In the interest of keeping well informed, I recently went to see Dinesh D'Souza's movie, 2016. I would much rather have not given him any of my money and waited for the movie to come out in the bargain bin at my local Walgreen's, or surface in some suburban rummage sale, but by then, it would be too late to comment on it. I hope my readers out there appreciate the financial sacrifices I make for this blog.
SPOILER ALERT! The boat sinks at the end!
The film itself lasts for about an hour and a half. One full hour into the movie, Dinesh still hadn't said anything damning about Barack Obama, and I was wondering what the point was that he was trying to make. Then, he finally came out with it: Barack Obama is espousing an anti-colonial, socialistic mentality, based on a misguided image of his father and the failed communist attitudes of Kenyans and other third-world economies.
We've seen this approach from D'Souza before. In his books 'What's So Great About Christianity?' (total claptrap), 'What's So Great About America?' (flawed premise, but not half bad), and 'The End Of Racism' (the first book of his I read, and is rather good), he gives his characteristic approach, which is to nearly lull his audience to sleep before finally coming forth with a major point. His movie follows that same approach, weaving artfully the interesting but silly notion that he and Obama have similar backgrounds, and that therefore he has an intimate understanding of how Obama thinks. He talks extensively about his own family history, and we learn a lot about Dinesh as a boy, how he grew up, where he went to college, how he made friends... In fact, it's fair to say that I learned more about Dinesh D'Souza watching this movie than I did about Barack Obama!
Some of the background is interesting. Dinesh and Barack were born in the same year, attended and graduated ivy league colleges at the same time, got married the same year, and spent some of their childhoods in impoverished, yet growing, foreign economies. But these facts, while interesting, come nowhere close to being able to give D'Sousa much insight into Obama. Just for an example, the above facts are also true of both myself and Vice Presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, right down to growing up in the same area of Wisconsin. Yet I could no more have any insight into his mentality than he could have of mine! What hubris D'Sousa must have, to presume that because both he and Barack Obama have roughly the same dates on their milestones that he must have taken a similar path!
At the heart of D'Souza's argument is the claim that Obama has an anti-colonial mindset. This comes, oddly, from an image of Obama's father which Barack himself is directly quoted from as saying that he no longer believed! (This betrays how poorly knotted that particular tie-in is.) But D’Souza himself also admits that anti-colonialism is generally a good thing. Didn't Jefferson, Hamilton and Franklin espouse anti-colonial attitudes toward Great Britain? Didn't Gandhi himself advocate the same thing in D'Souza's native India, and against the exact same colonial empire? What on earth could be wrong with wanting other nations to keep more of their indigenous wealth? This is hardly a radical position. So what if Obama holds to it?
The "so what" part comes from Dinesh's insistence that Obama's anti-colonialism is also anti-Americanism. To Obama, says D'Souza, America became great not through hard work and technological innovation, but through exploitation of third world resources. Obama wants to end the exploitation and help foreign nations, but he also wants to help level the playing field by tearing down America.
This last part is completely illogical. Obama tearing down America would no more help the status of foreign nations any more than cutting his own feet off at the ankles would make everyone else in the world two inches taller. Yet Dinesh seems to think so! This baffling brain-fart is woven so casually into his other points that people who hate Obama to begin with are likely to miss it, mostly because they believe such silliness already and are blind to the lack of evidence. But any objective analysis sees this as obvious bullshit. Yes, America has exploited foreign nations for resources in the past, particularly aboriginal land and Middle Eastern crude oil. And yes, Obama wants to build a future for America where it takes the high road, doesn't exploit the wealth of other nations, and allows their impoverished state to improve. But America was also built with hard work and technological innovation, as Obama himself has always said! Besides, if he wants better equity of wealth for poor nations, what on earth is wrong with that? Why shouldn't Africa, for example, keep the wealth of its own resources? Why shouldn't its people reap the benefits of the natural resources in their own back yard? But Obama wants America to prosper as well! Of course he does! Why would he want anything else as a citizen of the United States, much less its President? The very notion that Obama wants to tear down America from within is delusional to the point of embarrassment. The flaccidity of D'Souza's argument is dangling outside of his mental zipper, tiny, pink and shriveled, for all the world to see!
But even this is not even his silliest point. This wholly imagined goal of American detriment will be achieved, D'Souza says, by Obama using debt as a weapon! By spending the United States to death, he helps ensure that other nations will have more while the United States will have less!
This is what is technically referred to as a “switcheroo.” The people who have actually used this tactic are not liberals like Obama, but conservatives like D’Souza! They’ve called it “starving the beast.” It works like this: Cut taxes, explode the deficit, and then watch with gleeful delight as government has no choice but to slash entitlement spending and let welfare mothers starve. This tactic, long condemned even by Ayn Rand disciples like Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan, doesn't work, because the "beast" doesn't starve. It goes so deeply into debt that it destroys the dollar! Nevertheless, this is probably exactly what Bush had in mind when he began spending America to death with not one but two needless wars, and leaving his successor to pick up the pieces. D'Souza deserves a limited amount of credit in admitting bluntly that Bush is somewhat to blame for starting that spending trend.
But did Obama deliberately try to make it worse by spending even more? NO! He fought tooth and toenail to let the tax breaks for the upper 2% of income earners, the wealthy, expire! This would have severely reduced the deficit! Possibly even gotten us started on the road towards paying down the debt!
But Republicans blocked him!
Of all the ridiculous, topsy-turvy bullshit! D'Souza's argument is exactly inside out and backwards! How illogical is it to be a deficit hawk and yet deny the government the means to eliminate that deficit!
D'Souza's most breathtaking naivety comes from his absolute ignorance of economics, especially regarding the differences between a nation like Kenya, which has remained mired in poverty, and other nations which have climbed out of the economic slums into prosperity, such as Indonesia, South Korea, South Africa, and his own native India. He says that these newly prosperous nations have embraced free market economics, and are prosperous as a direct result, as opposed to Kenya, whose communistic anti-colonial ideas keep it impoverished. But he’s not even half right. These nations, especially India and Indonesia, have all become prosperous due to a combination of protectionist tariffs, strong government spending programs, AND a free market economy. State-owned businesses were only privatized after the government had built them, and then they became strong enough to compete in the global marketplace. Strong government-paid programs to provide electricity, roads, and clean water are firmly in place in newly prosperous nations. Indonesia, especially, spends billions every year to spray chemicals to control the mosquito population and keep malaria at bay. Kenya, by contrast, has few such programs, and the ones it has are weak at best. Malaria and other diseases limit its economic growth prospects, and the lack of government-supported programs for electricity and water prevent businesses from being able to build in the area. And if communist anti-colonialism is so terrible for an economy, how does D'Souza explain China? Yes, China has embraced a kind of tolerance toward free-market capitalism, but nearly all of its raw materials industries are government subsidized in order to undercut the natural prices that are set for steel and textiles in the global market. Meanwhile, China also maintains anti free trade in its use of protectionist tariffs and utter disregard for Western copyright laws. Communism and anti-colonialism is apparently not enough to explain Kenya’s poverty, and D'Souza's argument is a not-so-red herring.
All this would be bad enough. But Dinesh doesn't even stop there. Next he takes a serious leap off the deep end, and cites college professors and colleagues of Obama’s who are known communists and communist sympathizers. He even tosses the famous anti-Israel scholar, Edward W. Said, the author of 'Orientalism,' into the mix. But let’s be fair here. Haven’t we all had college professors who were a little bit wacky? And didn't they help us immensely by challenging our pre-set ideas and forcing us to explore new avenues? But in the end, we formed our own ideas, and left our zany college professor behind. Maybe we admired that teacher. Maybe we even retained a great deal of respect for him/her. But we maintained our independence and formed our own values. So did Barack Obama. So did everyone else – mostly.
