Friday, September 7, 2012

2016: Obama's America - A Review

The odd thing that strikes the viewer in the opening minutes of Dinesh D'Souza's 2016 - Obama's America, is a rather lengthy biographical sketch of none other than Dinesh D'Souza himself. If this seems a strange way to begin to tell the story of the formative influences on President Barack Obama, it proves to be a telling detail that explains more about the film's creator than about his chosen subject.

At the outset is a montage (complete with sad, wistful music) of D'Souza's humble beginnings in India. Actors stand in for his family as he describes their fateful decision to send him to America to find a better life. A better life, for D'Souza included attending Dartmouth College on his way to becoming a Reaganite and later, an ultra-conservative author. He has been a fellow with both AEI, and the Hoover Institute. We also receive a hasty, thumbnail history of India itself, a land that has known its share of cultural strife, political corruption, and most importantly for D'Souza's purposes, the scourge of colonialism.

Why colonialism? Because that is the unexpected and frankly, novel line of attack on President Obama that D'Souza is now bringing to the table. Indeed, so obsessed is he with driving home the image of the President as a deeply enraged anti-colonial crusader, that he blithely does away with old attacks. In the theater on the night I saw the movie, I heard a distinct, murmur of disapproval move through the conservative crowd when the narrator (D'Souza) dismisses out of hand a matter of received sacrosanct dogma among many to this day: Barack Obama, he asserts in confident off-handedness, was born in the State of Hawaii. That's right, the one in the U.S.A. The birther notion in "2016" has been jettisoned for something more subtle. The concern here is not so much in where the president was born as in what D'souza believes was born in the president.

The colonialism angle becomes clearer when D'Souza telegraphs his intent, at the expense of everything (including the truth), to project onto the President his own lingering doubts, bitterness, and dare we say, self hatred as a citizen of a once colonized country. Yet whereas he came by such feelings naturally as a result of living through the aftermath of Indian history, he intends to make the case that Obama's rage came through a kind of patriarchal "osmosis" from his avowed socialist father, Barack Obama Sr. Never mind that the older Obama was only present in his son's life for a total of thirty days. Cleverly using over dubbed readings by the President himself from the audio version of his memoir, Dreams From my Father, D'Souza spins the gossamer threads that comprise his case that Obama is a sinister Marxist who is the last person we should send to the White House.

If the senior Obama gets the leading role in the drama of transmitting the President's so called rage, D'Souza provides us with a supporting cast of characters such as his mother Ann Dunham who met the intelligent, charismatic Obama Sr. at the University of Hawaii in 1960. D'Souza strains mightily to build a disparate, loosely joined collection of relatives and family friends that he dubs the president's "Founding Fathers," into Obama's anti-colonial brain trust. It bears saying that though Obama writes openly of these acquaintances, he never used D'Souza's phrase. Rounding out the cast are the President's grandparents, described by Barack Obama himself as "vaguely liberal," Columbia University Professor, Edward Said, with whom the President took a class, and most sinisterly, Frank Marshall Davis, journalist, avowed communist, and an acquaintance of the President's grandfather.

Though it bills itself as a documentary, 2016 really is nothing of the kind. The documentary form is one of discovery. At their best, these films evoke a sense of  of imminent, unexpected surprise. This movie has no such feeling because it's conclusions are in place from the beginning. It takes most of what it has to say from two books by D'Souza: The Roots of Obama's Rage, and Obama's America: Unmaking the American Dream. If Obama's alleged dark rage is a foregone conclusion from the beginning, then the movie cannot lay claim to the mantle of an objective piece of journalism in search of truth. Rather, it comprises a lengthy infomercial at best, and at worst, a two hour long attack ad.

As to the "proofs" of the president's driving desire to re-distribute geopolitical power to third world and former colonial interests, political reporter, David Weigel puts all to rest in a review that appears on SLATE'S website under the title, "Only In His Dreams," referring to D'Souza, whose theories Weigel describes as "Swiss-cheesed with logic holes." Yet, though the film does show some facility with the well known movie devices of slick, shadowy graphics, discordant music in all the right places (to paint as dark, and sinister a picture as possible), and the rhetorical tricks of half-truths and innuendos, at its close we only find what we already knew. That President Barack Obama, born in America, was raised partly in Hawaii and Indonesia. He was reared by a single mother and her parents whose politics though admittedly liberal, were not especially radical. His grandparents were conventional Americans who had friendships with a few liberal and left leaning individuals, yet pursued the American Dream in the typical way.

Dinesh D'Souza's movie thus, is a political thriller in search of its Manchurian Candidate. One suspects that the only one he found was the one he brought to the project himself. Conjured from his own mind.

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