Last Wednesday I had the chance to attend the L.A. screening of DineshD’Souza’s new film “2016: Obama’s America.” The film is essentially avisual treatment of D’Souza’s book “The Roots of Obama’s Rage.”
Both the film and the book advance the theory that President Obama’sview of the world is anti-colonialist, a perspective he took from his absenteefather.
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 explosionof outrage and condemnation from the White House and the left ingeneral. The President’s spokesman at the time, Robert Gibbs, had a private meetingwith Forbes’ Washington bureau chief. The Vice President called thestory “garbage” and left-leaning critics like the Columbia JournalismReview called it “shameful.” This is just the tip of the criticaliceberg, 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, perhapsin 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. Hehas 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 hisfather’s biography? The left seemed to be saying no when it came toD’Souza, yet this sort of thing was standard fare when George W. Bush ranfor 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 bookswere written based on the idea that Bush’s tenure could best beexplained by looking at the “black box” of his relationship with hisfather. 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 articlesabout George Romney, father of the soon-to-be GOP nominee. We’ve beentold that George Romney released 12 years of tax returns rather thantwo, that he declined to take salary he considered too exorbitant, thathe built his business around small, efficient cars. The gist of allthese 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 beenconsidered fair game by the left and the media. That’s not to sayconservatives liked it much, but it certainly wasn’t off limits orbeyond the pale.
Where progressives argue that Mitt Romney (or George W. Bush) isn’tquite the man his father was, D’Souza reverses the formula and arguesthat Barack Obama is the man his father was. Somehow this isautomatically considered to be out of bounds by the media. But whyshould it be? Why can’t we view Barack Obama in light of Barack Sr.’slife?
As in the case of Bush and Romney, the basic facts of Barack Obama Sr.’s biography are pretty compelling. He was a bigamistand a heavy drinker who finally died in one of many drunk drivingaccidents. 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. Hedescribes how, at Dartmouth’s Foreign Students Club, he would sometimesbe approached by well-meaning white liberals who had idealized viewsabout India. His point is that distance can sometimes inspire a kind ofundeserved adulation. That’s a lesson which seems to play out in thelife 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 toadd a visual element to the narrations taken from the audio version ofObama’s “Dreams from my Father.” These are handled very well andadd to the sense of being there without becoming too intrusive. ButD’Souza doesn’t rely solely on Obama’s self-assessment; he does a lot ofleg work for the film. He travels to Africa to talk to members ofObama’s family and to people who knew Barack Sr.
In one key scene, D’Souza has arranged an interview near the grave ofObama’s father in exchange for some goats. The interview falls throughwhen members of the family learn D’Souza had interviewed Obama’shalf-brother a few days earlier. D’Souza is eventually told by his ownsecurity people that he needs to leave. Its paints a picture of afamily working to stifle criticism of the President. While this isperhaps understandable, it’s the sort of conspiracy of silence whichSarah Palin was routinely savaged for by her critics.
In this case anattempted interview of the President’s relatives literally becomes adangerous situation, but I suspect this will not be held against Obamaas it would be Palin.
Granted, I screened “2016: Obama’s America” with a conservativeaudience, but it’s fair to say they were very enthusiastic. The film also didwell in early screenings in Texas and will be opening in new theatersacross the county July 27 and Aug. 3. You can find out where by checking here.
Whether you agree with D’Souza’sthesis or not, there’s no doubt that it asks the kinds of questionswhich the other side of the aisle and the media have considered routine in presidentialpolitics up to now. How much did the dreams of Obama’s anti-colonialistfather influence him? Where does he differ with his father and why?
Theadministration has done all it can to label these questions out ofbounds, but this is an election year. It’s a perfect and appropriatetime to ask questions about where Obama might be taking America if givenfour more years in office.