Forbes magazine has now “fact-checked” Dinesh D’Souza’s infamous September 27 cover story, “How Obama Thinks,” and has uncovered one “slight” misrepresentation, it says, of an Obama speech on the BP oil spill. Such a “fact-checking” feint is irrelevant to this travesty of an article; you can’t “fact-check” a fever dream of paranoia and irrationality. Sickeningly, while “How Obama Thinks” is useless as a guide to the Obama presidency, it is all too representative of the hysteria that now runs through a significant portion of the right-wing media establishment. The article is worth analyzing at some length as an example of the lunacy that is poisoning much conservative discourse.
D’Souza argues that Obama’s policies are motivated by a hatred towards American power absorbed from his Kenyan father. He offers exactly zero evidence for his hackneyed psychological theory. But the most laughable weakness in D’Souza’s thesis is the fact that the policies which D’Souza presents as the “dreams of a Luo tribesman” have a decades-long American pedigree and are embraced by wide swathes of the American electorate and political class. If support for progressive taxation, greater government regulation of health care, stimulus spending, and conservation make one the tool of the African anticolonial movement, then Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, John Kenneth Galbraith, FDR, and the Sierra Club are all Third World agents provocateurs.
D’Souza attributes Obama’s tax policies, for example, to his anticolonialism pact with his dead father:
If Obama shares his father’s anticolonial crusade, that would explain why he wants people who are already paying close to 50% of their income in overall taxes to pay even more. The anticolonialist believes that since the rich have prospered at the expense of others, their wealth doesn’t really belong to them; therefore whatever can be extracted from them is automatically just.
Never mind that Washington Democrats and pundits have been calling for the rich to finally pay their “fair share” long before Obama came on the scene. Suddenly, soaking the rich is a black African import—at least when a black president embraces the program.
Obamacare is likewise an outcropping of a filial crusade to vindicate a deceased African progenitor, in D’Souza’s view:
Obama seeks to decolonize [the health sector], and this means bringing [it] under the government’s leash. . . . For Obama, health insurance companies on their own are oppressive racketeers, but once they submitted to federal oversight he was happy to do business with them. He even promised them expanded business as a result of his law forcing every American to buy health insurance.
(D’Souza tries to make a fine distinction here between “socializing” the health sector, which he says that Obama forswears, and “decolonizing” it. I have no idea what he is talking about.)
Barney Frank and John Conyers regularly railed against the greedy insurance companies during the health care debate. D’Souza would quite possibly see in Conyers’ denunciations another African relic, but what about Barney Frank? A mandate for universal coverage is the necessary flip-side to the ban on excluding pre-existing conditions—a widely embraced goal of conventional health care reform; it has nothing to do with a “decolonizing” mission, whatever that means. Moreover, liberals denounced Obama for his distance from the health care debate, yet somehow the final results are the product of a Kenyan mindset.
D’Souza’s twisted hermeneutics are unending. After the BP oil spill, Obama railed against America’s disproportionate consumption of oil and its “century-long addiction to fossil fuels.” Where have I heard those criticisms before? Just about from every Democratic politician and a large number of Republicans as well. D’Souza finds it part of Obama’s “strange behavior,” however, that he would denounce America’s oil appetite after the oil spill, a gesture that has a patent political, as well as a not implausible substantive, logic.
In fact, there is not a single policy that Obama has pursued since taking office that does not grow out of the American tradition of left-wing liberalism or more immediately out of the Bush Administration, the latter including bailouts of Detroit and Wall Street, drone strikes in Pakistan, continuation of the doomed Freedom Agenda in Afghanistan, and invocations of the state secrets act to protect anti-terror actions from judicial scrutiny.
But D’Souza is determined to present Obama as an alien within the body politic. He opens his article with an anaphoric refrain of strangeness and foreignness:
The President’s actions are so bizarre that they mystify his critics and supporters alike. . . . More strange behavior . . . The oddities go on and on . . . Obama’s foreign policy is no less strange.
The only thing strange here is D’Souza’s interpretation of Obama’s standard-issue liberalism as a scary foreign import.
So what is D’Souza’s evidence for the Africanization of American politics? The best he can come up with are statements in Obama’s autobiography about his effort to emotionally connect with the deceased father he saw only once at age 10, after having been abandoned by the man at age two.
The climax of Obama’s narrative, [writes D’Souza], is when he goes to Kenya and weeps at his father’s grave. It is riveting: “When my tears were finally spent,” he writes, “I felt a calmness wash over me. I felt the circle finally close. I realized that who I was, what I cared about, was no longer just a matter of intellect or obligation, no longer a construct of words. I saw that my life in America–the black life, the white life, the sense of abandonment I’d felt as a boy, the frustration and hope I’d witnessed in Chicago–all of it was connected with this small piece of earth an ocean away, connected by more than the accident of a name or the color of my skin. The pain that I felt was my father’s pain.”
Though conservatives are supposed to believe in family values, even in less-than-ideal circumstances, D’Souza dismisses this moment of imaginative reconciliation as merely the declaration of a political program. Leaving aside for the moment the absence of any factual basis for his theory of paternal political influence, D’Souza’s disparagement of Obama, Sr., after the son’s gesture of forgiveness, comes off as jarring and tasteless:
Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son.
