Friday, December 7, 2012

The Politics Of: Obama 2016

Hey ... What? Is That American Flag Being Seen In The Mirror!?

Obama's America 2016 is available via Netflix. In the language of Internet memes: I CAN HAS IT. So I'm reviewing it.

The Movie
Conservative author and thinker Dinesh D'Souza created Obama 2016 in time for the 2012 elections with the hope of sparking debate (and, maybe, influencing the election itself). It poses the question: "What is Obama's Dream?"--meaning what is his vision for America ... what drives him?

It begins with D'Sousa's own story (an immigrant from India--the same age as Obama and with a somewhat similar life's story). D'Sousa worked in the Reagan administration and saw the president as a great man--but he (like many other people) was fascinated by Obama's story. Maybe even inspired by it (he does not say if he voted for Obama in '08--but he notes that Obama's 2004 speech would have "drawn applause at a Republican convention."

It then brings in both the doubts of others (those who voted for him and feel betrayed or disappointed) and his own concern about "Unusual decisions" Obama made--which he finds "Baffling." These were:
  • Returning a bust of William Churchill
  • Favoring Argentina over Britain
  • Delays to the Keystone Pipeline that would have created "Tens of thousands of jobs."
  • He limited American drilling but gave tons of money to Columbia for off-shore drilling.
  • He gave money to NASA but wanted them to make Muslims feel good (I had to look this one up: he wanted NASA to high-light the Muslim's world's contributions to math and science)
  • He attacked Libya to "stop a genocide" but did not stop a "worse one" in Syria.
  • He supported the removal of 'American ally Mubarak' but won't support protesters in Iran.
  • He won't stop Iranian nukes--but wants to reduce American nukes "making America vulnerable."
  • Israel ... what can you say?
So he delves into Obama's autobiography, Dreams From My Father, which he dissects (starting with a child psychologist and then conducting some interviews following Obama's time-line). He interviews people who knew the Obama family, Obama's Kenyan brother, and so on. He concludes that Obama, trying to gain the approval of his absent father, has followed his father's philosophy--to take his dream--of anti-colonialism. 

This, he concludes, is what drives Obama--in his book it is "The Roots of Obama's Rage."

D'Sousa keys in on the idea that Obama realized early on that if he were well mannered and not angry then people (whites) would like him. By "giving whites his approval" he would get things--ultimately? Their vote. D'Sousa feels this is more or less 'a mask' ("he had to hide major elements of his past.") This made Obama "invisible" or at least unquestioned--so long as he played his role as the unifier he would never be questioned.

His "Founding Fathers" were one of the things he hid:
  • Frank Marshall Davis, a communist poet
  • William Ayers (who, like Osama, tried to blow up the Pentagon)
  • Edwin Said--representative to the PLO.
  • Roberto Unger, a Harvard law professor and socialist. He was too radical for Brazil--but he fits right in at Harvard. They stayed in close contact until the presidential election. Unger refused interviews because he knew it'd leave a mark.
  • Jeramiah Wright ("God Damn America"). A surrogate father. He offered Wright 150k to shut up and when that failed, Obama came himself ... and Obama chastised Wright for "having to tell the truth" (according to Wright). D'Sousa notes that Obama changed the conversation from whether or not America is the most evil country in the world into having a lecture on racial relations. "We fell for it" notes D'Sousa.
The anti-colonial dreams explain everything:
  • The bust? Churchill was a colonialist.
  • NASA? Tear down the symbol of American greatness.
  • The Falklands? The last remnants of the British empire.
  • Drilling restrictions? Enrich the colonized at the expense of the colonizer.
The answer to every question? Attack the rich. I'm sure D'Sousa is pointing at the Fiscal Cliff going "See!? SEE!?"

D'Sousa winds down with people saying that the book the movie is based on sucks for a variety of reasons but with little substance. D'Sousa films himself explaining things and he makes three predictions:
  1. Nothing significant to stop Iran from getting bombs.
  2. Spend money as though the deficit doesn't matter
  3. If forced to stop the deficit he will cut the military and raise taxes.
This will tell us what America will look like in 2016 if he is re-elected (no nukes, huge debts, expanded Islam across the Middle East, possibly swamping Israel, and chanting children in front of an Obama icon).

The Politics of Obama 2016
Despite the persistent narrative that Obama "has never been vetted" I suspect that Obama has been vetted more than any president in modern history. Consider that tons of money have been spent going after his birth certificate, digging into his past, looking for videos, and so on. Andrew Brietbart, although now dead, did everything he could to find "the piece of dirt that would bring him down." Trump has offered bounties and so on. D'Sousa has run around interviewing everyone he could get his hands on and got a fair number of people. Old pictures have been dug up (Dreams From My REAL Father) and analyzed.

