The Dinesh D’Souza movie “2016: Obama’s America,” is part autobiographical, part psychological, and part imperial. A fact check of 2016 is practical.
Like many conservatives, D’Souza has magnified some of President Obama’s pre-presidential companions and a few quotes from Barack Obama Sr. calling for progressive taxation and the force of state power to guarantee economic equality and extrapolated them to explain why Obama is Obama. D’Souza’s thesis began as a Forbes article, merged into his 2010 book The Roots of Obama’s Rage, and forthcoming Obama’s America, and finally an hour-and-a-half documentary “2016: Obama’s America.”
The majority of conservative outrage at Obama has centered on the Democratic president’s supposed Marxism: bromides on wealth redistribution and socialized medicine. But “2016” is really a foreign policy movie thinly disguised as a movie about a domestic-minded president. In fact, the specific domestic policies are barely remarked upon.
“2016” begins with an autobiographical sketch of D’Souza himself growing up in India and reading about the great empires of Rome and Great Britain. He even goes so far as to imply America is an empire, although qualifying it as an “empire of ideals.”
The point of the movie is that President Obama is not an authentic American in the mold of Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin because as a product of a third world upbringing, Obama is an anticolonialist, opposing the traditional imperial powers and thereby favoring poorer nations he believes have been oppressed. But unless Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin were also democracy-crusading nationalists with a particular attachment to a foreign state, then neither is Dinesh D’Souza an authentic American.
Exhibit A of D’Souza’s evidence of Obama’s anticolonialism is the president’s decision to remove the bronze bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office.
The bust imbroglio, however, was not quite what it seemed. The bust was a loan, not a gift, to President George W. Bush and only for the duration of his administration. Then-prime minister Gordon Brown offered to extend the loan, but the new president declined. So, Obama may have returned the bust, but the spirit of the accusation, that he unceremoniously returned it, is false.
None of this confirms or refutes Barack Obama is a Marxist and anticolonialist at heart. But even if they are true they are not reflected in reality even if they exist in the collective Republican conscience.
A long-time advocate of a single-payer health care system, Obama capitulated and signed into law the Affordable Care Act, written by the insurance companies, that forces Americans to buy health insurance or pay a fine. ObamaCare may be unjust, but it is not socialized medicine. As for being an anticolonialist, one might want to find another term to describe a president who has done nothing to speed up withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, intervened in Libya, and drone bombed Pakistan, a country that was under the colonial thumb of Great Britain.
D’Souza uses the intervention in Libya to stop genocide as evidence of Obama’s peculiarity, but he neglects to mention that it involved teaming with former colonial powers Great Britain and France. Although the point of Libya in the film is to show Obama’s inconsistency by staying out of Syria where a bigger genocide may be taking place, this is a major problem for D’Souza’s thesis. Why would an anticolonialist align with two of history’s big colonial powers in an act of unprovoked aggression against a third world quasi-socialist country?
Near the end, in the hypothetical 2016 that follows a second Obama term, a barbed wire appears on a map sequestering the borders of north African countries, extending to the Middle East, and south Asia with a green flag covering it. The flag may or may not have been intended to represent alleged Iranian hegemony, but it deliberately conjures images of Western propaganda films depicting the Nazi or Soviet flags covering the European continent.
Here D’Souza is either playing dumb or is confused about his countries. Should Obama have intervened in Syria and removed the Assad regime that is aligned with Iran? One of the primary reason given for a prospective Syrian intervention is because it would weaken Iran, not strengthen it, because the fighters, particularly those affiliated with al Qaeda, are Sunnis and therefore enemies of Iran.
But perhaps the icing on the cake is D’Souza’s decision to include Daniel Pipes as his “Middle East expert” to make the anticolonial case. Pipes, a neoconservative currently affiliated with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, whose only policy prescription is “Bomb Iran,” also infamously stated that he would vote for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if he could, presumably because that would assure that relations between the United States and Iran remain frigid, thus keeping intervention on the table. If D’Souza had genuinely wanted an expert without ideological baggage he could have hardly done worse than Daniel Pipes.
One need not be a “birther” to be curious and even fascinated by Obama’s exotic youth, upbringing, and education, if in fact Obama was reared differently from every previous American president. But D’Souza’s case that Obama is an inauthentic American and an anti-American president would be better supported if he had relied on more than stock conservative fears, because despite the different background, as president, Barack Obama has not imported anything fundamentally alien to either the Democratic Party or the American body politic. Even the toxic health care law has Republican DNA. The Obama presidency, for good and bad, is a result of the administrations that preceded it.
There was certainly more to “2016: Obama’s America” than can be adequately recorded in a movie review, but the ideological presumptions distract from and derail what could have been a useful educational resource about a mysterious and still perplexing president.