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Obama and the American Left

November 26th 2012

It may be a few weeks ago now but the US Presidential elections are still a hot topic of debate. Gwilym Morris takes time to give his thoughts on the American left. 

By being brave the American left has used the current economic crisis to radically alter the political landscape. Whereas the left in Europe are simply standing round and looking confused. 

Obama’s  game plan from the start of his administration was simple: use the economic crisis to move the political goal posts leftwards. By doing this Democrats could credibly highlight the ‘progressive’ polices of the federal government against the ‘extreme’ policies of the republicans.  Universal health care, holding the line social welfare, propping up General Motors were all promoted as middle-of-the-road. Tax cuts, rapid spending reduction and defending Wall Street were are condemned as the policies of the fringe.

The consequence of this is that Obama has just beaten a relatively centrist well respected republican at time of fiscal crisis. And by winning what is now on the agenda are policies that were unmentionable even months ago; Immigration reform, climate change and a real attack on economic inequality. 

Okay so America still is a very unequal place but the direction of travel is pretty clear.  The USA is heading left and it is doing so in style.  Obamacare isn’t the NHS but it is a giant leftward jump for a country that entered the 21 century with millions without health care. 

At a state level even more radical changes are happening. In Maryland and Washington referendums were past in favour of same sex marriages and in Washington and Colorado the public voted to legalise recreational cannabis. Angry voters also removed misogynist politicians by huge majorities and elected Tammy Baldwin the first openly lesbian senator. These are seismic changes for the USA. 

As usual there is a slight colonial overtone to how we in we Europe see the successes of our new world comrades. One theory is the American left has in fact done nothing remarkable it has just surfed on a demographic wave of diversity. The problem with this is twofold. America is changing but the US electorate has been for decades far more sophisticated and diverse that we realise in Europe. And any shift in population creates voters whose votes are there to be captured or lost. Just look at Florida and the shift in the Cuban American vote.

Another theory is that our American cousins are simply catching up with European norms.  This is just laughable. The only bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill is that they all look at old Europe with a mixture of fear and disdain  Predictably policy thinkers on left and right more often than not look to the pacific for ideas and inspiration.  

In comparison the left in Europe look a bit dull. Leftist politicians are well-meaning but lacking the Chutzpah to take the population with them on difficult journeys.  It’s not just that we can’t count on celebrity endorsements of Katy Perry and Jay Z our policies are flat and earnest. A slight reduction in the rate of reduction in public spending, where is the pizzazz in that?   

What the left need to do is think big. We need to be radical rather than extreme.  Now is the time to really take on the right wing on issues such as social mobility (investment and affirmative action), migration (defending and promoting), and inequality ( taxation and welfare reform).  I know there will be those that doubt the wisdom of Uncle Sam as a role model but it would be criminal if we let the continuing crisis go to waste.   


Gwilym Morris is Director of The Pollen Shop


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