It's 2030; a tired and wrinkled UN envoy reclines awkwardly into an airplane seat and into an easy life. His time is spent meeting world leaders for photo ops and making futile speeches for global values. His life continues to be as it has always been, riddled with frustration for lack of progress. History has judged his Presidency of the USA symbolic but forgettable. Barack Obama feels that he missed an opportunity, while his real triumph has unraveled beneath him. He is bitter, but not because he's unaccredited. He doesn't know he was responsible for bringing American politics back to the middle, back from the hatred and chauvinism of previous decades.
Back in 2013, the US President has just reaffirmed his commitment to shut down Guantanamo Bay, the notorious detention centre in Cuba, which incarcerates 'enemy combatants' in the War on Terror. The prison is currently dealing with a widespread hunger strike among inmates as well as the constant controversy it creates relating to alleged human rights abuses. Many may celebrate the return of this issue onto the agenda as the detention centre is criticized as immoral, opaque and unhelpful in the fight against terrorism. But others will sigh despairingly, reminded of another promise unfulfilled by a President who brought such feverish optimism to the world. However focusing cynically on what happens within his two terms won't do credit to the more positive tectonic changes already in motion, cultivated by Obama's presidency.
This change has already been facilitated by Obama's capitalizing on population change. Demographics increasingly determine votes and Obama has won the demographic contest. Obama has cemented Democratic support in one particularly useful demographic: Latin Americans. Even prominent Republicans such as Marco Rubio (R-Fl) and John McCain (R-Ariz) have themselves admitted their party's failure to connect with Hispanics, who already number over 50 million in the US and are estimated to constitute nearly a 1/3 of the population by 2050. The changing population has already resulted in a demographically determined victory for Democrats in 2012 and the future doesn't look rosy for currently anti-immigration Republicans who must change or face electoral insignificance. I'd hope the Republican Party even in its current state of inadvertent, aggressive conservatism wouldn't sacrifice electoral credibility for ideology. A shift to the centre is now necessary for Republican survival.
Obama the "Communist Muslim Atheist" couldn't be more antithetical to the current Republican Party if he tried. He's young, black, unashamedly liberal and actually just as uncompromising as his right wing nemeses. The Republican shift rightwards made in reaction to him, has and will be their undoing. His unwillingness to concede to a kamikaze Right has only fuelled their frankly disturbing hatred for their President making them a perfect caricature of themselves- the party of raving, bucktoothed rednecks and racists in straw hats and white hoods. I do however doubt this is Obama's plan; no politician ambitious and self-centered would ever sacrifice a legacy of visible progress in office for a goal so foresighted and unaccredited. Nevertheless, Obama has dragged the Republican Party to an unwelcome crossroads- 'adapt for be marginalised' the signpost says.
Obama has also helped engender the beginning of the end for American Exceptionalism. Often hounded for 'apologising for America', the Obama Presidency has marked the internalisation of a global power shift Eastwards. The USA will not be the leading superpower by the end of the 21st century and this is slowly and uncomfortably getting into the stubborn American psyche. Not being the omnipotent world overlord is a deeply unsettling prospect for some Americans who have always been imperialists at heart. The dogmatic belief that the American way is the only way is being eaten at. This has already incited frustrated battle cries on the Right hoping to preserve the 'American Way'. These are the conservative death throws of a declining superpower. But in the long term Obama's willingness to lead multilaterally from behind rather than intervene from the front will contribute greatly to the irrevocable death of neo-conservatism.
The effects of the end of neo-conservatism go far beyond the realm of foreign policy. Exceptionalism has always forced America to use introspection for ideas starving itself of fresh political thought. Subsequently the US is perceived politically as backwards, stagnant and draconian. Congress is the laughing stock of the developed political world failing to push through legislation seen as basic in Europe. An ideological shift away from American domestic insularism would mark an unprecedented change in the philosophical foundation of US governance. Congress might one day see the sense in preventing criminals and the mentally ill buying an assault rifle at the their local Wal-Mart. Universal healthcare may not be eschewed as socialist; hell, socialism might even cease to be a swearword (don't get ahead of yourself Alastair!)
These changes may appear farfetched and utopian; polarisation of this kind has been seen before, but there are evident cracks appearing even in the seemingly ironclad ideological dynamic. This I believe indicates the start of gradual but significant change beyond anything Obama could have imagined. Demographic and ideological shifts are not short-term fixes but permanent determinants of elections. Barack Obama, the failed icon of liberal optimism undermined by ferocious merciless opposition and undemocratic political technicalities has won the ideological argument and unknowingly sparked a paradigm shift, the effects of which will be felt for decades.