Review: “2016: Obama’s America” – ever more conspiracy theories dressed up as documentary

Shamik Das reviews “2016: Obama’s America”, the new film by conservative author and commentator Dinesh D’Souza.


Muslim. Marxist. Socialist. Communist. Extremist. Anti-colonial. Anti-American. Un-American. All adjectives aimed at Barack Obama over the years, all pejorative, all regurgitated by conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza in his documentary “2016: Obama’s America”, which opened across the States late last month.

The film, a Fox News/Tea Party/neo-neocon wet dream, follows to a tee the Republican right’s ‘scare em into voting’ formula typical of this election, as devoid of evidence as it’s full of errors.

For starters, here are just five of the film’s major fact fails, as highlighted by the Huffington Post:

• DS rightly argues the national debt has risen to $16 trillion under Obama: but he never mentions the explosion of debt that occurred under Obama’s predecessor, Republican George W Bush, nor the 2008 global financial crisis that provoked a shock to the US economy;

• DS says Obama is “weirdly sympathetic to Muslim jihadists” in Afghanistan and Pakistan: he does not mention that Obama ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and the drone strikes that have killed dozens of other terrorists in the region;

• DS wrongly claims Obama wants to return control of the Falkland Islands from Britain to Argentina: the US refused in April to endorse a final declaration on Argentina’s claim to the islands at the Summit of the Americas, provoking criticism from other Latin American nations;

• DS says Obama has “done nothing” to impede Iran’s nuclear ambitions, despite the severe trade and economic sanctions his administration has imposed on that country to halt its suspected nuclear program: Obama opposes a near-term military strike on Iran, either by the US or Israel, although he says the US will never tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran;

• DS says Obama removed a bust of British prime minister Winston Churchill from the Oval Office because Churchill represented British colonialism: White House curator William Allman said the bust, which had been on loan, was already scheduled to be returned before Obama took office; another bust of Churchill is on display in the president’s private residence, the White House says.

It is the “anti-colonialist” line of attack that DS leans most heavily on, attributing a hatred of the British Empire, and US hegemony, to “Obama’s Founding Fathers” – Frank Marshall Davis, Bill Ayers, Edward Said, Roberto Unger and Jeremiah Wright, an exercise in “guilt-by-association” mud-slinging the Daily Kos has brilliantly fact-checked and debunked.

On Obama’s ‘father-son relationship’ with Said in particular, they note:

This line of attack is risible, but since when has that stopped the right wing? So, let’s start by noting what we know of the association between President Obama and Edward Said, and then we can riff on the broader right-wing metanarration embodied in this attack.

As reported in David Remnick’s The Bridge, Barack Obama did indeed take an undergraduate course in modern fiction at Columbia from Edward Said.

In 1998, State Senator Barack Obama and Michelle Obama were seated at a table with Edward and Mariam Said at a Chicago Arab-American community event at which Said delivered the keynote address.

And… wait for it… that’s it.

Clearly, though, these two events are more than sufficient for right-wing conspiracists to flip their crazy little lids… “Edward Said! Columbia!! Chicago!!! Arab!!!! OMFG!!! EEEEEEEEEEEK!!!!”

DS further excites the conspiracy theorists with talk of a “United States of Islam” emerging in the Middle East, and a world in which the US has zero nukes while the rest of the world’s nuclear powers maintain or increase their arsenals (including, of course, Eye-Ran) – both fantasist scenarios illustrated with dramatic music and maps, which sadly we can’t reproduce for you here.

The film-maker’s inconsistencies are rich: he attacks Obama for supporting the uprising against Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and using force to remove Colonel Gaddafi in Libya – then criticises him for not taking military action against Bashar al-Assad’s Syria and failing to declare war on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran. He travels to Africa to interview Obama’s half-brother George, and is obsessed by the President’s “Dreams from My Father” tome – devoting time we’ll never get back to the fact the title is “Dreams FROM” not “Dreams OF”.

His underlying narrative, though not indulging in birtherism, is that Obama (who he concedes was born in America) isn’t really an American, his aim isn’t to make America great, restore the economy, project power and export its ideals, but to enrich the rest of the world (particularly the Muslim world) and degrade the States, turning it into an “Islamo-Marxist” nation as DS’s supporters put it.

But will the scaremongering work? It’s difficult to believe anyone not already pre-disposed to anti-Obama conspiracies and hate, that anyone of even moderate intellect, could watch the film, believe its conclusions and turn from voting Obama to voting Romney. Indeed, far from swaying swing voters either way, it’s likely merely to harden the resolve of those who’ve already decided how they’ll vote on November 6th – perhaps more so in favour of the Dems; “2016: Obama’s America” is the ultimate political ‘pin it up on the dressing room wall, fire up the troops and f- em’ propaganda own goal.

Take the case of the wife of New York Times journalist Stanley Fish, who told DS to his face that it had allowed her to see more clearly what she liked about Obama – a kind of “if only” response to some of his wildest claims, that Obama would seek to de-nuke, and be quite a bit more ‘socialist’ and redistributive at home and abroad.

In reality, the contest is, by necessity, not one between a Commie and Romney, but between an electable, sane, ever-so-slightly left wing Obama and Romney – a battleground at least some on the right seem to have grasped, the UK Spectator calling it “a battle between moderate conservatives and radical ones”; the President’s foreign policy, the Speccie says, “has its roots in the tradition of Republican realists”, while his domestic agenda “has its intellectual roots on the centre-right”.

It’s a measure of how far to the right the Republicans are in 2012, how utterly divorced from reality they are, that such a film, a virtual 90-minute GOP PEB, so full of error, innuendo and hate, can ever have been made. What would Eisenhower, Nixon, Powell and Gates think? ‘Modern Republicanism’ RIP.

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