I finally got around to seeing Dinesh D’Souza’s hatchet job documentary on Barack Obama, 2016 (it’s out on DVD). What I hoped for was a serious and thought-provoking conservative take on the nation’s first black president. D’Souza, after all, is an intellectual.
What I got for my $20 (I purchased the film at a Barnes & Noble) was a video demonstration of how to construct a conspiracy theory and not engage in critical thinking about it.
D’Souza’s theory concerning President Obama is straightforward: he’s not a Muslim and he was actually born in Hawaii, but intellectually and emotionally he’s not really an American. Instead, he was formed by the same post-colonial theory that animated his internationalist and leftist mother and absent African father.
Three things to concede upfront: Obama (obviously) has been influenced both intellectually and emotionally by post-colonial theory, his mother, and his quest to learn about his African father and family roots. These are part of the mix of Obama’s character. But by setting these up as The Code by which to understand everything about Obama hereafter turns these truths into ridiculous untruths.
D’Souza, having established this Code in the first half of the film, puts it to use in the second half to make the following Joe McCarthy-style claims about the President:
- Obama’s intellectual founding fathers do not include the American founding fathers, but only such figures as his dad, his Chicago pastor, various communists, etc.
- Obama wants the Muslim world fenced off, strengthened, and united against the West.
- Obama sides with the Palestinians against Israel.
- Obama wants Iran to have nuclear weapons.
- Obama wants poor countries to develop their oil resources, but not the United States. Why? Because this will equalize oppressed nations with more developed nations.
- Obama wants America’s stockpiles of nuclear weapons brought to zero even as other countries keep theirs.
- Obama wants Obamacare because his vision for the world is, at bottom, an international socialist one.
- Obama wants to bust America with debt so as to destroy it.
It’s that simple. That cartoonish. And this from a man who otherwise spends his time writing pretty interesting books (I liked his book rehearsing Christian apologetics, and I think his early book on race continues to be important). But this particular documentary effort really deflates my estimate of him as a fair-minded (and even decent) person.
And here’s something that especially annoys me about the film. Once D’Souza establishes his thesis or Code for interpreting Obama, he presents not a single alternative thesis for understanding Obama’s actions. D’Souza also fails to bring up anything that might go contrary to his thesis. For example, how could someone so cartoonishly animated by post-colonial theory authorize a mission to kill Osama bin Laden? D’Souza doesn’t say because he doesn’t mention it. Not once. And that tells you all you really need to know about the objectivity, fairness, and seriousness of this documentary.
My own thesis, by the way, is that President Obama is animated in a complex fashion by numerous contending forces. Included among them are Plato (the best and brightest should rule), postcolonial theory (attention must be paid to the oppressed), Adam Smith, Nietzsche, the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. The evidence converges on a large theatre of contending actors in Obama’s head, not a tiny choir OCD-ing on the “The Internationale” over and over.
Put another way, based on a fair evaluation of all the evidence, Obama is his own self-made man, a syncretism formed by his contingent reading, education, and diverse life experiences. Intellectually and emotionally, he is a mut. And that, of course, is a very, very American thing to be. A very human thing to be.
But it’s also not an easy story to tell to an ideologically driven movie-going audience that wants conspiracy, sinister atmospherics, and simplicity. D’Souza certainly delivered on these. But what a disappointing exercise in propaganda and irrationality this film is. And how very depressing that it comes from an intellectual who ought to care about the truth of matters more than this. Two thumbs way down for 2016 and Dinesh D’Souza.