New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
13 May 2016updated 21 Sep 2021 4:59am

Thanks to Obama the left has just lived through a decade of unimaginable success

As President, Barack Obama has ushered in a new era of American liberalism.

By Harry Lambert

From one angle, the past decade has been an unmitigated failure for the Left.

The far right has been reborn in the UK, across Europe, and now in America, with Farage, Le Pen and Trump just three of many nationalist leaders poisoning the West’s attitude toward immigrants during the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

Tony Blair’s messianic invasion of Iraq impoverished a Labour Party that has now endured two general election debacles, will eventually suffer a third, and is probably only six years into a 15-year Tory reign.

And the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression not only crippled global growth, but led to the triumph of austerity, an ever greater share of income flowing to the rich, and a revived banking sector sure to destroy the global economy once again in the near future.

It was the worst of times. But if we look to the US, in many ways it has also been the best, better than anyone on the left would have dared dream in 2006.

Select and enter your email address The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

In the past decade, a black man was elected President and leaves after two terms in office with an historically high 50 per cent approval rating. A woman has a more than 70 per cent chance of succeeding him. Both are Democrats.

Gay marriage is now legal in every US state and gays can serve openly in the military. Universal healthcare, the lifelong aim of many on the American left, is no longer a pipe dream.

Millions more Americans have health insurance, the uninsured rate has fallen below 10 per cent for the first time, and insurers can no longer reject people because of a pre-existing condition.

A decade after An Inconvenient Truth became a global hit – to no effect – the first significant global step has finally been taken towards combatting climate change, with every country in the world signing up to the Paris Agreement.

At home, Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, unilaterally imposed restrictions on carbon and cars, and has steered the US away from fossil fuels.

The Bush tax cuts, a 12 per cent windfall for the richest Americans, were finally eliminated for the very richest in 2012.

And the Republican Party – the greatest force in the world behind those tax cuts, the deregulation of banks that caused the crisis, and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands in foreign wars – has imploded.

Its forty-year coalition of business elites, neocons, evangelical Christians, and racial nativists, has finally disintegrated.

Donald Trump, a reality TV piñata and ‘birther’ now stands atop the rumble; he begins the general election as the most disliked presidential candidate in history.

The creation of ISIS tars any legacy, but 80 people a day are no longer dying in Iraq, as in 2006, while Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George Bush no longer have their hands on the most destructive military force in history.

And a decade after President Ahmadinejad announced Iran had enriched uranium for the first time, a more moderate Iranian president has signed a remarkably tough deal ending their nuclear weapons programme.

Not only has Iran been brought back into the international community, but US relations with Cuba have been normalised.

The US judiciary, an outrider for either global justice or injustice, has moved to the left, and a fifth liberal is likely to be appointed to the Supreme Court later this year after Hillary Clinton’s election; Justice Antonin Scalia, its foremost conservative intellectual and a bottleneck on social change, is dead.

If Clinton wins, the Supreme Court will be majority-liberal for the first time in at least a generation and arguably since the Fifties, when US segregation was outlawed in the face of congressional inaction.

A liberal Court could impose similarly dramatic social changes: campaign finance would likely be re-regulated, and common sense gun regulation may even be introduced.

As many on the Left look longingly to Bernie Sanders, and cling to Corbyn despite disastrous results in his first national election last week, there would do well to look across the Atlantic, at an era they welcomed deliriously but soon derided.

Under Obama the Left has just lived through its most successful decade since the Sixties, far greater than the ephemeral successes of Clinton, Blair and Chirac.

Many hoped for more. They don’t seem to realise both how much has been won, and how gradual any political success must be.

A captain can only steer a ship as far as its crew allows him. 46 and 47 per cent of Americans voted for the other guy in 2008 and 2012.

Far from embracing fringe figures like Sanders and Corbyn, it’s time the Left recognised how, a decade since the height of the Bush era, the US and the world is now heading in a vastly different direction.

Content from our partners
An innovative approach to regional equity
ADHD in the criminal justice system: a case for change – with Takeda
The power of place in tackling climate change