Just when the ObamaCare debate was heating up, I was dining with a renowned conservative professor with impeccable Ivy credentials when the conversation suddenly turned surreal. Encouraged that I too had deep misgivings about the direction in which the new president was taking the country, the good professor opined that America had put in the White House a subversive radical. Obama wasn’t a well intentioned but misguided liberal, he insisted, he was motivated by actual malice toward America. What evidence did he have for this rather bizarre suggestion, I asked, shocked? Among the things the professor cited was that in his public appearances, Obama communicated with a cabal of fellow America haters in secret hand gestures. For example, during one speech, Obama stroked his cheek with his middle finger extended to convey “fuck you, America,” the professor said imitating Obama.
I had completely forgotten that conversation, dismissing it as the crazy ruminations of a kooky academic, till Forbes put on its cover Dinesh D’Souza’s latest opus, offering as sophisticated an explanation for the Obama agenda as the professor’s hand-gesture theory.
D’Souza’s central thesis is that the ideology that motivates Obama is not socialism or some variant thereof. Rather, it is anti-colonialism, something that he inherited from his long-dead Kenyan father whom he saw only twice. According to this doctrine, which reigned supreme in the 1960s when Obama’s father was cutting his intellectual teeth, rich countries got rich by invading, occupying and looting poor countries. Even after the colonial powers depart, this doctrine holds, poor countries “continue to be manipulated from abroad by powerful corporate and plutocratic elites,” as D’Souza puts it.
How do we know Obama still subscribes to a worldview that is now passé even in the Third World where it originated, thanks to the post-liberalization success of the Indian and Chinese economies? Because he constantly rails against the rich for not paying their fair share in taxes. And he believes that Americans engage in unseemly conspicuous consumption. As proof, D’Souza trots out this Obama quote: “(Americans) consume more than 20% of the world’s oil but have less than 2% of the world’s resources.” Anti-colonialism, D’Souza posits, offers a unified explanation for Obama’s foreign and domestic policy initiatives.
Writers these days are supposed to cultivate a niche, and D’Souza seems to have homesteaded the intellectual goofiness spot all for himself. His post-9/11 tract, The Enemy at Home, which blamed American sexual decadence for inspiring the Twin Tower attacks, was so far out of left—or, was it, right?—field that even his team members abandoned him. And so far D’Souza’s Forbes piece has inspired the same reception—a collective “huh?”—from allies and opponents alike. The one exception is Newt Gingrich who has dubbed this the “most profound insight anyone has had about Barack Obama in six years.” But it would be possible to take the former Republican House speaker seriously only if he didn’t do the intellectual equivalent of howling at the moon with disturbing regularity these days. He has been making one over-the-top suggestion after another to prevent poor Imam Rauf from building his version of the YMCA near Ground Zero, even advocating the deployment of the government’s eminent domain powers to stop the project—a complete “refudiation” of his own cherished views about the sanctity of property rights.
Gingrich aside, many commentators have already pointed out the factual problems with many of D’Souza’s claims. One involves a $2 billion loan that the administration handed via the Export-Import bank to encourage off-shore drilling in Brazil. “He is funding Brazilian exploration so that the oil can stay in Brazil,” D’Souza rails. This is a foolish decision, no doubt, but one that was unanimously endorsed by the bank’s five board members, none of whom were Obama appointees.
But there is a problem more basic than factual inaccuracies with D’Souza’s thesis. If Obama were seriously motivated by a moral desire to protect poor countries from being ruined by excessive American consumption then his biggest priority would be to rein in this consumption. But that is the exact opposite of what he has done since assuming office. His entire economic agenda is one big and desperate attempt to boost American consumption.
He propped up financial institutions and increased government oversight of them not to use them as a tool for some future global redistribution—or “decolonization”—as D’Souza bizarrely suggests, but for far more mundane purposes: making easy credit available for American businesses to grow their way out of the recession. Likewise, the notorious clash-for-clunkers program was nothing if not a scheme to stimulate auto consumption. And ObamaCare’s individual mandate practically forces Americans to consume more health care. All of this seems more in line with Keynesian stimulation—rather than Kenyan anti-colonialism.
Most tendentious, however, is D’Souza’s assertion that Obama’s support for carbon taxes is a ploy to reduce not global warming but America’s carbon consumption. But if Obama were a self-respecting anti-colonialist he’d be slashing not America’s carbon consumption, but America’s carbon consumption relative to poor countries. In other words, he wouldn’t be demanding—as he has been doing—that poor countries cut their emissions as well. Yet at the Copenhagen climate change summit last year, Hillary Clinton promised to contribute to a $100 billion global fund to help poor countries offset their cost of emission cuts only if they opened themselves to international inspections. To most Third World countries this smacks of Western neo-colonialism, not anti-colonialism.
D’Souza’s thesis is so obviously flawed that one has to wonder what caused him to propose it. Accusing Obama of Keynesiasm or socialism or crony-capitalism—as the rest of us Obama critics are doing—is damning enough. Why does D’Souza need to go further?
Part of the reason no doubt is that D’Souza suffers from the pundit’s curse—the need to say something original, something different, regardless of how unsustainable. But the bigger reason is this: Socialism—no matter how unworkable—is still a fully elaborated socio-economic vision that has to be confronted on its own terms with arguments and evidence. One can accuse its advocates of being misguided or utopian or wrong. But one can’t accuse them of bad faith. Anti-colonialism, on the other hand, means not that Obama has the wrong ideas, but that he is on the wrong side. He is the “other.” And no argument is needed to deal with the “other.” Ad hominem attacks do just fine.
And there is not an ad hominem lead that D’Souza misses. D’Souza even declares open season on Obama’s family. In a parody of investigative journalism, he castigates the media for failing to explore Obama’s intellectual ties to his dad. He digs up a decades-old article by Obama Sr. making the case for Africans reasserting control over their own resources in order to damn Obama with guilt by association. “This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anti-colonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son,” D’Souza rants.
But D’Souza’s big gottcha is a comment that Obama’s grandmother—“not his real grandmother but one of his grandfather’s many wives,” he reminds us—made to Newsweek. “The son is realizing everything the father wanted,” she said. “The dreams of the father are still alive in the son.”
To most human beings with a normal psychological constitution this would come across as nothing more than the innocuous ramblings of a doting grandma eager to see her legacy and life continued through her loved ones, especially if one of them happens to be the President of the United States. Not to D’Souza. He sees it as final corroboration for his thesis from those who best know Obama, never mind that Obama had virtually no contact with this granny growing up. Talk about confirmation bias!
What is even more unsettling than D’Souza’s unsubstantiated ideological accusations against Obama are his gratuitous digs at polygamy in Obama’s family. He plays this up repeatedly. What is the point of this except to remind Americans that Obama is a Muslim—the most dreaded of “others”? Ultimately, D’Souza’s rumination reveals less about how Obama thinks and more about how D’Souza thinks. It shows not that Obama is motivated by malice toward America, but D’Souza is motivated by malice toward Obama. How pathetic.