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A Whitewash of Bush: The Underlying Message of D'Souza's Documentary, 2016: Obama's America
Aug. 31, 2012
I went to see 2016: Obama's America. Dinesh D'Souza wrote, stars in, directed, narrates, and did the original research for it. If we look at this from the point of view of its success as a documentary, I think it is effective. It is making money in theaters. This is amazing for a documentary. It is a campaign year documentary, and it is a good one.
It is also dead wrong. That is because it misses the fundamental political fact of the last dozen years: the Obama Administration is the operational successor of the Bush Administration. In Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Guantanamo, on Wall Street, Barack Obama is George W. Bush in blackface. Obama is the star of a twenty-first century minstrel show.
This fact has been deliberately ignored for almost four years by both the neoconservative Right and the grin-and-bear-it Left. Neither side will admit what I regard as the fundamental fact of this documentary. It is a long whitewash of the policies of George W. Bush.
THE ON-BUDGET DEFICIT
If you understand this early, you can see it in what is by far the best section of the movie. It appears at the end. It is an interview with the ever-eloquent David Walker, who resigned in 2008 from his job as Comptroller General -- senior accountant -- of the United States.
This date is crucial: the last year of the Bush Administration.
I need to make three observations. First, the deficit is vastly worse than the movie portrays. The movie sticks with the non-issue: the on-budget debt of $15 trillion, which is chump change, while never mentioning the central problem: the $222 trillion present value of the unfunded liabilities of the off-budget deficit, meaning the deficits of politically sacrosanct Social Security and Medicare. This is the heart of the federal government's highly entertaining Punch and Judy show over the deficit, with Paul Ryan as Punch and Obama cross-dressing as Judy.
Second, Walker has spent years warning the public about the unsustainable increase of the on-budget federal debt. He was eloquent on camera. But, central to that presentation, is the fact that he blamed George W. Bush as much as he blamed Obama. He says on-camera that the turning point on the deficit began with Bush's presidency. He showed that we are headed for a fiscal disaster, and it may overtake us during the presidency of whoever is elected in 2016.
In terms of the on-budget deficit, Obama's Administration is an extension of Bush's. Miss this, and you miss the whitewash. This documentary is an implicit whitewash. It relies on an assumption, namely, that we are not dealing in 2012 with a single political administration, which began in January 2001. Sadly, we are.
The key to understanding this is Timothy Geithner, who was the president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank (privately owned) in 2008, and is the Secretary of the Treasury now. He does not appear in the documentary.
Third, neither Walker nor D'Souza mentions on-screen what should be the obvious Constitutional fact, namely, that it is the Congress that legally initiates all spending bills, and it is the House of Representatives that holds the hammer constitutionally. There was not one word in the movie about the Congress of the United States as being constitutionally in authority over the budget of the United States government. How in the world could anyone make a documentary that focuses at the very end on the central problem that the country faces, and then try to pin the tail on Obama as the donkey?
We are living in a bipartisan, congressionally mandated, slow-motion train wreck. The Congress of the United States could stop Obama today as easily as it could have stopped Bush. Congress is not interested in stopping the deficit; it is interested in avoiding all responsibility for the annual $1.2 trillion on budget disaster that is the federal budgetary process.
The fiscal killer of killers in Bush's Administration was never mentioned: the prescription drug law that Bush signed in 2003. The vote was close in Congress. If he had vetoed it, it would never have passed. Instead, he turned the signing into a pageant. He brought in thousands of seniors to witness it. He announced: "You are here to witness the greatest advance in health care coverage for America's seniors since the founding of Medicare."
This sell-out to Teddy Kennedy (who refused to attend), added at least $8.7 trillion to the unfunded liability of Medicare. Yet it is never mentioned in the documentary. Instead, the documentary focuses on Obamacare, whose burden is mainly on the private sector and actually relieves some of the Medicare payments. In any case, that law was really Pelosicare. She was the ramrod. The documentary has one brief segment on her. It skips the point: bad as that law is, she was far more responsible for it than he was.
A related thing that bothers me intensely is the fact that the documentary tries to pin the bad economy on Obama. The bad economy should be pinned on Alan Greenspan, with considerable help from his successor.
To suggest that the President of the United States has the power to make the economy worse to imply that he also has the power to make the economy terrible. He has limited power either way, unless he drags us into a war. Bush dragged us into two wars.
Ron Paul always was right for 36 years in not pointing to the President as the main economic problem, but rather the Federal Reserve System. So, any documentary that does not go after the Federal Reserve when it talks about economic problems, but blames the President instead, and also ignores Congress, is doing the general public an enormous disservice. It keeps the Federal Reserve in the background in the thinking of the viewers, when the Federal Reserve ought to be in the foreground, with the presidency in the background. This is basic economics. D'Souza does not know what he is talking about with respect to economics.
