My new piece takes you through the very well-made, occasionally convincing documentary 2016: Obama’s America, based on Dinesh D’Souza’s theory that the president is best understood anti-colonial socialist.
D’Souza gives considerable screen time to Paul Kengor, a (recent) scholar of Obama’s teenage mentor Frank Marshall Davis. Kengor’s bang-on right: Davis was an avowed Communist, and the media of 2008 didn’t care.
Still, the Davis story is complicated. Becoming a Soviet dupe, as Davis did, meant something for midcentury African-Americans that it doesn’t mean today. Obama never pretended not to know Davis, or pretended that he was some Rockefeller Republican, or turned him into a composite character. He appears in Dreams as “Frank,” a “dashiki-wearing” friend talking “black power.” This is a movie, sure, and you can’t lard it up with every little detail, but D’Souza’s question-begging and omissions lead him to oversell what he’s got.
And so on. Right as this was being published, the White House took the unusual step of correcting a myth that’s in the movie – that Obama gave the eight-year-old bust of Winston Churchill back to the British. (I’m guessing the WH did it more because Mitt Romney’s currently in England, less because of the movie.) That story appears twice in the D’Souza movie, but it really is less important for the long run than the stories about Obama’s associations. D’Souza’s right. Obama explained away his Communist and liberation theology-pushing influences, and the media moved on. The story falls apart when D’Souza has to argue that Obama’s policy of, say, not trying to prop up the collapsing Mubarak regime was evidence of Mau Mau-ism.