Last Wednesday I had the chance to attend the L.A. screening of Dinesh
D'Souza's new film "2016: Obama's America." The film is essentially a
visual treatment of D'Souza's book "The Roots of Obama's Rage."
Both the film and the book advance the theory that President Obama's
view of the world is anti-colonialist, a perspective he took from his absentee
To say that D'Souza's "Roots" thesis was controversial would be putting it mildly. When Forbes published an article in which D'Souza advanced it, there was an explosion
of outrage and condemnation from the White House and the left in
general. The President's spokesman at the time, Robert Gibbs, had a private meeting
with Forbes' Washington bureau chief. The Vice President called the
story "garbage" and left-leaning critics like the Columbia Journalism
Review called it "shameful." This is just the tip of the critical
iceberg, much of it in the most damning and personal terms.
In retrospect a lot of the criticism of D'Souza seems overheated.
Indeed, the opening of the Forbes piece sounds as if it could have been written yesterday:
Barack Obama is the most antibusiness president in a generation, perhaps
in American history. Thanks to him the era of big government is back.
Obama runs up taxpayer debt not in the billions but in the trillions. He
has expanded the federal government's control over home mortgages,
investment banking, health care, autos and energy. The Weekly Standard summarizes Obama's approach as omnipotence at home, impotence abroad.
But is it really fair to judge a candidate based on details of his
father's biography? The left seemed to be saying no when it came to
D'Souza, yet this sort of thing was standard fare when George W. Bush ran
for President and for re-election. How many articles were published in which the invasion of Iraq was put down to Bush's attempt to finish the job his father had started? Entire books
were written based on the idea that Bush's tenure could best be
explained by looking at the "black box" of his relationship with his
father. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd called G.W. Bush "president elect mini-me" when he was first elected in 2000 and continued to work variations on the theme for the next eight years in the pages of the Gray Lady.
In the current election cycle we've already seen innumerable articles
about George Romney, father of the soon-to-be GOP nominee. We've been
told that George Romney released 12 years of tax returns rather than
two, that he declined to take salary he considered too exorbitant, that
he built his business around small, efficient cars. The gist of all
these comparisons is that George Romney was the kind of rich guy even Paul Krugman could admire.
All of this sniping at Republicans by way of paternal biography has been
considered fair game by the left and the media. That's not to say
conservatives liked it much, but it certainly wasn't off limits or
beyond the pale.
Where progressives argue that Mitt Romney (or George W. Bush) isn't
quite the man his father was, D'Souza reverses the formula and argues
that Barack Obama is the man his father was. Somehow this is
automatically considered to be out of bounds by the media. But why
should it be? Why can't we view Barack Obama in light of Barack Sr.'s
As in the case of Bush and Romney, the basic facts of Barack Obama Sr.'s biography are pretty compelling. He was a bigamist
and a heavy drinker who finally died in one of many drunk driving
accidents. He was also a socialist and, yes, an anti-colonialist. None of this is in doubt. The question D'Souza asks is whether those views can be seen in President Obama's actions today.
It's not giving anything away to say that D'Souza answers this question in the affirmative.
The film starts with an amusing take on D'Souza's own background. He
describes how, at Dartmouth's Foreign Students Club, he would sometimes
be approached by well-meaning white liberals who had idealized views
about India. His point is that distance can sometimes inspire a kind of
undeserved adulation. That's a lesson which seems to play out in the
life of Barack Obama who spent much of his youth looking up to a father who wasn't there and, in many ways, wasn't all that admirable.
The film uses reenactments of many key incidents in Obama's life to
add a visual element to the narrations taken from the audio version of
Obama's "Dreams from my Father." These are handled very well and
add to the sense of being there without becoming too intrusive. But
D'Souza doesn't rely solely on Obama's self-assessment; he does a lot of
leg work for the film. He travels to Africa to talk to members of
Obama's family and to people who knew Barack Sr.
In one key scene, D'Souza has arranged an interview near the grave of
Obama's father in exchange for some goats. The interview falls through
when members of the family learn D'Souza had interviewed Obama's
half-brother a few days earlier. D'Souza is eventually told by his own
security people that he needs to leave. Its paints a picture of a
family working to stifle criticism of the President. While this is
perhaps understandable, it's the sort of conspiracy of silence which
Sarah Palin was routinely savaged for by her critics.
In this case an
attempted interview of the President's relatives literally becomes a
dangerous situation, but I suspect this will not be held against Obama
as it would be Palin.
Granted, I screened "2016: Obama's America" with a conservative
audience, but it's fair to say they were very enthusiastic. The film also did
well in early screenings in Texas and will be opening in new theaters
across the county July 27 and Aug. 3. You can find out where by checking here.
Whether you agree with D'Souza's
thesis or not, there's no doubt that it asks the kinds of questions
which the other side of the aisle and the media have considered routine in presidential
politics up to now. How much did the dreams of Obama's anti-colonialist
father influence him? Where does he differ with his father and why?
administration has done all it can to label these questions out of
bounds, but this is an election year. It's a perfect and appropriate
time to ask questions about where Obama might be taking America if given
four more years in office.