2016: Obama's America Review: Insidious, Racist, and Surprisingly Effective
Co-written, starring, and based on the book, The Roots of Obama's Rage by Dinesh D'Souza, 2016: Obama's America is far more insidiously effective than any political documentary since Fahrenheit 9/11. Unlike most polemical documentaries that demonize their enemies before tearing them down with expert opinions from partisan pundits and scholars and mixing red-meat rhetoric, D'Souza attempts more than just to speak to the choir: He humanizes Barack Obama, draws parallels between his own life and the President's, and then meticulously builds his case. He also does so as a mild-mannered, intellectual man of color, instead of someone we would typically associate with an anti-Obama screed: Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, or an Ann Coulter (it was only after the movie that I found out that D'Souza was once engaged to Coulter).
In fact, the first two acts of the film are at times just as compelling for a supporter of Obama as it is for conservatives. D'Souza makes an attempt to understand President Obama's worldview by exploring his background. He does so by matter-of-factly discussing Obama's family history, using mostly passages from Obama's own book, Dreams From My Father. D'Souza talks about the politics of Obama's father, and about the influence his father's absence had on him: In a way, Obama idealized and romanticized his dad's politics. His strained relationship with his step-father in Indonesia -- he was a pro-Western man who worked for oil and gas companies -- actually hardened his affection for own father and created a resentment in Obama toward the entrenched political machinery of America, so argues D'Souza. The gist of the first section -- which also includes a section on Hawaii's supposed widespread resentment toward the United States -- seems rather benign: It highlights Obama's anti-colonialism, and whether or not it's true, it would be understandable if he were. In fact, I found myself sympathizing with many of Obama's alleged anti-colonial beliefs.
The second section digs deeper into Obama's politics, and goes over some familiar territory -- Bill Ayers, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and a few other professors and intellectuals who believe that America is a super-power bully, holds on to too much of the world's wealth, and is irresponsible with it. Again, for liberals, these are not exactly strikes against Obama, but D'Souza also fails to provide proper context: The so-called radicals that Obama has associated with over the years are only a small percentage of the hundreds of scholars, politicians, fellow students, and colleagues in Obama's life that might have influenced him.
It's after creating a foundation for his theories on Obama's worldview that D'Souza fails, and he does so by vastly overreaching. D'Souza believes that Obama's anti-colonial fervor extends to America, and that Obama is seeking to level the global playing field, so to speak, by reducing the power and influence of the United States over the global economy. Obama is not interested in helping America's poor, D'Souza says, because Obama allegedly believes that even America's poor are wealthy by international standards (true!). (D'Souza bolsters this argument with an interview with one of Obama's half-brothers, a poor Kenyan living in dire straights, allegedly). In Obama's second term, D'Souza argues, the President would seek to redistribute wealth not just in the United States, but globally.
Reducing the number of American warheads from 5,000 to 1,500, as Obama has apparently done, is the first step. Obama allegedly plans to reduce our stockpile even further while, at the same time, allowing other countries, like Iran, to gain access to nuclear weapons, thus leveling the global playing field.
That argument is specious, at best, but where D'Souza really goes off the rails is in his assertion that Obama is attempting to take away America's financial strength by driving up our deficit so high that it'd bankrupt the United States. How? Among other things, the Affordable Care Act, of course. The America that Obama envisions, D'Souza argues, is one in which we're not a superpower, but a country financially incapable of oppressing other nations and their citizenry. In Obama's America, the Middle East would be turned into the United States of Islam and hold as much world power as we do.
It's a hell of a stretch to make, and D'Souza doesn't help his case by delving into a lot of racist speculation on how Barack Obama markets his blackness in order to convince white people into feeling noble and heroic for voting for a black man. D'Souza argues that, as someone who is of mixed race, Obama is able to seamlessly adapt and project himself in ways that both black and white people want to see him. It's complete bullshit, but it's also an effective talking point for conservatives, and one that I often hear parroted on conservative talk radio. This man, right here, has allegedly been removed of all of his "angry black man" characteristics and carefully cultivated to appeal to well-meaning white folks.
Ultimately, agree with D'Souza or not (and I vehemently do not), it's hard to argue against the effectiveness of his message to his target demo. The crowded screening I attended had scores of white people over the age of 50 nodding their heads along with D'Souza's arguments, audibly voicing their assent. However, there's very little rancor or vitriol in the film, which might suggest to conservatives that an intellectual argument is being made, obfuscating the ugliness and backwards racism that underpins the reasoning (I can almost hear my Tea-Party mother-in-law now, "But it can't be racist; it's being made by an Indian!"). Indeed, after years or little-seen, low-rent anti-liberal agitprop, it appears that the right may have finally landed their Michael Moore, but unlike Moore, D'Souza is -- at least as depicted in this film -- not an obnoxious blowhard as likely to rankle those in his own party as much as his enemies. He's a formidable Dartmouth academic that relies on (cherry-picked) facts and out-of-context statements to propel his arguments, and like them or not, they're a more difficult to defend against than typical conservative talk-radio conspiracy bullshit about how President Obama threatened the lives of Chief Justice Roberts' family to ensure Obamacare passed Constitutional muster. Wingnuttery you can easily dismiss, but at least D'Souza makes us work for it.
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