Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
Watching Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary about President Obama Thursday was a surreal experience—made even more so because I saw it the same evening as Obama’s speech at the Democratic convention.
Why did I even bother to go and view "2016: Obama's America"? Sadly, the movie has done quite well, even beating some Hollywood blockbusters in its per-screen earnings. I was intrigued to find out what had made it such a success. (It isn’t a huge hit in Madison, Wisconsin, though. There were only three other people in the theater with me.)
As a fellow Indian immigrant, I have a particular interest in D’Souza. I’ve been following his work since the early 1990s, when he first burst into the limelight with “Illiberal Education,” which lambasted the supposed epidemic of political correctness on campuses. His subsequent track record has been even more god-awful.
In the documentary, the Indian-born conservative has constructed such a caricature of Obama that it is almost breathtaking in its audacity. The film had its genesis in a vile Forbes magazine cover story D’Souza penned two years ago. The thesis of the movie, which D’Souza co-directed and co-wrote, is that Obama is out to destroy the United States in order to fulfill the dreams of his radical anti-colonial father. The yearnings of Obama for his missing dad in his first memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” are turned into a sinister plan to subvert and destroy the United States—from the highest office in the land, no less.
What is D’Souza’s evidence for Obama’s anti-West, redistributionist plot? Exhibit A is his return to the United Kingdom of Winston Churchill’s bust. Not that bust again! I’ve written about this made-up controversy before and won’t get into again in detail. If this is the initial evidence, you can imagine how thin the case is.
The documentary gets more hallucinogenic from here. Exhibit B is Obama siding with Argentina over Great Britain in the Falklands dispute. Talk about plumbing the depths of obscurity. And it’s not even true.
“D'Souza wrongly claims that Obama wants to return control of the Falkland Islands from Britain to Argentina,” writes Beth Fouhy for the Associated Press. “The U.S. refused in April to endorse a final declaration on Argentina's claim to the islands at the Summit of the Americas, provoking criticism from other Latin American nations.”
It keeps getting worse. Obama’s reluctance to allow the Keystone pipeline is portrayed as an attempt to destroy the U.S. economy. The debt that Obama has added is similarly given the worst possible connotation. The innocuous comments of a NASA official to the Al Jazeera network about the agency wanting to reach out to the Muslim world are depicted as a nefarious ploy to reframe the organization’s mission. The aspirational goal that Obama has voiced of making the United States nuclear-free (and that he really hasn’t worked toward) is seen as a ruse to make the United States defenseless against its enemies. His approach toward Iran is shown as a deliberate way of letting that nation get a nuclear bomb.
And then we come to Israel, another prime piece of evidence in Obama’s plot. D’Souza claims Obama has abandoned a crucial U.S. ally. But Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that “this Administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.”
Related to this is D’Souza’s charge that Obama is mollycoddling Islamic extremists. How the killing of Osama bin Laden and the massive expansion of drone attacks square with this theory is never explained.
But D’Souza refuses to let facts get in the way.
He does some globe-hopping, visiting Kenya and Indonesia (deliberately highlighting their seedier side). An inadvertently hilarious portion is his interview with Obama’s half-brother, George, where he unsuccessfully tries to get a rise out of George for being “abandoned” by the President.
Undeterred, D’Souza then constructs a gallery of Obama’s founding influences, which include such often-trotted out names as Bill Ayers, Edward Said, and—you guessed it—the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The notion that the ideas of these folks have guided the Obama Administration is beyond ridiculous. This is made clear when D’Souza shows scenes from Wall Street, complete with ominous music, but can’t name a single significant anti-financial sector action that Obama has taken. The best that he can do to show that the country is headed toward socialism is to cite the Obama health care plan, in reality a big bonanza to the insurance companies.
So, the movie was a complete waste of time, almost psychedelic in its badness. The only service it provided to me was confirming that Islamophobe Daniel Pipes is not worth taking seriously at all. Obama “doesn’t think well of America,” Pipes declaims in an extended interview. Otherwise, the film is so horrid it actually has extensive cheesy reenactments, using dozens of actors.
What I found personally most distasteful was D’Souza’s use of his Indian background as a weapon against Obama. D’Souza claims that he understands where Obama is coming from, since he also grew up in an environment heavily suffused with anti-colonialism. In India in the late 1970s? I seriously doubt it.
D’Souza also says he would have had to live his destiny within a “one-mile radius” had he not come to the United States. Get real, Dinesh!
And he portrays India as an example of the failed collectivism that Obama is trying to foist on the United States. Never mind that Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has said that to describe India’s policies in the initial post-independence decades as “some kind of left-wing Nehruvian socialism” would be “really a monstrous absurdity.”
A bit before the movie ends, D’Souza has a shot of an Indian kid in his wide-eyed innocence looking up the United States in a history book, a reenactment of D’Souza as a child. D’Souza doesn’t even realize how far his present disingenuous self is from his childhood self-portrait.
If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Rock Star and Activist Salman Ahmad Still Going Strong."
Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter