Monday, August 27, 2012


Sydney M. Williams
                                                            Thought of the Day
August 27, 2012

While the remarkable movie “2016”, based on Dinesh D’Souza’s book, Obama’s America, shows the President to be obsessed with anti-colonialist feelings he inherited from his father, the more haunting message was what the movie and the book say about us, as a people – that our innate sense of decency (coupled with an attitude of political correctness) precludes us from delving too deeply into obvious questions about Mr. Obama’s background – and what they say about an independent press, theoretically here to inform us, without prejudice, about those who would lead us.

While our own willing susceptibility can perhaps be forgiven (at least once,) there is no excuse for journalistic blind avoidance of tough questions no matter how sensitive they may be. The media fell down in their responsibility to allow the electorate to make informed decisions. We all knew in 2008, from college transcripts that had been withheld to knowing nothing of his friends as a young man, that we knew little about the real Barack Obama. In his book, Mr. D’Souza includes an exchange that took place shortly before the election in 2008 between two of the most respected (and, one would think, two of the most curious) journalists in America – Charlie Rose and Tom Brokaw. Tom Brokaw speaks: “We don’t know a lot about Barack Obama and the universe of his thinking about foreign policy.” Charlie Rose responds, “I don’t know what Barack Obama’s worldview is.” “I don’t either,” replies Tom Brokaw. It was (and is) that lack of curiosity that stands out.

It is not as though, Barack Obama was a new face on the block. Ever since his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, he had been in the public eye, and had been running for President for at least two years. He had written two autobiographies – Dreams From My Father (1995 and revised in 2004) and The Audacity of Hope (2006). Both were designed not to illuminate, but in fact to obfuscate the real person.

Partisanship has increasingly become an unfortunate aspect of the press. Instead of skepticism, too many reporters simply become accomplices for their favorite politicians. Nobody minds a shill as long as they are upfront about what they are doing, but when they masquerade as independent news sources their lies demean their profession and do a disservice to their readers and/or listeners.

In the case of Mr. Obama questions were never asked, or when they were asked, they were never pressed. Why? It is hard to know. Certainly, the fear of being considered racist was critical. The very fact that Mr. Obama was treated differently than others in his position is indicative that we have not advanced very far, in terms of Civil Rights. And that is especially true of the Left, which considers themselves to be at the forefront of the movement, yet are reluctant to apply the same standards to all people. The media’s neglect, in this instance, was a case of political correctness trumping reportorial responsibility.

It was not what we knew about Mr. Obama that caused people to vote for him in 2008. It was what we wanted to believe. And the message he carried of unifying a nation divided by an unpopular President, made more so because of dragged-out wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and an unprecedented financial crisis, resonated with voters. Home prices, the largest asset for most people, had collapsed. The economy was in recession and unemployment was rising. Mr. Obama, characterized by the press as the “smartest man in the room”, promised to heal a nation wracked with problems and crying for help.

Almost everyone wanted to believe that this attractive, articulate man of African-American heritage, a man who when he spoke at the Democratic Convention in 2004 spoke not of red states or blue states, but of purple states. We believed he would bind us together and lead us toward the promise of the American dream. The Civil Rights movement was only a generation in the past, so people felt good about voting for a man who seemed the heir to Martin Luther King’s “dream.” His erudition and mixed-race heritage caused us to unquestioningly take him at face value, and superseded any natural skepticism we might normally have felt. We each saw what we wanted to see. In fact, our response was anticipated by Mr. Obama who portrayed himself in The Audacity of Hope: “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” Those words, eerie in the light of having seen Mr. D’Souza’s movie and reading his book, were written only two years after he was elected to the U.S. Senate. This was a man who knew himself well, and who also recognized and took advantage of weaknesses in the American electorate.

Dinesh D’Souza was the perfect person to have created this film. He was born in India, a country occupied and colonized by the British, as was Mr. Obama’s father’s Kenya. Both Mr. D’Souza and Mr. Obama were born the same year. Both traveled to the east coast of the United States to attend college in the same year, both going to Ivy League institutions. (Initially, Mr. Obama attended Occidental College in California, but then transferred to Columbia.)

In the film, Mr. D’Souza takes the viewer to Hawaii where Mr. Obama was born, and to Indonesia where he was raised. He takes us to Kenya, to the home of Mr. Obama’s grandmother and to the grave of his father. We see the unbelievable poverty and the tiny hut where his half-brother George Obama lives, but who, unlike Barack, broke with the radical, anti-colonialism of their mutual father – a breach for which our President has never forgiven his brother. We are introduced to those who mentored the young Barack Obama. We meet Frank Marshall Davis, an avowed Communist, living in Hawaii and who Mr. Obama refers to as ‘Frank;’ the Brazilian socialist Roberto Mangabeira Unger who taught at Harvard Law School, a man who has called upon developing nations to “gang up” on America with a view toward containing her hegemony; Edward Said of Columbia who has supported violent Palestinian resistance against “Zionist colonial occupation of Muslim land;” and, of course, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Mr. Obama’s pastor for twenty years, the man who married him and who baptized his daughters.

There will be many who choose not to see the movie. Supporters of Mr. Obama will assume it to be one more example of conservative racial prejudice. But I suspect most of those who like what they see in the President are not averse to filling in the blanks. Mr. D’Souza is uniquely qualified, for reasons expressed above, to have made the journey that produced the book and the film. He is not trying to argue against Mr. Obama’s politics. He wants us to understand the forces that drive the man.

A democracy only works when the electorate is informed. With the right of citizenship comes the responsibility to make informed decisions. We need to better know the most powerful man in the world. This film helps. It was not Selma, or Birmingham or Mobile that created Barack Obama; it was the anti-colonialism of his father. The title of Mr. Obama’s autobiography was not Dreams of my Father; it was Dreams from my Father. It is not written in stone that Dinesh D’Souza is right in his diagnosis, but he makes a very convincing case. No matter one’s views, everyone will be better off for having seen the film. An old adage has it: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”



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