The problem is that none of the discoveries have had the impact that the narrative requires (wholesale disavowal of Obama and his resignation or defeat). When this happens the conclusion is that the message hasn't penetrated rather than that it has been denied (studies show it actually turns people off--but no one wants to hear that). It's also the case that the mainstream media hasn't given the narrative (that Obama for whatever reason is trying to destroy America and is a communist as proven by his affiliations and upbringing) much credence.

This is seen mostly as suppression but it ignores the fact that the media or, perhaps just "most people," don't find that credible or all that interesting. 

I bet a majority of the 2008 voters knew who Reverend Wright was--it's no secret. Dreams From My Father sold through the roof and I bet about half or a quarter of those millions of people who bought it know who Ayers and Rezko were. D'Sousa, himself, notes that the theories that Obama's a Kenyan or Muslim don't "work" but thinks his far more academic approach explains everything Obama is doing and is the only thing that explains it.

It isn't. This is the classic conspiracy-theory connect-the-dots approach where you take the dots above and when you "connect them" (using the anti-colonial founding-father's approach) a picture emerges: Obama is trying to wreck America! The problem is that the approach assumes the answer when you begin it (this also works for Obama is a Kenyan or a Muslim--or his dad was really a communist poet and he had a nose job to hide it). It's just that those last three fail to convince D'Sousa--so he (and a lot of other people) reject them. Ultimately the framework you use to connect the dots will convince those who either are (a) credible (see 9/11 Truther videos) or (b) already believe / want to believe.

So let's see ...

Churchill Or Bust
The bust was returned when the loan of it was over (when Bush left). The white house has a copy--which is on display. Anti-Colonialism or housekeeping? There's no way to tell but Ockham's Razor suggest that after keeping his entire ploy a secret so expertly and for so long Obama would have to be making a newbie mistake to telegraph it by returning the bust which "so clearly" gives him away.

Falklands Fiasco
Obama was decidedly neutral:
U.S. President Barack Obama's administration is keen not to be taking sides between all of Latin America and close ally Britain. U.S. officials said they would reiterate at the meeting the Falklands were a bilateral issue that needed to be tackled by Argentina and Britain.
Could it be anti-colonialism? Or could it be a hairball that Obama didn't want to get caught in? No way to tell--but despite the massive outcry from conservative blogs (the first page of Google was all conservative blogs) it appears that the administration's stance ruffled few feathers internationally.

The Keystone Kill and Colombian Drilling
While the 10's-of-thousands-of-jobs number is in question and drilling at home vs. abroad ... off shore, which is where D'Sousa comes down, has a certain issue in contemporary America (the Deep Water Horizon--remember that?) the easy answer here is that Obama's environmental lobby hammered he fuck out of him and he threw them a bone. The Keystone was definitely that--offshore drilling Not In My Back Yard is also easily explicable given the gulf of Mexico disaster. You don't need deep psychological theories.

NASA's Outreach
I had to Google it in the first place and I'm not convinced this is anything more than generic Muslim outreach. The idea that NASA is being diminished or that Obama "changed their mission" (as suggested) is nonsense. Maybe someone can explain it to me?

Libya vs. Syria
D'Sousa can't understand why Obama would get involved in Libya but not Syria. Apparently he hasn't been paying attention (or, more accurately, he thinks his viewers have not been paying attention). America's involvement in Libya came with unprecedented international support including NATO, the Arab League, and no one in the UN stopping it. No one liked Kadaffi. Syria is a whole different story entirely. Going in there would be a massive international incident--and would be vetoed by the Russians so there goes the UN. Plus Libya and Syria are two entirely different animals when it comes to their defenses and capabilities. It is easier to assume that Obama (or Europe--or whoever) would like to stop both genocides but the planets aligned for Libya and will not for Syria.

Iran vs. Egypt
Again, D'Sousa seems to think his viewers haven't been keeping up with current events. In Egypt we had to withdraw our support after the uprising was successful. You remember those American drones and fighter planes over Egypt sweeping Mubarak out of power? Me neither--apparently D'Sousa does though even though that never happened. In Iran the uprising was quelled. Obama did take an approach of making sure that the electronic tools for the resistance to organize stayed well in hand. He avoided "regime change" which would likely not have been welcome by most of the Iranian populace (even if a small number of student intellectuals would have liked it). Obama's top priority on intervention seems to be "avoid blow-back."

