A polemic, or propaganda film is not designed to change minds. It’s created to reinforce the beliefs or biases of those who already support it. To energize the like-minded, to rally them to a cause. To attack it because one disagrees with it, or laud it because you agree with it, is more bedwetting than criticism.
“2016: Obama’s America,” is a film polemic; it is not even-handed. It creates a case, using conservative arguments, that President Barack Obama is influenced by anti-colonialism scholarship and seeks, through his two terms, to decrease the influence and strength of the United States by making it more government-centered, loaded with debt and weaker in defense. As a propaganda film, it’s well-produced and effective (just as a Michael Moore documentary usually is). Host Dinesh D’Souza, who also co-directed with John Sullivan, is a well-known conservative thinker. D’Souza is soft spoken but confident, and maintains a reasonable tone to the film.
For more than a hour the ”2016″ is more PBS than FoxNation, as D’Souza guides viewers through an extremely interesting history of President Obama’s life. It’s easy to feel sympathy for our president, who had a tough childhood. An irresponsible father deserted him soon after his birth and his mother appeared more devoted to political activism than raising her son. In fact, when Obama’s Indonesian stepfather began to warm to free enterprise, she moved Obama back to Hawaii to live with his grandparents.
D’Souza travels to Hawaii, Kenya, Indonesia and other locations to recap the president’s diverse past. It’s impossible not to admire the president for achieving so much and overcoming the challenges that life threw at him early in his life. D’Souza interviews friends and Obama family members. I really enjoyed the interview with Obama’s far-younger half-brother, George. Although he lives in poverty, he comes across as an intelligent, thoughtful man, devoid of self pity and far more conservative than his American half-brother. (Although the film does not broach this question, I wondered how the media would react if Mitt Romney had allowed a half-brother to live in squalid poverty.)
An assumption of the film is that Obama’s respect for his mostly absent father, a subject of his memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” has contributed to his liberal political philosophy. Barack Obama Sr. had many personal faults, but he was an accomplished man who studied at Harvard. The film notes policy positions that Obama Sr. crafted for periodicals in Africa. As D’Souza points out, Obama Sr., an anti-colonialist, advocated that nations rely primarily on government to meet needs of citizens. Obama Sr. also was an advocate of very high taxes, even suggesting that a 100 percent on high incomes was not an impossibilty for government to enact.
This is where “2016: Obama’s America” switches into high polemic/propaganda mode. In the final third or so of the film, the filmmakers opine that Obama shares his father’s more radical political beliefs. As evidence, they point to many of his admitted political mentors, including the late communist journalist Frank Marshall Davis, the liberation theology minister, Jeremiah Wright, the late anti-Israel/Western academic Edward Said, unrepentent ’60s terrorist-turned-academic Bill Ayers, and others. As a result, the film argues that President Obama wants to significantly reduce the U.S.’s influence within the world while increasing the influence of nations that he believes have suffered or been held back economically or militarily due to U.S. and western dominance. To argue his case, D’Souza interviews conservative scholars, including Shelby Steele and Daniel Pipes. He also interviews several leftist academics who echo the anti-colonial views that he believes Obama learned from his father and mentors.
Now, Obama supporters will scoff at this, and one can read frantic online reviews more interested in damning D’Souza, the other filmmakers, or other conservatives, than analyzing the film. But, as mentioned, the film is not directed to its detractors. It’s designed to motivate those opposed to Obama’s re-election. And it does a very good job of doing that. It’s produced by an Oscar-winner, Gerald R. Molen, who won with “Schindler’s List.” The film’s politics can be argued, but there’s no fly-by-night production values to scoff at.
I don’t want to give away the “climax” of the film. It’s not my job to reveal spoilers to those eager to see “2016″ for themselves, but the filmmakers argue that President Obama, if re-elected this fall, will initiate a series of liberal/leftist policy changes designed to turn the U.S. into a weakened nation, both economically and militarily. They also argue that the president is determined to reduce U.S. nuclear capability yet allow Iran to gain nuclear parity.
I’m an Romney supporter, but I’m skeptical of some of the claims. The mere fact that President Obama’s policies — including ObamaCare and his reluctance to build an oil pipeline through the U.S. — are supported by 95 percent of Democrats in Congress seems to weaken the case that these initiatives are all part of a semi-secret Obama plan to implement a Said- or Ayers- approved anti-colonialism vision for the United States. (In fact, it would almost be worth re-electing the president just to see if Obama tries to do the dysfunctional things the filmmakers believe he will try.) Even if the president is elected, the probability that Republicans will control the House and the Senate make the probability of such “nefarious” schemes low.
Also, I’m not as convinced as D’Souza (who earlier wrote the book version of this film, “The Roots of Obama’s Rage”) that Obama Sr. is as much of an influence in his life as the film claims. It seems to me that Obama’s mother, the leftist scholar, Dr. Ann Dunham, provided more impact into his life. The film lacks information on her life, and on her work studying women and rural third-world communities. The president, interviewed long ago by the Chicago Tribune, said (she was) “the dominant figure in my formative years … The values she taught me continue to be my touchstone when it comes to how I go about the world of politics.” I think that’s pretty accurate. Ann Dunham never dissed Barack Sr. to her son. In fact, she spoke highly of the absent father to her son.
“2016: Obama’s America” is doing well at the box office (read). It’s grossed $2 million despite being on only 170 or so screens. It gets a wider release this Friday. It appears to be doing the job the filmmakers sought, energizing opponents of Obama’s re-election as the vote draws nearer.