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Opinion: The election has made the US more foreign

Post-election, the rest of the world marvels at Americans' avoidance of their problems.

US election 2010
A passing surfer is reflected on the window as voters cast their ballots from inside a beachfront polling place in the Los Angeles County lifeguard station in Hermosa Beach, Calif. on Nov. 2, 2010. (David McNew/Reuters)

NEW YORK — Sitting in a Starbucks in Harlem at the corner of Lenox and 125th Street, Wi-Fi'd up. Twenty-five years ago this month I left this city for London. Twenty-five years ago this month I would not have been sitting in any coffee shop at the crossroads of Black America.

A quarter of a century is a long time, things should change and it's nice to see that up here in Harlem things have changed more or less for the better. For me,  years as a foreign correspondent have made America a foreign country to me. This morning after election day it is probably foreign to a lot of others in the United States and around the world.

In Britain, even the conservative press has found the Tea Party and Republican Party difficult to understand. They happily bash President Barack Obama on their opinion pages while trying to understand how the political discourse in this time of crisis could be so puerile. The days when British conservatives and American conservatives walked the same walk and talked the same talk are long gone.

Today's Conservative Party-led coalition government in the United Kingdom would not waste a moment campaigning against the idea of man-made climate change — indeed it campaigned last spring on how to grow the economy by funding solutions to the problem.

Gay lifestyles? That's a non-issue, there are a number of out gay men in the British cabinet.

Science using stem cells and human fetuses? Prime Minister David Cameron's son suffered horribly in his brief life from a variety of nervous system disorders. Cameron would not stand in the way of any research that might help future sufferers of Ivan's myriad problems.

The Conservatives would not try to repeal the National Health Service. They campaigned on a promise to save it from budget cuts.

These are settled issues in British society. Conservatives now would not echo Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher that government is the problem not the solution.

The foreignness of America to me is that in a time of genuine economic crisis the issues were not discussed with any seriousness at all — most especially not in the $2 billion worth of advertising that flashed across the nation's television screens (watch for a small uptick in GDP because of the spending).

I was in the Bay Area last week to give some lectures and while riding the bus from Sunnyvale back to Palo Alto I picked up an abandoned copy of the local paper. An item caught my eye. I had just come from lunch at Google HQ and assumed I was in the heart of America's economic engine. The article told a different story. A survey had just been published on unemployment in Silicon Valley. Since the recession began three years ago, 40 percent of households had experienced a job loss — 54 percent of those who lost jobs were still unemployed.

At a party in Richmond, Va. last weekend the story among the upper-middle class folk attending was of children who have masters degrees from good universities squirreled away in low-level government jobs, far removed from their initial career plans, and of people in their 50s who are having to start over again after their 20-year careers in banking or real estate were blown away by the crash in property values.