Only in His Dreams
In his new conservative doc, Dinesh D’Souza travels the world to get the goods on Barack Hussein Obama.
Photograph courtesy 2016themovie.com.
Twenty minutes into a new conservative documentary about Barack Obama, there’s a moment that’ll break a birther’s heart. Dinesh D’Souza, the star and narrator of 2016: Obama’s America, is telling the brief, encyclopedia-entry version of the president’s life. The camera zooms over a map like one of the travel scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark—Kenya, Indonesia, Hawaii.
“On August 4, 1961,” says D’Souza, “Barack Obama II is born in the Kapiolani Medical Center in Honolulu. His birth is recorded in two local newspapers.”
When I hear that line, my head instinctively swivels to my right, where WorldNetDaily Editor-in-Chief Joseph Farah is sitting. His website has run hundreds of stories about Barack Obama’s citizenship and birth documents. WND books published Where’s the Birth Certificate?, which unfortunately was published right after the president released the long-form version of the record. You can still buy “Where’s the REAL Birth Certificate?” merch at the WND store. And now here’s a movie with a $2.5 million budget that’s made more than $80,000 in a four-theater run that tosses all the birther theories aside.
Farah abides. He doesn’t walk out. The movie is really too good to get pedantic about. There are no conspiracy theories about Obama’s birth, religion, Social Security number, passport, or college transcript. Instead, there is a deep dive into Barack Obama’s known Communist associates, his late father’s avowed socialism, and his mother’s radicalism. The first and last stories are backed up with quotes from Dreams From My Father. “That’s Dinesh,” says co-producer Doug Sain. “He walks on solid ground.”
Let’s go with “mostly solid.” D’Souza’s documentary is based largely on his book The Roots of Obama’s Rage, which itself grew out of D’Souza’s Forbes cover story, one of the most influential of the decade. Obama, according to D’Souza, was an anti-colonialist. “He adopted his father's position that capitalism and free markets are code words for economic plunder,” wrote D’Souza. “Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America.” Newt Gingrich recommended the theory to reporters—technically speaking, to Robert Costa and me. David Koch repeated it to a sympathetic Matthew Continetti.
The theory was Swiss-cheesed with logic holes. D’Souza found great significance in how Obama “demonizes his predecessor and his opponent,” as if only anti-colonialists did this. D’Souza insisted that Obama using the Gulf oil spill crisis to call BP “British Petroleum” is Anglophobia, revealed! But Obama didn’t call BP “British Petroleum.”
None of this makes it into 2016. We’re taught the controversy, with a montage of D’Souza defending his thesis in front of hostile interviewers. (There’s a sort of George Romero irony to these scenes, as D’Souza is filleted on shows like Countdown and Parker/Spitzer. They’re gone. He’s still here.) We’re shown just how deeply D’Souza researched this—shot of him thumbing through Dreams before boarding an Indonesian scooter, learning to hula in Hawaii, delivering three goats to buy an interview with Obama’s paternal grandmother Sarah. She turns him down. There is no Michael Moore-style waiting in the weeds to ambush a source.
But there’s plenty of the Moore style. D’Souza is sold to us as a smart, patriotic innocent abroad, who just wants to piece a mystery together. Almost every clue fits the puzzle. An old associate of Obama Sr. says the son and the father are basically the same. (Dad dreamed of 100 percent taxation; Junior dreams of a top marginal rate of 39.6 percent.) D’Souza asks one of Ann Dunham’s professors if Obama’s mother had taught the son to idolize his father. “I hadn’t thought of that!” she says. “I think you’re right.” D’Souza walks the grounds of Obama’s high school, where they teach “oppression studies, if you will.”
You don’t travel that far without scoring some points. D’Souza gives considerable screen time to Paul Kengor, a (recent) scholar of Obama’s teenage mentor Frank Marshall Davis. Kengor’s bang-on right: Davis was an avowed Communist, and the media of 2008 didn’t care.
Still, the Davis story is complicated. Becoming a Soviet dupe, as Davis did, meant something for midcentury African-Americans that it doesn’t mean today. Obama never pretended not to know Davis, or pretended that he was some Rockefeller Republican, or turned him into a composite character. He appears in Dreams as “Frank,” a “dashiki-wearing” friend talking “black power.” This is a movie, sure, and you can’t lard it up with every little detail, but D’Souza’s question-begging and omissions lead him to oversell what he’s got.
Early on in the drama, D’Souza proffers this list of Obama’s “really unusual decisions, decisions you would never see a typical Democrat make.” He’s edited out some of the clunkers from his book. This is the top-shelf vino.
Returning a bust of Winston Churchill to the United Kingdom. Let’s give him that.
Backing “Argentina, not Britain, in the dispute over the Falkland Islands.” Obama slipped this year and called the Falklands the “Malvinas,” Argentina’s name for the islands. But the administration is neutral on the question, expecting a referendum to re-affirm the islanders’ association with the United Kingdom, and Obama’s not the first American president to stay neutral on this.
Delaying the Keystone pipeline while giving “billions of dollars in taxpayer money” to Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico to drill. This was a decision made by Bush-appointed members of the Export-Import Bank, not by Obama.
Lowering NASA’s horizon to “reconciling with Muslims.” Our evidence is a pander-rific interview NASA administrator Charles Bolden gave to al Jazeera.
“Using force” against “what he calls genocide” in Libya, but not to stop “even greater genocide” in Syria. Be a sport and give him this one, too, but the “force” in Libya consisted of a no-fly zone; the Syria situation is evolving.
Dropping “America’s ally Hosni Mubarak,” but failing to support the “green revolution” in Iran. Obama didn’t intervene in either case, and his administration didn’t call for Mubarak to step down.
Making no “meaningful” moves against Iran’s nuclear weapons programs while “reducing stockpiles in America.” It’s the most terrifying accusation in the movie. We see Obama sign the new START and cut our warhead count from 5,000 to 2,500. We see a world map where America’s nuke count drops to zero as its enemies build and build. (Almost tied for scariness: A scene in which the Middle East unites into a swollen Caliphate, surrounded by thorns.) “A world without nuclear weapons?” scoffs D’Souza. “Dreamy idea.” It sure is. Ask any anti-colonial black liberation theologian, from Ronald Reagan to John McCain.
Give D’Souza some credit: He lets the audience see when he’s caught up short. There’s none of that teeth-grinding, aren’t-I-smart-didn’t-I-getcha interviewing that you catch in a doc like Inside Job. D’Souza’s biggest journalistic coup is an interview with George Hussein Obama, one of the president’s Kenyan cousins, momentarily famous in 2008 when it was revealed that he lived in poverty. The Other Obama, it turns out, thinks that colonialists should have stayed in Kenya longer than they did.
“Do you really believe that?” asks D’Souza.
“It’s true,” says George Obama. “They would have developed us. Instead, we were fighting over nothing!”
Alas, D’Souza wants George Obama to be angry over how his famous cousin has treated him. He hasn’t been his brother’s keeper, has he?
“Go ask him,” says George Obama. “He’s got other issues to deal with.”
“He’s too busy helping the world?” asked D’Souza.
“Yeah,” says the cousin, not really interested in badmouthing the president. “He’s taking care of me. I’m part of the world.”
That’s it for cousin George. On to a re-enactment of the young Obama kneeling and bawling in front of his father’s grave. If you’re serious about re-arranging facts, hire a few actors.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.