Sunday, September 2, 2012

2016: D’Souza’s Obama

     Yesterday I saw 2016:  Obama’s America at the local multiplex. The audience was small at the matinee and significantly older than what I’ve seen for other films at the same theater. Nonetheless, there were 22 movies on offer, most of which had three or four screenings a day. 2016 was among only four movies scheduled for five daily screenings. The amount of play the theater is giving the film seems to correlate with the amount of recent buzz in the alternative media.

     Given that buzz, it is likely that even those who have not seen the documentary will be generally aware of its thesis: President Obama’s childhood and education germinated in him a lifelong grudge against the European colonial powers. His resentment toward Europe, and Britain in particular, has spread like a psychological inkblot to stain his views of America as well. Thus, his otherwise inexplicable actions as Commander in Chief—the film cites running up a ruinous debt, running away from our allies, and running down our nuclear stockpile—are fully explained as the rational moves of a man stoking a mid-20th century African anti-colonialist zeal. Whether you find such a thesis tenable will probably depend more on what opinions you take to the film than on the content of the film itself.

     Many Americans on the Left remain emotionally invested in the president, or at least in the agenda of which they believe he remains the champion. For them, 2016 will be absolutely maddening. In offering anti-colonialism as the real motive for Obama’s political ambition, filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza has presented Leftists with a possibility that will play on their malaise. Many of them are disappointed in the president’s first term, and for them D’Souza’s thesis will be hauntingly plausible. Why else would Obama have slighted their agenda? The more dissatisfied they are with the president, the more privately susceptible they will be to D’Souza. They will try to ignore the film, but as box office receipts climb, they will have to excoriate it as biased, or full of lies, or what have you—all the while fearing in their hearts that D’Souza may be right, and that they are betrayed. The anticipated howls of rage and pain are already to be heard.

     On the Right, the film is quickly being accepted as having revealed the undisclosed navigational coordinates that explain the president’s course. Many Americans on the Right have wondered why the president has taken positions that alienated or confused even his own constituents. It is easy to see the 2009 fiscal stimulus in traditionally Leftist terms. Its theoretical justification was Keynesian, and its political purpose was patronage. But what about the bowing? It would have been bad but at least consistent if he had bowed to all monarchs equally, but he is selective in offering deference. Why remain upright with the Queen of England, but go L-shaped to the King of Saudi Arabia? Where is the political gain? Those on the Right have usually given the president credit as a canny politician—he defeated Hillary Clinton in the primary—but what political purpose is served by symbolic submission to Saudi Arabia? D’Souza’s thesis neatly solves the riddle.

     As neat as D’Souza’s message is, it is probably too neat to explain all of the president’s conduct. Much of Mr. Obama’s agenda seems traditionally Leftist and not at all dependent on an anti-colonialist position. For instance, his support for gays in the military and for gay marriage is simply Leftist orthodoxy. It does not easily align with an anti-colonialist perspective, given the opposition to gay marriage throughout former European colonies in Africa and the Islamic world.

     Whatever the ultimate validity of D’Souza’s message, D’Souza himself is a strategically superb choice as messenger. As an immigrant from the third world and a man of color, he is well armored against the default ammunition the Left fires against critics of the president. He clearly knows this; in the film he shares his own memories of Mumbai and calls our attention to the darkness of his skin. Moreover, in assessing our prospects for the year 2016, D’Souza does not spare the Bush administration for its part in feeding the deficit. His willingness to include Bush in the blame for our fiscal obesity is reminiscent of the original tax day Tea Parties, which rightly held both Democrats and Republicans to account. And if the film achieves its objective and Mr. Obama is not re-elected, it will remain to be seen whether the new administration will be sufficiently better than the current one at delivering on its promises.

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