(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/09/obamas-america.gif)Dinesh D’Souza’s latest undertaking in political commentary, the movie 2016: Obama’s America, has recently arrived in theaters. In this informative and entertaining documentary, D’Souza explores President Barack Obama’s family and upbringing in order to show the ideological origins of Obama’s various policies. In the process, D’Souza presents a disturbing narrative of a man fundamentally shaped by political currents opposed to traditionally accepted American ideals, who in turn seeks to alter dramatically American society and its role in the world.
Starting from the film’s beginning, D’Souza juxtaposes his life with Obama’s, noting thereby striking similarities and differences. D’Souza explains that both he and Obama were born in 1961 and graduated from Ivy League universities in 1983. Both D’Souza and Obama also have significant non-American, developing world elements in their backgrounds. D’Souza grew up in Mumbai, India, before achieving his boyhood dream of attending college in the United States at Dartmouth University. Obama, meanwhile, spent a significant amount of his youth in Indonesia, the country of his stepfather Lolo Sotero, after Obama’s birth in Hawaii (something attested by two local newspapers, D’Souza coyly notes, given “birther” conspiracy theories) during the brief marriage of Stanley Ann Dunham from Kansas and Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., from Kenya.
Yet D’Souza and Obama have developed radically different relations to the United States and its collection of ideals encompassed within the proverbial American Dream and Way of Life. D’Souza recounts, for example, how he swiftly disabused a fellow Dartmouth student at an international student society gathering of any superficial, “multicultural” fascination with D’Souza’s ancestral India. Noting the student’s excitement upon discovering D’Souza’s Indian background during introductory conversation, D’Souza quickly challenged this American to state just what was so alluring about D’Souza’s poverty-stricken, caste-ridden, and often socially oppressive homeland.
At Dartmouth, D’Souza became a member of the well-known, but not necessarily well-regarded, Dartmouth Review, an unabashedly conservative student publication not afraid, as D’Souza recounts, to be called “sophomoric” in light of its sophomore staff members. After Dartmouth, D’Souza went to work in the Reagan administration, even though he was not yet an American citizen, but was nonetheless a convinced “Reaganaut.” D’Souza’s fundamentally Reaganite attitudes towards America shine forth in his telling of how he as a boy in Mumbai pored over histories of successive rising and falling empires dominating world history such as that of the British who ruled both D’Souza’s India and the Kenya of Obama Sr. In contrast, D’Souza differentiates, if the current American hegemony even qualifies as an empire, it is an “empire of ideals,” espousing a universal vision of equal opportunity in a free society for all individuals regardless of background. D’Souza has debated as much with Jesse Jackson, an African-American whose skin complexion hardly differs from that of the brilliant D’Souza, although Jackson nonetheless has a much more pessimistic, racism-dominated view of the United States.
Obama, in contrast, stands out in D’Souza’s presentation as a person with a consistent, sometimes admittedly consciously so, leftist political formation. D’Souza hereby examines the psychologically curious affection of the younger Obama for his father. Although Obama only met his father once briefly during childhood before his 1982 automobile accident death, Obama’s father occupied a central role in Obama’s 1995 autobiography as revealed by its title, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. Not discussed by Obama in his writings, but noted by D’Souza in the movie and by other conservatives in the past, the economist and Kenyan government official Obama Sr. was thoroughly leftist in beliefs, writing in the 1965 article “Problems Facing Our Socialism” that “[t]heoretically, there is nothing that can stop the government from taxing 100% of income.” He wrote therein as well that the “African tradition is fundamentally based on communal ownership of major means of production and sharing of the fruits of the labours.”
Nothing changes politically in Obama’s later relationships throughout life. Obama merely names as “Frank” in Dreams from My Father a key mentor during the future president’s adolescence in Hawaii. This vague reference conceals Frank Marshall Davis, an African-American writer who entered the American Communist Party just after the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact, as profiled by the historian Paul Kengor in his book The Communist—Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor. As Kengor discusses in the movie and elsewhere, Davis was on the FBI’s Security Index list, entailing that this hardcore Communist and “loyal Soviet patriot” would undergo immediate arrest in case of an armed conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Following on Obama Sr. and Davis, D’Souza surveys a veritable rogue’s gallery of leftist political figures and academics surrounding Obama. These include the former 1970s Weather Underground terrorists William Ayers and his wife Bernadine Dohrn, who hosted meetings at their Chicago home introducing Obama during his 1995 Illinois State Senate run. In Chicago as well, Obama and his family had a decades-long relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ, whose explosive anti-American rhetoric became a national issue during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Rounding out Obama’s social circle are various academics such as the PLO/Yasser Arafat apologists Rashid Khalidi and Edward Said, a professor of Obama’s at Columbia University, and Obama’s Harvard University Law School professor Roberto Unger, who proclaims himself in a self-description quoted by D’Souza as a “leftist and by conviction as well as temperament a revolutionary.”
D’Souza’s movie raises the question how any person such as Obama could become America’s president. D’Souza’s colleague at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, the writer and race-relations scholar Shelby Steele, provides an answer in America’s hunger for a dramatic symbol of racial reconciliation. Voting for the mixed-race Obama as the United States’ first non-white president, argues Steele, gave many Americans a unique opportunity to demonstrate their civil rights bona fides, something they could even tell their grandchildren.
While these voters projected their American hopes upon an inexperienced politician running for president, the real Obama and his leftist views anathema to the electorate remained, according to Steele, largely “invisible,” thanks, many would say, to a compliant liberal media (consider the “thrill going up” Chris Matthews’ “leg” at MSNBC). Obama himself, the film notes, skillfully added to the transmutation of his leftist background into an all-American story when he publicly addressed the Rev. Wright scandal in 2008. Meanwhile, the affair itself was likely downplayed due to America’s desire to heal racial divisions. Thus the election of Obama was, Steele shrewdly argues, not so much his individual achievement as a collective achievement of the American people and their dreams. “You didn’t build that,” the film implies of Obama.
Once in office, though, Obama pursued policies reflecting not traditional American understandings, but rather Obama’s deeply ingrained leftist views. Obama, for example, took a rather benign view of the Arab Spring uprisings, being unable to look beyond visions of downtrodden people rising up against oppressors allied with America to see an Islamist threat. Community-organizer-in-chief Obama also apparently has no concern about abandoning an American strategic dominance through global nuclear arms reductions. Similarly, D’Souza detects in Obama’s insouciance towards the national debt mounting under his big government policies a willing acquiescence to America’s decline as world leader, wasted away by domestic obligations. Such weakening of America reflects the leftist view expressed by Obama himself that America has no exceptional position in the world, but rather should abandon a hubristic and dangerous claim to global primacy in favor of a more egalitarian, collective global community. While Obama’s views are at variance with American political traditions, D’Souza also notes in interviews with George Obama, a Kenyan half-brother of Barack from one of Obama Sr.’s various wives, that the downtrodden of the developing world do not necessarily agree with the American president either.
D’Souza concludes with a discussion of his understanding of the choice Americans face in considering four more years for Obama lasting through 2016. While Americans may have thought that they were fulfilling an American Dream of national unity in electing Obama in 2008, voters can now clearly tell upon the basis of the President’s record that he is pursuing other, less American-influenced visions. An Indian boy from D’Souza’s imagination contemplating a future history book of successive world powers with reference to an American era ending in 2016 leaves a final impression of D’Souza’s estimation of the enormous stakes involved.
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