As for 'the bomb'? The right thinks Obama dragged his heels over the crippling sanctions (and that Obama watered down the sanctions) that have hit the hell out of the Iranian economy. Make no mistake: unlike the earlier sanctions, these are military grade restrictions that isolate Iran's central bank. They are an act of war and being careful with them is required. D'Sousa has also apparently never heard of Stuxnet--the super-cyber-virus that crippled Iran's nuclear centrifugal and was developed by America (apparently with the help of Israel). We know this happened because the Obama administration leaked it (not like we didn't know before: no one else really could do that). D'Sousa may not have heard of Stuxnet--it was classified after all--but he certainly must have heard the right-wing outcry over the "traitorous leaks" that were making the Obama white house look good and proactive. You'd at least think he'd have heard of those, right?

Maybe funding Iron Dome counts for something? Nah.

The Iconography of Obama 2016
This has gotten long--but since I'm here, I want to look at the construction of Obama 2016 (don't worry, I know I've lost my audience by now). You've already seen the poster: the flag is reversed and tarnished. Most right-wing reviews find it remarkably evenhanded. I guess lefties find Michael Moore remarkably evenhanded: I think it wears its bias on it's sleeve.

Love Him. Hate Him. You Don't Know Him
The above is the tag-line for the movie and it's making the case to potential viewers that this will fill in gaps they have in their knowledge of Obama. This is illustrated early on: Here is the Obama Question-Mark sequence. It's a time-line of presidents showing "what we know:"

My problem here is that while there are a few facts for each person about their past offices, their education, their date of birth, and former jobs, we have exactly the same information about Obama ... except the place of birth. I guess. Okay. What are all those question-marks? Well, they're the internal motivation that Obama supposedly has, I guess--and his "founding fathers." Considering that we all know who almost all those guys are (if you read Dreams From My Father you can get the Frank Marshall Davis connection if you read carefully) I can't say this is really all that hidden.

Sleight Of Hand
Early on, D'Sousa is recounting his debate in college with Jesse Jackson. He asks Jackson to point out the racism that will keep him down. Jackson says it's gone underground. D'Sousa then shows us a visual to make his point: look at both his hand and Jacksons'--same color--so you can't tell the difference! No one would treat them differently!!
They Could Be Twins, I Tell You
He's Played By Divito, Right?
The bald suggestion that Indian immigrants are treated socially the same as American blacks is shocking on the face of it (the history of the Indian Slave-Trade could fill volumes, no? And I don't mean Native Americans). The use of the generally lighter palm of the hand is ... tricky. See what I did there?

The Union Of The Snake
When D'Sousa touches on ObamaCare, which he does only briefly, he holds that it is placing medical care under government control. Reason Magazine begs to differ:
The theme of Obama's radical anti-Americanism is even less useful in explaining what has been (so far) his most poisonous legacy: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009 (a.k.a. Obamacare), which indentures the people not to any politburo or warlord but to insurance companies. The act has now been deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court. Mitt Romney, Obama's opponent in the coming election, pioneered the individual mandate that forms the core of Obamacare while he was governor of Massachusetts. Obamacare (treated very briefly in the film) in fact argues against D'Souza's biographical thesis: As a candidate Obama opposed the individual mandate, and nothing from Ayers or Barack Obama, Sr. suggests any source for this cockamamie scheme. The awfulness of Obamacare is not that it is radical but that it is precisely in the middle of the contemporary mainstream.
But if D'Sousa doesn't like it--and doesn't want you to like it--all you have to do is see the quick-cut of the medical caduceus morphing just before the scene changes:
Hissssss ... 
A final note is on the title flag. It's rotated 90-degrees so that the bars go up and down--like prison bars and is almost inverted: a signal of "distress." The flag itself has been damaged (perhaps by Obama)? It is partially blackened--maybe burned. This is D'Sousa's prediction for 2016 if Obama is elected--a demoralized, imprisoned country. Although he has the Love-Him-or-Hate-Him tag line, the cover-image of the movie lets you know which side you're going to be watching.

Just as we were asked to believe that the invasion of Iraq was "Bush's daddy issues" we are asked to buy into the pop-psychology of the making of Obama. There's very little proof for this (D'Sousa's predictions indicate that he was paying attention to the sequester and thought you were not--and that he's hoping you don't credit Obama with a crafty, next-gen, cyber-warfare solution to a tough problem that even Romney couldn't give an answer to in the debate). Either you already believe it (or are 9/11 credible) or you do not.

The movie, however, is very well made. D'Sousa is likable. He's smart--he narrates well. The color-pallet is vivid and the narrative is strung together well. It isn't the amateur-hour flailing of Dreams From My REAL Father--it's better than that. Lot's better. While it may or may not convince, if you really dislike Obama you will like it. If you are prepared to accept that he was mentored by radical communists and holds those beliefs you should rent it. Or get it from Netflix. Either way.

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