2016: Obama’s America
In 2016: Obama’s America, the conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza tells us that America is being run not by Barack Obama II, but by Barack Obama Sr. Our current president barely knew his father, but, D’Souza argues, Obama carries out his absentee dad’s anti-colonial ideals anyway. All of this was found in D’Souza’s 2010 book The Roots of Obama’s Rage, which followed a Forbes article called “How Obama Thinks.” In response to that article, a writer opined, “Dinesh D’Souza has authored what may possibly be the most ridiculous piece of Obama analysis yet written.” Who wrote that? Michael Moore? Howard Zinn? No, Daniel Larison in The American Conservative. Other conservatives have been scarcely more kind to D’Souza’s blend of conspiracy theory and pop psychology. So it isn’t just liberals who might have trouble swallowing 2016: Obama’s America.
The first reel or so is almost The Dinesh D’Souza Story. D’Souza talks about his upbringing in Mumbai and his escape to the embrace of America. To hear him tell it, D’Souza and Obama are doppelgangers: both were born in 1961, both graduated from Ivy League colleges in 1983, both even got married in 1992. We do not hear, alas, whether D’Souza and his wife attended Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing on their first date, as Barack and Michelle reportedly did. In any event, D’Souza feels emboldened by his life’s parallel track to Obama’s, and he feels he is uniquely qualified to outline the ways in which Obama is a shadow radical bent on reducing America’s power on the global stage. He understands Obama, you see.
To make his case, D’Souza bends reality in small, weird ways (a baffling dramatization of a black man entering a bar, leading to two white men walking away, only, it turns out, to return with a birthday cake for their black friend — awww!) and in large, disingenuous ways. He lies about Obama’s stance on Iran; he lies about Obama wanting to give the Falkland Islands back to Argentina; he lies about Obama’s supposed blocking of American oil drilling and support for Brazilian oil drilling; he even lies about the Churchill bust Obama allegedly removed from the Oval Office (it was on loan and was slated to be returned before Obama had any say in it). And the timing of D’Souza’s attempted slam-dunk on Obama’s supposed gutting of NASA in favor of “reaching out to Muslims” is hilarious, given what’s trucking around on the surface of Mars as you read this.
How is it as a movie? I had the same problem with it that I had with Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, to which 2016 is clearly intended as an heir apparent: it preaches to the converted. Moore, however, produced convincing documentation regarding the Bush family’s ties with the bin Laden family, and he had a star witness in Lila Lipscomb, the former war supporter whose son died in Iraq. D’Souza has nobody comparable, though he tries to pull a gotcha with Obama’s half-brother George, who seems, inconveniently for D’Souza, rather blasé about the president’s alleged neglect of him. Why hasn’t the richer, more powerful Obama pulled his kin out of Nairobi squalor? Well, because George is an activist and chooses to live as he does.
2016: Obama’s America comes to seem like clownish alarmist speculation (the Middle East will become “the United States of Islam”!) taking place in an echo chamber of talking heads who, like D’Souza himself, have never spent time with Barack Obama. It ends with D’Souza’s boyhood avatar staring out into the audience as D’Souza intones “The future is in your hands.” At the end of all this, I was no more persuaded of Obama’s anti-colonial agenda than I was before. The film moves fast, so that, while we’re saying “Wait a minute,” it’s already on to the next theory, the next guilt-by-association fallacy, the next pearl of pop-psych wisdom. According to the film, Barack Obama is president because the American people wanted to feel good about finally electing a black man, even though he’s half-white and that very half-whiteness made America comfortable with him. But, D’Souza is very sneakily saying, it’s not Obama’s white half you have to worry about. D’Souza, I recall, is the same man who in The Enemy at Home held liberals responsible for 9/11. Christ, even Michael Moore said it was al-Qaeda.