Mostly? Oh, yes. You see, Dinesh D’Souza didn’t. We know, because he was kind enough to tell us. In the extensive autobiographical background he gives us in his movie, he tells the story about how he met his conservative professors at Dartmouth College. He was greatly challenged by their ideas, and they took his thinking in new directions, leading him to embrace American exceptionalism, free-market capitalism, and Christianity. Nothing wrong with these, per se, but unlike most of us, he let his radical college professors shape him entirely in these matters! They literally led him by the nose! So it’s understandable why he might assume that Barack Obama’s radical college professors did the same thing to him. It’s unfathomable for a man like D'Souza to think that maybe students might be challenged by a radical professor in college, but then go off to form their own ideas. He didn't, so why should he think Barack Obama did? After all, doesn’t he have such a deep connection with Obama? Doesn't having been born, graduated and married at the same time, and even spending some of their childhoods in third world slums, make them simpatico?
Oh, Dinesh. Do you believe in the zodiac signs too?
In fact, I must go on to conclude that this delusion, this dream-fantasy, that D'Souza has about there being such a close connection between himself and Obama, is the root cause of all his erroneous conclusions about him. He thinks he understands Obama so well, that he is able to rationalize onto Obama all his worst fears, not realizing that those fears actually come from within his own imagination!
This is reflected by what he does next. It’s the same old guilt-by-association game we saw during the 2008 campaign. In under five minutes he tries to re-hash the old arguments about spending time with shady people who ended up in something called the Weather Underground. He points out how his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, went off the deep end in his elder years. But if D'Souza is truly a Christian, then he should remember that a man named Jesus Christ, who was presumably without sin, constantly associated with sinful people, from Roman collaborators to prostitutes. Besides, we all have some shady friends, don’t we? Why should we hold Obama to a higher standard than we hold ourselves, or even Jesus Christ?
Let’s give credit where credit is due: D’Souza is smart enough to not use a land deal where Obama swindled a total skunk named Tony Rezko. He clearly knows that claims about conflict of interest through ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) are false. He even permanently destroys the “birther” debate by highlighting the fact that Barack Obama was definitely born in Hawaii. But he still endorses enough wing-nut conspiracy theories to make these slights forgivable to the insanity which is the Tea Party movement. Perhaps because of this, he will be seen as that much more reliable by seeming to meet the other side half way. But half-extremist is still extremist, and the sugar is only there to hide the bitterness of the poison.
Such poison comes in the form of an even bigger blunder, as he attempts to say how Obama's foreign policy involves the elimination of nuclear weapons at home and abroad, but how nations abroad are not disarming as rapidly as the United States. In particular, Iran and North Korea are cited as places where nuclear armament is being encouraged, or at least not actively opposed, by Obama. This is coupled with a deliberately terrifying-looking map showing the numbers of nuclear warheads in the U.S. vs. other countries. Reductions in these numbers are seen in Europe and Russia, but not nearly as much as America. The number of nukes in the U.S. is shown as 300, and, says Dinesh, this leaves America vulnerable.
Vulnerable to what, exactly?
He doesn't tell us, and that’s hardly a shock. There are simply no immediate threats out there! But he leaves out the fact that our nuclear weapons, while smaller in number, are ten times more powerful than most nuclear arsenals out there, and only a small fraction of the 300 which we have could reduce China to a series of smoldering craters. When one nuke can destroy three major cities at a time, how many nukes do you need? Probably less than 300. Even so, the ominous-looking map shows the number of nukes in the United States dropping all the way down to the frightening number of zero. I am doing a severe kindness to D'Souza in merely calling this a deliberately misleading and unrealistic exaggeration. He deserves far worse!
As for Iran, Obama is wise enough to know that its population looks upon its government unfavorably. Giving Iran’s government a palpable adversary to focus its anger upon, like a meddling United States, for example, would be the surest way to ensure that Iran will develop a nuclear arsenal. After all, the Iranian people would unite behind a nuclear program to oppose their fears regarding the U.S. On the other hand, a hands-off approach helps the Iranian people to feel more secure internationally, and less secure locally. In other words, without a big, bad U.S. to fight, all of Iran’s angst can be focused upon its oppressive government. That’s what we want. But D'Souza, Romney, and all their ilk, would rather upset that delicate balance which is Iran’s only realistic shot at democracy.
