored in Europe, and why Democrats were ineffective.

The Independent editorialized: "A divided government in Washington will threaten to neuter the ‘Obama revolution’ that sparked so much anticipation globally…. A chill could quickly settle both on elements of his domestic agenda and on America’s engagement on the world stage, jeopardizing progress on topics as … arms control and climate change."

To be sure, Europeans have serious differences with the Obama administration on many fronts. The White House is widely viewed as not putting Europe on a high priority list. US-European solutions for global economic recovery differed sharply this spring with Obama backing stimulus at the G-20 Toronto summit, while Europe touted austerity. The Afghanistan initiative is deeply unpopular.

But the Obama's policies on climate change or health care are viewed here as long overdue; there was general incomprehension in Europe at efforts in Washington to block health care reform.

“Europeans acknowledge that Obama might not have been assertive enough," says Karim Emile Bitar at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris, "but overall they think he did a reasonably good job in his first two years, considering he doesn’t have a magic wand and he inherited the disastrous Bush-Cheney legacy."