Watching a film like Dinesh D'Souza 2016: Obama's America is the type of surreal experience that could make a political scientist, like myself, cry. The film is a such a remarkable combination of misinterpretation, psycho-babble, selective use of facts, and outright lies that it is hard to even know where to begin. D'Souza wants us to believe that America has elected a President that no one knew anything about who is actually an anti-colonialist, anti-Christian, anti-capitalist seeking to undermine America's future. This is supposed to be as a result of the great influence that his long dead anti-colonialist father who he hardly knew had over him. The evidence is selective, distorted and underwhelming. D'Souza essentially starts with an ideological conclusion about who Barack Obama really is and then searches for the evidence to prove his false thesis. D'Souza's film is one of the most ridiculous acts of historical distortion ever perpetrated somewhere between the big lie propaganda of the Nazis and bad comedy which made me laugh.
Let's try and dissect this ridiculous conspiracy theory. Was Barack Obama's father a Kenyan anti-colonialist? This indeed does seem likely. But young Barack's father abandoned the family when he was a baby and had little to do with him. He only visited Obama once for a few days when he was about 10. D'Souza's argument that an absent father can somehow be a great influence is not terribly persuasive. While he may have admired his absent father there is little evidence that he adopted any of his father's political ideas of socialism or anti-colonialism. Nor is there much evidence that he adopted or maintained such ideas at his Hawaiian prep school or during his Ivy League education.
D'Souza cites several professors that Obama studied with that were radicals as proof that Obama adopted their ideas. He suggests that his exposure to the ideas of Edward Said and Roberto Unger means that he shared all their ideas. He never mentions that like all students he studied with many professors who had many different and conflicting ideas. As a professor, I wish that all of my students listened to and agreed with everything I said so that they could spend the rest of their lives parroting my words, but it isn't so, because students actually have minds of their own. Actually, I don't wish for that, because scholars promote critical thinking not uncritical intellectual regurgitation of dogma. (This understanding of academia does make one wonder what sort of conservative radicals D'Souza studied with at Dartmouth?)
The selective use of biographical material suggests that only his absent father and a few professors and other radicals that he met at other times over the course of his lifetime are the only ones that shaped Obama's ideology. This selectivity ignores the reality that Obama has studied with many professors, has read many books, met thousands of people, taught many classes, associated with many politicians and that all these people have influenced him. Only these few radicals shaped the mysterious figure of President Barack Obama. This is a patently ridiculous exercise in selective biographical analysis.
What is even stranger in many ways is that the portrait that D'Souza paints of Obama's policies as President and his claims that these are descended from this supposed anti-colonial ideology. D'Souza claims that Obama sympathizes with Occupy Wall Street even though he never attempted to adopt any of their political demands. His administration has been widely criticized for bailing out Wall Street Banks and not pursuing the prosecution of those accused of wrong-doing on Wall Street. This supposed anti-Capitalist has collected vast amounts of money from Wall Street donors.
D'Souza accuses Obama of supporting global Jihad against America aimed at harming America and creating a United States of Islam in the Middle East. This is the same President who killed Osama Bin Laden and regularly launches drone strikes against al-Qaeda leaders. D'Souza claims that his support for global Jihad explains his desire to shut down Guantanamo rather than his obvious concern for civil liberties. He claims that Obama has done nothing to block Iran from getting nuclear weapons even though Obama has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran. He claims that Obama hates Israel even though Obama has promoted close military and political cooperation with Israel and even vetoed efforts to advance the Palestinian cause at the United Nations.
He claims that Obama blocked efforts at oil drilling in the Gulf and Keystone Pipeline as part of some sort of nefarious effort to block American energy independence. This is one of the least obvious answer since these efforts were clearly a response to the BP oil spill and concerns about the environmental dangers of the Keystone pipeline (which has only been delayed not blocked). Whenever there is obvious explanation for a policy result, D'Souza ignores it and searches for a secret anti-colonial rationale to explain the President's actions.
One of D'Souza's strangest claims is that Obama has exploded the national debt as some sort of effort to promote global restitution to the third world for colonialism. This is truly ridiculous. The explosion of the national debt was begun by the tax cuts, reckless spending, and unpaid for wars of George W. Bush. (Maybe Bush was also a secret anti-colonialist anti-Capitalist?) Obama has merely pursued standard Keynesian (NOT Kenyan) policies to address a recession. There is nothing remotely anti-colonial in these policies. Obama's efforts to reduce nuclear weapons is also supposed to be part of a plot to destroy America's Superpower status and weaken the United States. In reality, this is an effort to reduce defense spending in a post-Cold War world, eliminate unnecessary nuclear weapons and reduce the danger of nuclear war. D' Souza neglects to mention that the United States currently spends about 7 times the amount of money on defense annually as its nearest competitor.
But the funniest and most bizarre claim that D'Souza makes is that Barack Obama had a bust of Winston Churchill removed from the White House, because Churchill was a colonialist. The only problem with this claim is that it is patently false. The bust of Churchill is still in the White House residence outside the Treaty Room. This is stated on a White house blog. This bizarre urban legend is easily disproved. This outright lie is symbolic of all the distortions throughout the entire D'Souza film.
To call this film a documentary is truly outrageous. It is a bizarre set of lies, distortions and ideological misinterpretations passing itself off as scholarship analysis. For better or worse, Barack Obama is a moderate Democrat whose re-election campaign and goals center around saving the Middle Class not redistributing wealth in the United States or abroad. He is not radical, extremist, anti-Capitalist, anti-colonialist who hates America. Conservatives keep accusing Obama of not understanding America when in every way he is a living incarnation of all that is best in the America story. He is an American son of an immigrant father who has risen from poverty to live the American Dream.
By the way, as ridiculous as D'Souza's embarrassing film is, I'll gladly defend D'Souza's first amendment Constitutional right to make a fool out of himself. And actually I bet Barack Obama would as well.