Dream Job?

August 29, 2012

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Dream Job?

The last thing I had expected of Dinesh D’Souza’s first Michael Moore-type political documentary, 2016: Obama’s America, was that it would prove one of August’s aesthetic marvels. Yet this anti-Obama film’s sumptuous digital cinematography—featuring majestically saturated colors and handheld camerawork that’s never jittery but instead swoops indolently to the edge of trance-induction—ranks it behind only Oliver Stone’s hedonistic drug flick Savages as the psychedelic movie of the summer. (Here’s the trailer.)

But the stylization can get in the way of the message. For instance, D’Souza’s last interview is with a former comptroller general who has comptrollerish stuff to tell us about Obama’s deficits. Sadly, I lost track of his point (We Are Doomed, I imagine) because the camera pirouetted so obsessively and entrancingly around the talking head’s demonically glowing floral necktie that I felt like Ken Kesey in a 1959 CIA experiment.

Kaleidoscopic editing and some cleverly animated maps and diagrams all add to the visual quality. The musical score, unfortunately, isn’t as good. It starts off wonderfully by using Nick Lowe’s insouciant 1979 power-pop hit “Cruel to Be Kind” to explain why Ronald Reagan’s presidency was a success. And there’s some moody Islamic music when D’Souza visits Indonesia, Kenya, and his own homeland of India in search of people who knew the Obama family.

Unfortunately, the score eventually devolves into a TV-quality collection of deliberately unsettling synthesizer blurts. On future documentaries (and with this one already nearing $10 million at the box office, D’Souza should get a chance to make more), D’Souza and his co-director John Sullivan should experiment with using modernist classical music. Nobody does free-floating angst like modern Europeans.

“Obama is reasonably well aware that he can’t bend others to his will face to face, that he’s not a Big Man.”

Aesthetics are crucial to Republicans, since, let’s face it, most partisan politics are status games, and looks are the prime status marker. The GOP has started nominating good-looking candidates. Now they need more good-looking films like this one.

2016 is a less strident version of D’Souza’s 2010 book The Roots of Obama’s Rage, which suffered from a silly title. (Obama’s emotional gamut runs merely from condescension to peevishness.) Still, the veteran conservative author makes a decent biographical case before overextending his argument.

He argues that Obama’s mother taught him to worship his absent Kenyan father’s anticolonial leftism. (After all, Obama named his 1995 autobiography Dreams from My Father.) D’Souza then leaps to the conclusion that Obama’s foreign policy is too dovish, too anti-British, and too anti-Israeli.

The documentary warns that Obama’s congenitally anti-imperialist foreign policy will manifest itself more openly after he’s safely past reelection. It makes good use of the open-mic gaffe where Obama was filmed reassuring Vladimir Putin’s former sock puppet Dmitry Medvedev that on nuclear arms negotiations, “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”

Medvedev responded, “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.” (That’s pretty sinister-sounding in a Boris and Natasha way.)

D’Souza’s book was infinitely denounced and his highly profitable movie has gone almost unreviewed. Yet newly uncovered facts more or less supporting D’Souza’s perspective can be found in the nominally pro-Obama biography, Barack Obama: The Story, by veteran Washington Post reporter David Maraniss. (My book review is on

For instance, Maraniss interviewed retired professor of Cambodian history Naranhkiri Tith, who had publicly debated Obama Sr. ten or twelve times in Hawaii. Tith said Obama Sr. saw the Soviet Bloc as “a liberating force” and “viewed communism as a savior.”

Obama Jr. himself remained active in leftist fringe parties well into adulthood.

In my 2008 reader’s guide to Obama’s memoir, America’s Half-Blood Prince, I had offered a more domestic, less ideological interpretation than D’Souza’s subsequent tome. Dreams from My Father’s subtitle, A Story of Race and Inheritance, signifies Obama’s attempt to prove himself Black Enough to succeed with black Chicago voters.

My theory has always been that there’s no mystery about Obama. Just as George W. Bush was (to use college admissions jargon) the Legacy President, Obama is the Affirmative Action President. Both Bush and Obama achieved Presidential Timber status only because of their daddies’ status.

This view has proven universally unpopular.

Interestingly, Maraniss says that Obama’s Dreams vastly exaggerated the role blackness played in Obama’s first quarter of a century. Obama grew up in a Hawaii where mixed-race kids were common and then hung out in Los Angeles and New York with an elite cosmopolitan crowd, largely Pakistani Marxist millionaires. His friends considered him less African American than “multicultural” or “international.” Obama’s wealthy Australian girlfriend Genevieve Cook told Maraniss: 

[H]e felt like an imposter. Because he was so white. There was hardly a black bone in his body.

Obama’s Pakistani friend Beenu Mahmood said:

To be honest, he had never had many black friends. Not that he had anything against that, just that he was part of that other set, the international set.

Indeed, Obama reminisced with Maraniss that the “obvious path for me given my background” was “working in the State Department, in the Foreign Service, or working for an international foundation.…”

So D’Souza’s theory that Third World anticolonialism is part of Obama’s emotional heritage is less derisible than has been assumed.

On the other hand, has Obama proven to be such an effectual personality that his innermost dreams are likely to come true?

Obama’s assurance that in 2013 he and Putin will finally get down to a high-stakes poker game with our nuclear defenses as the chips is something that alarms me—but not because I fear that Obama will intentionally surrender. Instead, I’m concerned that, one on one, the formidable Putin would drink our president’s milk shake. Recall that after an ailing, drugged-up Kennedy met with an unimpressed Khrushchev in 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis followed a year later.

The good news is that Obama is reasonably well aware that he can’t bend others to his will face to face, that he’s not a Big Man.

As a sidelight, D’Souza interviews George Obama, an impoverished Kenyan who is the president’s youngest half-brother. In African culture, a Big Man (such as Obama Sr. longed to be) would be obligated to provide for an ever-expanding circle of hanger-on relatives such as George. Yet the president rarely does anything generous for his multitudinous African relations.

Obama’s presidency has been increasingly reclusive. He reportedly socializes only with five wealthy black friends from Chicago, shunning even the 2008 chairwoman of his finance team Penny Pritzker. Obama plays golf two or three times per month. While Eisenhower asked powerful men he wanted to cajole to join his foursomes, Obama plays with low-level staffers who can’t wheedle him for important favors.

This realization would make a good epiphany for the disillusioning conclusion to one of the Raymond Carverish short stories the young Obama used to draft: A man gets promoted to his dream job, only to discover that he can’t stand the kind of work it entails.

Prudent as Obama Jr. is to avoid the traps of Big Manliness, is the White House the place for a Little Man?

Obama photo courtesy of Shutterstock


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