As a latent Hindu, perhaps D’Souza also feels some of the same Islamophobia that most Americans born into Christianity do. India, after all, fought a long and bloody war that resulted in the separate states of India and Pakistan. Unsurprisingly, he has fears regarding the uprising known the Arab Spring. As such, he strongly criticizes Obama for letting Islamic dictatorships fall to democracy. He notes that many of these, including Libya and Egypt, have elected pro-Islamic, Sharia-friendly governments. He is critical of Obama staging a military campaign during the genocide in Libya while turning a blind eye to the genocide in Syria. (Nice try, but Libya was a NATO action, not an American one. And Syria was to also have had the U.N. support Obama sought for a multinational effort, but Russia and China vetoed.) The frightening picture he then paints of the future, in the year 2016 (hence the name of the movie), is one which includes a frightening entity which he calls “The United States of Arabia.”
Look, I share the same anti-Islamist views D'Souza does. So I can understand his fears. But Obama has the wisdom to know that the road to democracy is hard, and that democracies cannot be imposed from the outside. This often means that revolutions win freedom, but then collapse into new oppressive regimes, which must then fall until the nation finally gets it right. It’s hard to watch, but interference only makes it worse. D'Souza would like to force America into those areas where Islam, that old enemy of the free Hindus in India, will be held in check. It’s a kind of anti-free-market ideal, which is at complete odds with his naïve outlook on economic issues. America has made its mistakes in achieving democracy. We have had our moments of mass genocide against the Indians (aborigines, that is) and had a civil war over slavery. We've also struggled maintaining democratic freedom against religious oppression (and D'Souza unwittingly fails to realize that he’s batting for the pro-religious-oppression team in the form of Christianity!). Now it’s the Arab world's turn. They will pay the price in blood, but they will cherish their freedom that much more afterward. Obama knows this. D'Souza doesn’t.
I had heard stories about people standing up and cheering at the end of the movie. Sure enough, there was applause at the end! But it was subdued, almost embarrassed. That surprised me. (I don’t flatter myself by thinking that this was because I was sitting near the front, and turned around to give these people a dirty look.) I'm sure earlier showings over this past weekend were more crowded, and the applause was therefore much louder. But I also noticed that the number of people in the theater was somewhat less than the number of people I remember seeing when I went to see Michael Moore’s movie, ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.’ (I don’t remember applause at the end of that one, though.) Some people got up and walked out of Moore’s film. This time, I was the one tempted to do so. But I stayed, both out of simple respect, and out of open-mindedness. Refusing to hear the other side is a poor way to stand up for one’s principles!
I also noticed that this was also a much more geriatric audience, with lots of grey hairs, facial wrinkles and canes, as opposed to the 20 and 30 somethings I saw at Moore’s film in 2004. This is both encouraging and bothersome. It’s encouraging because we can rest assured that these silly views will soon die off. But it’s also bothersome because older people should know better than to be hoodwinked like this. It’s also bothersome because these older people are largely a part of the generation that enjoyed the “Summer of love” and were universally behind the anti-Vietnam pro-cannabis hippie movement. What the hell happened? How could these same people now be sitting in Ridge Cinema in New Berlin and actually be applauding the lynching of a black man?
It can only be because yet another of D'Souza's premises is flawed. He insists that the younger Obama, the one which had radical professors and who idolized his absent father, is somehow the same man who is now President. He makes no allowance that the man of 45 might be a different man than the one of 25. He quotes extensively from “Dreams From My Father,” Obama’s earlier autobiographical book, but completely ignores “The Audacity of Hope,” where the older, more mature Obama is more accurately represented.
Just as D'Souza's audience is not the same one that would have rejected his arguments wholesale only 30 years ago, so also is Obama not the same man D'Souza thinks he is based on his youth.
In the meantime, Dinesh D’Souza is not only D'elusional, he is also a D'ipshit, a D’underhead, a D’ingbat, and a D’unce. So are the sheep who will believe the bile he spews. He’s spent millions making an artful and well-traveled movie which ultimately does nothing more than make the viewer 90-minutes older, and no more wiser.
Wait for the bargain DVD.