THE MYSTERY OF OBAMA
The documentary attempts something difficult: making sense out of Obama. There is no question that Obama is a mystery. He baffles the pundits. I can think of no modern American President who is more difficult to understand. What makes him tick?
Ronald Reagan is often discussed as an enigma, but the basics of his position were clear. He was opposed to high marginal tax rates. He was a long-time anti-Communist. He was a great believer in free market capitalism. He really was a kind of all-American boy, somehow encapsulated in the 75-year-old man. It was difficult to figure out how he made his decisions, but he wrote his own speeches, and he spent years under Lemuel Boulware, who was a hard-core free-enterprise proponent at General Electric. Boulware was really hard core: he beat the unions for decades.
Obama remains a mystery. When he ran the Harvard Law Review, he appointed several members of the Federalist Society to be co-editors. This alienated the far-Left members of the staff, who were convinced that he should have appointed none.
When I first read D'Souza's thesis of Obama as an anti-colonialist above all else, I thought he made some neglected points, but I was not convinced. After seeing the documentary, I am still not convinced. But I am not strongly unconvinced, because I really do not know what makes the man tick.
If I could figure out what books he has read, and especially what books he has read two or three times and underlined, I could make a better judgment. But the list of the books he supposedly read which have influenced him is devoid of political philosophy and economic theory. There are several civil rights books. This conflicts with D'Souza's thesis of Obama as a foreigner, heart and soul. There is Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. This makes sense. But of what use is that book for The Man? After all, he is now the #1 power holder on earth. Has he used Alinsky's techniques to get the bureaucrats to follow his plans? What plans?
Here is what I know for sure. If a man goes to church every week, and he sits under the same pastor for 20 years, then we can assume that he agrees with the pastor. For me, the fundamental verifiable historical fact of Obama is that he put up with Jeremiah Wright for 20 years. If you subject yourself to somebody's preaching for a long period of time, you probably think the way he thinks. When he is a screaming preacher, as Wright is, you leave if you do not like what he is preaching. If you don't like it, then you don't think much about church, because you're listening to something you can't stand, week after week, for 20 years. I don't think people do that. So, if you are going to try to figure out what Obama is really all about, you probably ought to listen to a few dozen sermons by Jeremiah Wright. His sermons are racist to the core. It is liberation theology from start to finish. It is left-wing to the core.
The documentary did give some time to Wright, but it did not emphasize the connection as strongly as it should have. When you are dealing with a man who is an enigma, but he submits to the preaching in the authority of another man for 20 years, and that man's ministry is public, then you start with the preacher, not with some strange thesis about how Barack Obama's father, whom he met only once, somehow influenced his thinking. I do not understand D'Souza's methodology as an historian. Start with what you know, not with a thesis for which there is little documentary evidence.
The documentary is a neoconservative propaganda film. It strongly favors the United States as the policeman of the world. It criticizes Obama for supposedly pulling out of this role. On what basis? The closing of American military bases and spying bases, now numbering closed to a thousand? No. The reduction of the Pentagon's budget? No evidence yet, but the promise that he will, just you wait. Then what? Because he has not gone to war in Iran and Syria.
I am a card-carrying member in good standing of the Old Right (pre-1940), meaning the non-interventionist American political tradition. I see no reason to get upset with the fact that Obama has not yet invaded Iran.
Repeatedly, D'Souza blames Obama for not stopping the nuclear weapons program that he says Iran is involved in. The problem is, as far as anyone has proven, Iran is not involved in developing a nuclear weapon. Given all of the talk about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction back in early 2003, before the U.S. invaded, I think it is reasonable that somebody who promotes military intervention against Iran by the United States should prove that Iran does have a nuclear weapons program. It may, but what can we do about it? Are we ready to bomb, bomb Iran, the way John McCain sang back in 2007?
Franklin Roosevelt was an anti-colonialist. He was an anti-British colonialist. He used World War II to replace British colonialism. Harry Truman completed the process. The Council on Foreign Relations supported this replacement. It still does. Truman's recognition of the state of Israel had serious opponents in the Council on Foreign Relations, most notably his Secretary of State, George C. Marshall. Obama is extending a pre-Israel (1948), non-neoconservative (post-1965) American agenda in foreign policy. D'Souza ignores all this in his movie. So what if Obama is anti-British colonialism? It has been gone for 50 years. The main theme of his movie is irrelevant. The movie is merely a neocon propaganda film that is well within the orbit CFR opinion. It is a neocon protest against the big-oil wing.
