Commentary

Dinesh D’Souza, the Right’s Michael Moore

I lost an hour and a half of my life Sunday at a matinee showing of the sleeper-hit documentary 2016: Obama’s America. But I kept the stub for tax purposes, and you get to read this column. With luck, we’ll both end up just slightly worse off for the experience.

2016 grew out of conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza’s 2010 Forbes article, “How Obama Thinks,” which posited that dreams from the president’s Kenyan absentee father motivate everything Obama Jr. does.

"It may seem incredible," D’Souza wrote, "to suggest that the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. is espoused by his son, the President of the United States."

True enough: That theory wasn’t remotely credible when D’Souza advanced it in Forbes, and it’s even more ludicrous on the silver screen.

D’Souza, 2016’s narrator, stresses his commonalities with the president: born the same year, both with third-world parentage, both steeped in an anticolonial tradition. "I get it," D’Souza assures us, which is why he alone has the secret decoder ring that can explain Obama’s positions on the war on terror, Israel, the Falkland Islands and much else besides.

Putting aside D’Souza’s distortions of those positions, it’s a bit odd to hang a charge of anti-Americanism on insufficiently passionate attachment to Israel and British jurisdiction over the Falklands.

Odder still is D’Souza’s claim that Obama wanted to close Gitmo because "he sees [jihadis] as freedom fighters." If so, you have to wonder why Obama keeps killing his "freedom fighters" with remote-controlled robot assassins.

Incredibly, D’Souza cites Obama’s decision to attack a North African country, Libya, as evidence of an Afrocentric, anticolonialist worldview — Obama should have attacked Iran and Syria, too, D’Souza suggests. But he never mentions the president’s construction of new drone and spy-plane bases, and our expanding troop presence throughout Africa. Kenyan anticolonialism ain’t exactly what it used to be.

When D’Souza turns to the home front, 2016 gets less credible still. He makes much of a 1965 journal article by Barack Sr., "Problems Facing Our Socialism." In it, the Dreamfather suggested that a 100 percent income tax would be permissible if it benefited the people.

"Is this what Obama means by ‘paying our fair share?’ " D’Souza asks.

Obviously not. Whatever Obama Sr.’s difficulty grasping the Laffer curve (somebody should have drawn it on a bar napkin for him), Junior’s position is the same as his 2008 Democratic rivals’: Let the Bush tax cuts expire for top earners, and go back to Clinton-era rates. A lousy idea, but hardly "Our Socialism," or anybody else’s.

"Then there was the health care bill" D’Souza segues. But who needs a decoder ring to explain why, like every Democratic president of the post-WWII era save Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama pushed for universal health insurance? Does "anticolonialism" explain Obama’s embrace of a plan cooked up in a conservative think tank and first implemented by his 2012 Republican opponent?

The whole cinematic mess is the mirror image of Left-wing fascination with Skull and Bones, Haliburton and George W. Bush’s alleged Oedipal complex as explanations for the Iraq War. At least Michael Moore’s crackpot documentaries provide a few impish laughs. In 2016, all the yuks are unintentional.

At one point, we look over D’Souza’s shoulder while he Googles the president’s half-brother, "George Obama." The shot reveals the classic facemorph picture of "George W. Obama" on the top line "image" results.

It’s a revealing moment. Despite their disparate backgrounds, both presidents backed expanded executive power over the economy, in surveillance and in wars abroad.

We don’t need psychobiography to explain why presidents continually seek to expand their own power over the people. It’s in their nature, as the scorpion explained to the frog.

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and the author of The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power.