Most of us know to take any election year psychological analyses of political candidates with a shovel-full of grains of salt. You have to filter any book or article that declares Mitt Romney a bully, dog-abuser, a flake for believing in magic underwear or, most recently, that he’s just like George W. Bush — running for office to exonerate a politically humiliated father — through the prism of politics.
Such skepticism is handy to have when watching “2016: Obama’s America,” a documentary by conservative author Dinesh D’Souza, a psycho-political hatchet job by an ex-Reaganite who believes Obama is bringing down America due to some issues with the father he barely knew, and never saw past the age of 10.
D’Souza’s dubious thesis is as obvious as the title of the book he wrote that this documentary is based on — “The Roots of Obama’s Rage.”
“Rage?” When has the cool-cucumber in the White House ever blown his cool?
D’Souza, who wrote, narrates and co-directed “2016,” paints a sinister portrait of a sort of Manchurian Candidate in the White House, acting out of impulses driven by his parents’ intense anti-colonialism to end the “American Empire,” which D’Souza honors as “an empire of ideals.”
Using Obama’s autobiography, “Dreams from My Father” as a promising starting point, D’Souza goes after Obama’s influences, childhood and college age associations. Starting with Obama’s own words (including excerpts of Obama reading the book on tape), D’Souza talks to family associates, under-credentialed “experts,” right wing pundits like himself, step-family members in Kenya and others in the Six Degrees of Separation from the man to paint a portrait of “The Other,” the guy D’Souza and his fellow travelers love to hate. And as he does, the author drifts from facts into speculation, from speculation into invention and cynical hyperbole.
It’s the invention that seriously undermines what will be, to many, a film full of details about our sitting president’s life and past that many of us who don’t get all our news from Fox didn’t know. Fascinating stuff.
Poll after poll tells us that the most geographically, historically and socially illiterate class of Americans are D’Souza’s target audience here. Are they patient enough to sit through D’Souza’s longwinded, vain and smug “personal” story (He was born he same year as Obama, sees a kinship in their lives, but takes pains to give the evidence that yes, Barack Obama was born in America.), D’Souza’s life in India, his history lessons about colonial Africa, India and Indonesia?
All that is prologue to the red meat for ultra-conservatives — “What the liberal media is not telling us” about Obama.
D’Souza, the latest in a long line of foreign-born conservative Pied Pipers to pump his ideas into America’s far right — from Ayn Rand to Rupert Murdoch, Rev. Moon to Andrew Sullivan — may have an Ivy League polish to him. But he’s a clumsy demagogue, smirking and straining mightily not to undercut his own arguments with his own autobiography.
D’Souza, a Dartmouth grad, says that one of his own mentors, his grandfather, grew to “hate whites” thanks to British rule. But somehow, D’Souza overcame this and ingratiated himself with America’s whitest and elitest. However, he doesn’t figure Barack Obama, who had family and friend mentors from various corners of the American left, the Obama with TWO Ivy league degrees — Columbia and Harvard — and a considerably more accomplished academic and political career, could have possibly moved on to make up his own mind about embracing or reject those attitudes, the way D’Souza says he himself did. D’Souza’s just better and smarter than Obama is the implication.
He leadingly questions one and all, including a psychologist who ineptly “analyzes” Obama and still can’t help but let the guy undercut D’Souza’s “Obama’s acting out his father’s anti-colonial urges” thesis with the standard fatherless-child-rejects-father’s-values-out-of-hand diagnosis the good doctor serves up.
Since D’Souza has already told a few pointed fibs — detailed, at length, in a recent Associated Press story about the film’s wilder inaccuracies (No, Obama didn’t “remove” Churchill’s bust from the White House, has killed an awful lot of jihadists on his watch for a guy D’Souza claims is “weirdly sympathetic to Muslim jihadists,” etc.), since he’s already disingenuously referred to an early Obama influence as one of the many marked for special attention by J. Edgar Hoover’s commies-everywhere-but-the-gay-bars F.B.I., and since the whole film makes one wonder who the REAL Manchurian candidate is here — well…
“Obama’s America” flutters to the ground like so much GOP convention confetti, all assertions, few facts and little substance other than the conspiratorial right wing talking points that are how D’Souza’s makes his living. At least he still has a willing audience, as “2016” has become a modest hit, by political documentary standards.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, brief language and smoking images
Cast: Dinesh D’Souza, Back Obama, David Walker, Dr. Paul Vitz
Credits: Directed by Dinesh D’Souza and John Sullivan, written by D’Souza. A Rocky Mountain Pictures release.