2016, the Movie

This afternoon my wife, our 16-year-old daughter and I went to see Dinesh D’Souza’s 2016 at a nearby theater. I believe the film opened here yesterday; the crowd was about average for 5:00 on a Saturday afternoon. The movie is very good. It has several virtues, starting with the fact that it is only an hour and a half long. (These days there is no premise so slight, no theme so insubstantial, no plot so thin but what the film takes 2 1/2 hours or more to unroll.)

2016 is beautifully shot and edited, as you would expect from a film that is produced by the same guy, Gerald Molen, who produced such movies as Rain Man, Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. It is actually entertaining, a quality not achieved by every documentary. My 16-year-old enjoyed it, so I think its appeal will be broad. Dinesh D’Souza, who appears frequently and is the principal narrator (Barack Obama is the other narrator) is a likable figure, and the similarities and contrasts he draws between himself and Obama are revealing and effective. It would be a great thing if many millions of people see 2016, as it would tell most people a great deal that they do not already know about our president. Here is the trailer:

I have not read D’Souza’s book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage, on which 2016 is based, but I have heard Dinesh lecture on it twice. In a nutshell, his theory is that Obama’s world-view can best be understood by reading his memoir, Dreams From My Father, and taking it seriously. Barack Obama Jr., Dinesh argues, has assumed the anti-colonialist, anti-Western, anti-American, anti-free enterprise perspective of his father, which explains much of his otherwise-puzzling conduct as president.

I think Dinesh is on to something here, and his premise helps explain, for example, why Obama returned Churchill’s bust, backs Argentina in the conflict over the Falklands, and tilts toward the Palestinians. My question about Dinesh’s theory is whether it explains the essence of Obama’s philosophy, or is more of a footnote, or, put another way, the icing on the cake. Without doubt, Obama’s rather tortured youth is an important part of his persona. His bigamist father, an “intellectual” who was in fact a repellent alcoholic poseur, abandoned his family when Barack Jr. was an infant, and Barack only saw him once thereafter. Further, Obama’s upbringing in Indonesia and Hawaii no doubt lends a certain exoticism to his thinking.

But do we really need Barack Obama Sr. to account for his son’s hostility toward America and its traditional beliefs and values? I don’t think so. Obama came of age, over a period of decades, in an environment that can charitably be described as hard-left. His father and mother were both socialists or worse. His maternal grandfather selected a mentor for young Barry who was a long-time member of the Communist Party USA. The socialist New Party listed him as a member. His friend, colleague and fundraiser Bill Ayers is a terrorist who says he wishes he had set off more bombs. His college professor Edward Said was the leading intellectual voice of those who want Israel destroyed. His law school mentor Roberto Unger was too far left for Brazil’s socialist party, and was sent back to Harvard, where he declined all interviews lest he endanger Obama’s electoral prospects. The minister who converted him to Christianity was Jeremiah “Gad damn America” Wright. You can go on and on.

My point is that the cornerstone belief of 20th and 21st century American leftism is that the United States is too rich and too powerful. This is not a perspective that is unique to Barack Obama; rather, it is common to essentially every modern American leftist. (I say this in part based on personal experience and observation.) To take just one of countless examples, Hillary Clinton marinated in the view that America needs to be cut down to size just as much as Obama did.

That being the case, Obama’s efforts in office to weaken America are consistent not just with his father’s ideology, but with the entire culture of American leftism. That he is no outlier is demonstrated by the fact that essentially the entire Democratic Party has cheered everything he has done in office, from trying to socialize health care to apologizing overseas for the U.S. So in my view, Obama’s unique background and his tortured relationship with his absent father do help to explain some otherwise-puzzling actions, like returning Churchill’s bust. But they are not needed to account for the broader failure of his administration’s policies. Put another way, the oft-stated belief that Hillary Clinton would have been a materially better president is wrong.

Of course, that doesn’t address the ultimate point of D’Souza’s movie: what will happen if we give Obama another four years? Obama’s urging Russia’s president to tell Vladimir Putin that in a second term he will have more “flexibility”–flexibility to sell out American interests, apparently, or what was the point?–is chilling. It certainly could be that in a second term, Obama’s anti-colonialist (i.e., anti-you and me) impulses could be fully unleashed, in a way that would make his first term look successful by comparison. Let’s not take that chance! If you haven’t seen 2016, I am pretty sure you will enjoy it, and if your undecided friends haven’t seen it, they should.

JOE UPDATES from Lower Manhattan (4:08 P.M.): Several of Manhattan’s more noted cineplexes are screening 2016, including the Union Square Regal, where the 2pm showing resulted nearly in a full house. It looks as though 2016 will gross around $7MM this weekend, which is a strong showing. As ever in New York, tourists stood out like a sore thumb, and the auditorium was, at least, half-tourist. The film was met with applause at the end (though I was the only one booing when Dartmouth College was entitled “Dartmouth University” in the closing credits). I generally agree with John’s sentiments. It is a forceful and entertaining film, and the conceit of a global chase for the prime mover of Barack Obama worked very nicely. Dinesh and John turned the former’s research into a very high quality narrated essay.

As usual with conservative art, it bothers me that we cannot produce professional looking products. Why was 2016 in 30p instead of 24p? Why did the colors look so bloated? Why does Dinesh’s microphone distort? Why was the stock footage so painfully stock-ish? Why was the stock music so painfully stock-ish? Why should the film switch back-and-forth between Dinesh reading from Dreams of My Father and the dreamer himself? These errors diminish the transporting quality of a film. Conservatism needs a better farm team in music and visuals.

Yet Dinesh and John put together such a clever yarn that the audience seemed (as I glanced around) transfixed. The story really picks up once we see Dinesh’s now-famous interview with George Obama, than whom there couldn’t be a kinder soul. He has every right to be cross with his neglectful, power-hungry brother; instead he calmly espouses a pro-western view while shrugging off Barack Obama’s neglect. The most powerful theme of Dinesh’s is that the motivations of Barack Obama lie far from Selma or Little Rock. It is not the oppression of slavery which motivates him, but the belief, mistaken, that, instead of earning it, the colonial west has stolen its wealth from its former imperial subjects. To which George Obama is the living counterproof: he observes that the nations that are healthy and wealthy are those that clung to the British yoke a bit longer, hated British ideas a bit less. Barack Obama is not come to redeem America’s genuine sin of past racism, but to redeem her fabricated sin of colonialism. And that’s why Barack Obama is, in spite of it all, quite a gullible man if not a stupid one. His talents really ought to have him in the sociology section of the Barnes & Noble instead of the White House.

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