THE SECOND TERM
The movie argues that Obama will show his true colors in the second term. I am not convinced the man has any true colors. If a man has colors, if ideas mean anything to him, then he speaks about those ideas when he is in a position to implement them. Whenever he gets into a position of judicial responsibility, he does everything he can to articulate whatever idea is motivating him to pursue a particular policy. Did anyone have any doubt what Ron Paul believed in? Did anyone have any doubt what Ted Kennedy believed in?
I believe that any President who is not willing to pursue a policy in the first term of office does not have a policy to pursue. If he does not get his agenda through in the first hundred days, he does not have a clear agenda. If he does not get his agenda passed into law in his first term, he is not going to do it in his second term. He is a lame duck President for four years. Why would we think that Obama has some secret agenda up his sleeve, one that he is going to ram through Congress in his second term?
The betting on Intrade is now 90% in favor of the House of Representatives remaining in Republican hands. In recent days it has reversed from its downward move regarding the Senate, which is now at 53%. It probably is still a toss-up, but at least it is moving in the Republicans' direction. If Obama is elected, we are going to get gridlock. The House is not going to go along with anything he proposes that the Republican Party is not in favor of. The Senate is going to be so evenly divided that neither party will be able to ram through any policy that the other party is not in favor of. The party in power has to have 60 votes to keep the other party from killing a bill by filibustering.
So, raising a yellow flag with respect to Obama's hidden agenda for the second term is simply silly. It makes for a good election year documentary, but it makes for bad political predictions.
THE OTHER OBAMA
I was delighted by his interview with George Obama, the President's younger half-brother. D'Souza tried to bait him to complain that his older brother never gave any money to him when he was living in a shack. The younger brother did not take the bait. He said that Obama has enough problems with his own family.
Then he went on to say, with respect to colonialism, that Kenya would probably have been better off if it had not experienced the revolution that his father had helped to promote. He said the country might have been better off if the English stayed longer. He pointed to the fact that Singapore was in worse economic shape than Kenya in 1964, at the time of the revolution, and yet Singapore today is doing very well. He mentioned the same thing about South Korea. We forget that this really was the case, which this half-brother of Obama understands. All in all, I wish we had George Obama as President. But I'm afraid there's a real problem with his birth certificate. (By the way, the movie gives Obama a "pass" on the birth certificate issue. D'Souza specifically says Barack O. was born in Hawaii. He cites two newspaper clippings at the time.)
Even more annoying was the fact that D'Souza misquoted the Bible story of Cain and Abel. He took the standard social gospel line that Cain was supposed to be his brother's keeper. Wasn't the elder Obama the younger Obama's keeper? If I had been watching this on an airline, I would have reached for a barf bag.
I get so tired of this nonsense. The phrase, "Am I my brother's keeper?" had to do with whether or not Cain was in control of his brother -- his keeper. Cain was saying he was not in control, so why would he know were Abel was? It was a lawyer's argument. He was lying, of course. He was not his brother's keeper; he was his brother's murderer.
To use that old relic of Left-wing theology to try beat Barack Obama, Jr., over the head is simply appalling. Yes, Barack should have sent George some money, assuming the younger brother had something productive to do with the money. But it had nothing to do with Cain and Abel. Brotherly charity is in no way based on Cain's comment that he was not his brother's keeper.
So, all things considered, I did not think much of the documentary. It is artistically pretty good, and it gets its neoconservative message across to the assembled choir. But on the issues that really matter, it is either wrong-headed or silent. On foreign policy, it is a defense of the neoconservatives' version of Middle Eastern foreign policy. He devotes a lot of time interviewing Daniel Pipes. Pipes is a major proponent of the neoconservatives' interventionist Middle Eastern policy. On the real federal deficit -- unfunded liabilities -- it is silent. On the on-budget deficit, it ignores Bush and Congress. The deficit is a bipartisan disaster. To suggest otherwise is not just misleading, it is deceptive. It raises hope where there is none. "If only we will not re-elect Obama!" On the deficits -- on-budget and off-budget -- it makes not a whit of difference. There will be a Great Default.
He fails to pursue the obvious -- the influence Jeremiah Wright -- while he promotes his own peculiar thesis of Obama as an anti-colonialist son of his absent father. I kept thinking, "Anti-colonialist? If only it were true. If only his foreign policy were not an extension of Bush's."
The movie gets very close to the truth of the history of modern American foreign policy. D'Souza spends time interviewing a Hawaiian historian who identified the turning point in American foreign policy: McKinley's decision to annex Hawaii in 1898. That was the birth of the American Empire, contemporaneous with the Spanish-American War, which the movie does not mention. Apparently, D'Souza expects the viewers to recoil in horror from the idea that it was a bad idea to annex Hawaii. The movie implies that Obama was taught this when he was in high school in Hawaii. "How could Obama believe such a thing?" I kept thinking, "If only he did."
My suggestion: wait for the DVD.