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Europe 'dismayed' as midterms highlight Obama's struggles

By Marian Smith, msnbc.com

LONDON – Before he was elected to the White House, Barack Obama drew 200,000 ecstatic fans during a 2008 visit to Berlin. Analysts predicted he would have easily been elected France's president if he had been a candidate there. And the day after Obama's election triumph, practically every U.K. newspaper splashed his picture across their front pages.

Europe had fallen in love.

Two years later, Obama is struggling at home. With the midterms looming, the president's approval rating is at just 47 percent and most indicators suggest that the Democrats will take a hit on Tuesday.

Many Europeans don't get it.

"They're very confused as to how [Americans] could vote for Obama and then two years later turn around and vote for a completely different set of policies," Sarah Oates, professor of political communication the University of Glasgow, told msnbc.com.

When viewed from abroad, Obama's campaign promises of "hope" and "change" left Europeans expecting a fundamental shift in American politics.

"[People here] are just dismayed," Oates added. "There's a real feeling of ... disappointment that it didn't signal the change they thought it would."

Plummeting fortunes
Normally, congressional elections don't resonate much abroad.

But Europe's love affair with Obama – and interest in his plummeting fortunes – mean that midterms seem to be getting more coverage than usual in the U.K. and across the continent. In the wake of financial crisis, Europeans also wonder how the vote in America will affect the global economy.

French and British newspapers have been covering the run-up to the vote for weeks, with Tuesday's showdown already occasionally making the front page. In Germany, TV news channels are reporting regularly on U.S. politics and newspaper editorials have focused on the Tea Party movement and the perception that conservatism is growing in America.

On Thursday, the websites of the BBC and the London-based Guardian, Telegraph and Times newspapers all prominently featured stories about Obama's appearance on "The Daily Show."

'He's not Mr Miracle'
But with the economic crisis and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan casting a shadow over his presidency, Obama's reputation has also suffered abroad.

"He is no longer seen as an icon, but as a politician who is doing his very best," said Christian Malard, senior foreign analyst on France 3 TV. "He is paying the price for the crisis. He's not Mr Miracle, he's not a prophet."

However, Obama remains broadly well-liked and many Europeans think the disenchantment that many American voters have been expressing is unfair.

"What he inherited was so enormous that no American president could have fixed it," Manfred Gortemaker, professor of modern history at Germany's University of Potsdam, told msnbc.com.

Meanwhile, those who got caught up in the "Yes, we can" fever of 2008 simply want to know what will happen to their star.

"Obama is like a movie character," said Nicole Bacharan, a historian, political analyst and associate researcher at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris. "There is something very romantic about him and his fate is something that people want to know. Why is this young, attractive, very smart president struggling?"

Tea Party rhetoric
Many Europeans are also wondering whether the Tea Party is simply a phenomenon born from the financial crisis, or whether its rise signals a broader, lasting, more radical conservative movement.

"In all the French newspapers and magazines, people are writing, trying to figure it out," Bacharan said.

While the economic downturn has sparked severe spending cuts from Ireland to Greece and renewed questions over European-style "big government", a Tea Party-like movement hasn't emerged on the continent.

But Europeans have noticed that some opponents of the Tea Party are being demonized as "socialist". That rhetoric has at times included references to far more sinister chapters in history. An editorial in Germany's Der Spiegel newspaper last week slammed the Tea Party’s references to Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany when criticizing the Obama administration’s policies as being irresponsible, flippant and ignorant.

"The Holocaust was the result of murderous ideological fanaticism of the kind not to be found in leaders forced to face re-election every four years," the newspaper's editorial said. "It is hard to imagine even the most hard-bitten Tea Party activist sincerely believing that President Barack Obama wants to systematically murder over 6 million people like Adolf Hitler did. And that is necessarily the implication."

Obama's more liberal policies also resonated with many Europeans. With polls suggesting the Democrats could lose control of the House, Professor Oates said the idea that many of his plans could potentially never come into effect baffles some people.

"It's hard for them to understand the frailty of the American presidency," she said.