Dinesh D’Souza must be smiling right now. His new film “2016: Obama’s America” has earned more than $20 million to date, making it one of the most profitable documentaries ever. Not that the critics haven’t tried to sink it: Rotten Tomatoes top reviewers have given it a paltry 15% rating for being conspiratorial and what Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan says is “a textbook example of preaching to the choir.” Others are apoplectic. Andrew O’Hehir of Salon is so utterly offended he calls D’Souza “demented,” “shrill,” “awkward,” and “nebbishy.” Ouch.
This is where the movie establishment misses the point. It is a mistake to evaluate “Obama’s America” based on its production values, which are History Channel quality, or by whether or not you agree with the filmmaker’s politics. As a conservative scholar and author of the bestselling book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage, D’Souza is hardly objective. The more important question—the only question, really—is whether or not the documentary convincingly makes its case to the average moviegoer.
The answer: Yes. Mostly.
D’Souza is no Michael Moore, to whom he is often compared. For lack of a kinder description, Moore is disingenuous phony; his “blue-collar Flint” persona is particularly grating to legitimate working class Michiganders. In his cut, paste and hatchet-job documentaries, Moore misleads by hiding his real agenda. Conversely, D’Souza introduces the audience to who he is—a Dartmouth educated Indian immigrant with a strong conservative pedigree. Fair enough.
The film poses the question: If Obama wins a second term, where will we be in 2016? It argues that the President’s upbringing and strong connection to his deceased father has spawned a strong anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist world view. Reading excerpts from the President’s book, Dreams From my Father, D’Souza profiles the elder Obama’s opposition to British colonial rule in Kenya, his erratic personal life and the fleeting relationship he had with his half-American son in Hawaii.
Whereas detailing Barack Sr.’s influence on his son is compelling, D’Souza’s trek to Kenya to interview far-flung family members is the weakest part of the documentary. It was cringe-worthy watching the President’s youngest sibling, George, talk about his older brother while sitting outside of his thatch hut. Okay, we get it: Barack Obama is a jerk and hypocrite for not helping out.
By contrast, the overview of the President’s childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia packs a much stronger punch. His leftist mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, enrolled him in Honolulu’s anti-Western Punahou School; his grandfather introduced him to Frank Marshall Davis, a Communist who became a mentor to young Barry (as he was then called). So it was his mum and granddad and a family friend; what’s a kid supposed to do? You can hear the cacophony from the left: McCarthyism! McCarthyism!
Not so quick, because this is where “Obama’s America” delivers its most potent salvo. The President, mentioning Davis frequently in his autobiography, never disavows his mentor’s extremist philosophy. Rather, Davis is just one of Obama’s “founding fathers” as D’Souza calls them: Radical anti-Zionist professor Edward Said, Brazilian socialist Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers, and Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the “God-damn America” hater. Hardly Mt. Rushmore material.
Putting aside the stagey reenactments and D’Souza’s leading, awkward interview style, he nonetheless makes a cogent case that the man occupying the White House holds views far removed from mainstream American values. Those who dismiss any singular example, such as Obama’s dissing the British by returning the Oval Office bust of Winston Churchill, lose the larger argument. It is a core belief system, D’Souza concludes, that explains Barack Obama’s affinity for class warfare demagoguery, his willingness to subjugate American foreign policy to a larger world order and tendency to support Islamist over Israeli interests.
Dinesh D’Souza is not, as many in the liberal press try to portray him, a zealot or a conspiratorial nut. “2016: Obama’s America” is not a reactionary screed. It is an earnest, if slightly flawed portrait of a man we know so little about yet has so much power over our lives. That makes D’Souza’s film, and more importantly his message, so eminently worthwhile.