Obama’s effort in his autobiography to tie together the disparate elements of his life—to connect his “life in America” with an absent father–is dictated as much by literary convention as by felt experience. It is the sum total, however, of D’Souza’s textual support for his bizarre thesis. Undaunted, D’Souza goes on a rampage of confident mind-reading:
From a very young age and through his formative years, Obama learned to see America as a force for global domination and destruction. He came to view America’s military as an instrument of neocolonial occupation. He adopted his father’s position that capitalism and free markets are code words for economic plunder. Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America.
One would think that D’Souza could provide some textual support for these claims regarding Obama’s worldview, leaving aside their alleged provenance in mid-century Kenya. He does not. Instead, he has the gall to present the absence of evidence as evidence. D’Souza’s main source for Obama, Sr.’s anticolonial thinking is a 1965 article in the East Africa Journal called “Problems Facing Our Socialism,” in which, according to D’Souza, Obama, Sr., called for state ownership of private land. D’Souza presents no evidence that Obama, Jr., even read the article or was influenced by it. For D’Souza, this absence of a mention is a smoking gun:
Remarkably, President Obama, who knows his father’s history very well, has never mentioned his father’s article. Even more remarkably, there has been virtually no reporting on a document that seems directly relevant to what the junior Obama is doing in the White House.
With such a historical technique, there is nothing that D’Souza can’t prove. Obama, Jr., also has never mentioned the royalist philosopher Joseph de Maistre’s 1798 anti-Protestant essay, “Reflections on Protestantism in its Relation to Sovereignty.” Does that mean that Obama, Jr., seeks to shore up the power of the Catholic Church against the assault of atheistic Protestantism?
D’Souza soon reaches a climax of pop psychoanalyzing:
Obama takes on his father’s struggle, not by recovering his body but by embracing his cause. He decides that where Obama Sr. failed, he will succeed. [Source, please?] Obama Sr.’s hatred of the colonial system becomes Obama Jr.’s hatred; his botched attempt to set the world right defines his son’s objective. Through a kind of sacramental rite at the family tomb, the father’s struggle becomes the son’s birthright.
Besides such unmoored speculations, D’Souza also traffics in claims that are patently contradicted by the facts. His use of 9/11 and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as a plank in his Obama-the-anticolonialist-crusader thesis is particularly confusing. He writes:
From the anticolonial perspective, American imperialism is on a rampage. . . . 9/11 provided the occasion for America to invade and occupy two countries, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Maybe so, but Obama has escalated the war in Afghanistan, so how are his policies there anticolonial?
Any pretense of logic regarding 9/11 then breaks down completely:
Obama supports the Ground Zero mosque because to him 9/11 is the event that unleashed the American bogey and pushed us into Iraq and Afghanistan.
If 9/11 pushed America into a war that Obama is voluntarily prosecuting, how does supporting the Ground Zero mosque relate to that fact? New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg is a far more vocal proponent of the Ground Zero mosque than Obama; does that make him an anticolonialist, too?
Even if it were the case that Obama embraces the standard liberal playbook for reasons of personal history—a position for which D’Souza has provided no evidence—so what? If Obama were not president, millions of people would still support the policies of his presidency under a different Democratic leader, as they have been doing for decades.
Some critics of the idiotic pseudo-theory of language known as deconstruction used a similarly baseless tactic when literary theorist Paul DeMan’s youthful contributions to a collaborationist Belgian journal were discovered. “You see!” the critics brayed. “Deconstruction is part of the Nazi project.” This opportunistic argument overlooked the fact that a range of people whose backgrounds bore no resemblance to DeMan’s, such as Jacques Derrida, had contributed to the development of deconstruction, which could be discredited on its face, without any psychological overlay.
Liberals engage in their own armchair psychologizing, of course. All the more reason for conservatives to forswear the tactic. But D’Souza’s screed is just the latest manifestation of the rebirth of the conservative hysteria that marked the Clinton era. The fact that both Clinton and Obama’s critics became obsessed with the person rather than his policies suggests that those critics have no faith in the public’s ability to grapple with abstract issues, rather than alleged personal failings. The shrillness of the hysteria around the last two Democratic presidents also suggests a conservative sense of entitlement towards holding power.
David Frum has eloquently blasted Newt Gingrich for embracing D’Souza’s “How Obama Thinks,” which Frum calls a “brazen outburst of race-baiting.” Unfortunately, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, who have also endorsed D’Souza’s Forbes ravings, have far more influence than Gingrich. When the book on which the Forbes article was based comes out on October 4, we can expect a blitz on the conservative media. Perhaps The Roots of Obama’s Rage will provide the arguments so sorely lacking in D’Souza’s article. If it does not, Regnery Publishing comes out of this episode far more discredited than Forbes. And any talk show host who gives D’Souza a platform will be further poisoning American political discourse. I would also hope that King’s College, a Christian school in New York City, is having buyer’s remorse about making D’Souza its president.
Political hatred and fear should be summoned forth only under the most exigent of circumstances. D’Souza has failed completely to make the case for unleashing his incendiary brand of irrationality.