Last night, I attended an advance screening in Georgetown of the upcoming documentary 2016: Obama’s America. The film is based on conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza‘s 2010 book The Roots of Obama’s Rage, which was, ahem, pretty controversial at the time, even on the Right. Like the book, the film argues that President Obama’s politics and policy are driven anti-colonialist sentiments and that he adopted these from his father, Barack Obama, Sr. — whom he barely knew.
The film argues that this explains all of the actions of the current administration, from the frosty relations with Israel and outreach to Muslim world, to the refusal to intervene in Syria, to the resistance to offshore drilling and the running up of the national debt. Obama wants to knock America down a peg or two to put it in parity with the Third World. Indeed, the film concludes by arguing that Obama is running up the national debt in a deliberate effort to bankrupt the nation in the name of anti-colonialism.
As D’Souza told ABC News: “Obama wants to shrink America’s footprint in the world because he thinks we’ve been stepping on the world. And that is directly related to the ideology espoused by his father.”
And that marks Obama as unique among Democrats, the film argues. “There are things that Obama has done that the typical Democrat like a Clinton would not do,” Producer Doug Sain told the Washington Examiner.
The film is going to be released in about 300 theaters nationwide next month. They hope to expand it to 500 theaters after that. “It all depends on the public demand,” Sain said.
The film is pretty much all D’Souza’s baby. Not only it is based on his book, but he is listed as executive producer, co-writer and co-director. He narrates it and serves as on-camera interviewer. The film even has staged re-enactments of D’Souza’s own youth (to compare and contrast with Obama’s). I wouldn’t be surprised if he also brewed the coffee on the set.
D’Souza argues that, as an Indian who later relocated to U.S., he has a better antenna than the rest of us for discerning the anti-colonialist thinking in Obama’s heart. “Is this what Barack Obama means when he says, ‘Pay our fair share’?” he asks at one point in the film.
My own two cents: The film is thought-provoking without actually being persuasive. It makes a decent case that anti-colonialist (or post-colonialist, if you prefer) thinking can be seen in some of Obama’s rhetoric and actions. In this regard, the film makes very effective use of the audio book versions of Obama’s memoirs, the president himself read. So we get to hear some of this in Obama’s own voice.
But that doesn’t prove nearly as much as D’Souza seems to think. (It doesn’t help that D’Souza doesn’t do a very good job of defining of anti-colonialism in the first place.) Anti-colonialist dogma is a pretty common part of contemporary leftist thinking. The argument that the western world owes something to the impoverished Third World, or that the Caucasian race has benefited at the expense of the others, does not distinguish Obama from most liberals, including white ones.
Obama’s Israel policy, for example, is basically the same one pursued the group J Street, which has attracted plenty of fairly mainstream Democratic support. You may think this approach is bad, but it cannot honestly be called radical.
Nor does the film do a very good job of linking Obama’s thinking to his father’s. After all, his father was absent for almost all of Obama’s life. How influential could he have been on Obama’s own politics? (To be fair to D’Souza, I have not read his book, nor have I finished Obama’s memoir, Dreams From My Father.)
But again, the film didn’t work for me. For most of the way it makes a reasonable case for an alternate explanation to Obama’s thinking, if you’re willing to tolerate a bit of archair psychiatry. Then it goes off the rails in about the last 20 minutes pushing a conspiracy theory about the national debt. It frankly felt kooky.
The film is slick-looking, with top-level camera work, editing and the rest. Sain said the budget was $2.5 million. It pushes the documentary film making envelope in some unusual ways too. Some of the interviews are presented as long distance phone conversations even though they are obviously staged. (Ummm, how did cameras get in both locations?)
It is also surprising the extent to which D’Souza interjects himself into the narrative, even to the point of hiring actors to play him as a child and young adult. There is a whole section in the film where he addresses the criticism of The Roots of Obama’s Rage.
I would like to talk to D’Souza about it though. Assuming he’ll still talk to me after this blog post.