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Dinesh D'Souza: The Right Enemies, But The Wrong Thesis
The press has gone berserk with rage at Forbes for running a cover story by conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza,[email him] How He Thinks, summarizing the argument of his upcoming book, The Roots of Obama's Rage. For example, Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz [Email him]writes:
"Dinesh D'Souza has drawn a torrent of criticism with a Forbes cover story that accuses President Obama of adopting 'the cause of anti-colonialism' from his Kenyan father. But while most detractors focus on the author—and Newt Gingrich, who embraced the critique—the White House is aiming its ammunition at the business magazine."[White House rips Forbes over Obama cover story, September 17, 2010]
In other words: How dare anyone ask questions about Barack Obama's background! We sure didn't ask any while he was running for President!
Kurtz scoffs at the idea that the President could have absorbed any of his father's political leanings. He declares:
"The facts are also these: Obama Sr. abandoned the family when his son was 2, and the future president saw his father only one more time, during a visit in Hawaii when he was 10. Obama Sr. died in 1982."
Yet Obama Jr. entitled his 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father. In it, he effused:
"It was into my father's image, the black man, son of Africa, that I'd packed all the attributes I sought in myself, the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, DuBois and Mandela. … My father's voice had nevertheless remained untainted, inspiring, rebuking, granting or withholding approval. You do not work hard enough, Barry. You must help in your people's struggle. Wake up, black man!"
Obama's autobiography explains, at length, how his mother burnished his father's image as a role model for him during all the years that her marriage to her Indonesian second husband was collapsing.
Obama has sold a total of 6.6 million copies of his two books. (And our hardworking President will have a children's book in stores everywhere in time for the Christmas shopping season! Don't forget to pick up a copy, all you grandparents who really want your grandchildren to have a sad Christmas.)
But probably few people have actually finished Dreams. It's written in an elegantly soporific style ideal for a high-class politician who doesn't want anything pithy enough to be used in a soundbite against him.
Kurtz eventually admits:
"D'Souza says his thinking about Obama's influences draws heavily from the president's memoir, Dreams from My Father. But that book describes a young man's struggle to understand his African roots and the father he never really knew, and offers a largely critical portrait of the Harvard-educated man who left his family."
If Kurtz had actually read Dreams, he would know that the book is critical of the father for his many personal failings—not his ideology.
Obama Jr. came to realize, in his mid-20s, after he was already established on his political path, that his father's drunkenness, polygamy, and abrasiveness had kept him from achieving his dreams of political power.
The media elite's outrage of the MSM at D'Souza is unsurprising. After all, the safest way to keep the public from learning anything about Obama's life is to not know anything yourself.
That's the good news. The bad news: D'Souza's article, and what's available of his book online at Amazon.com (it comes out October 5), aren't terribly impressive.
The Roots of Obama's Rage is a silly title for a book about a man whose emotional tonality ranges from gracious condescension to wounded amour propre. More accurate, yet equally alliterative, would have been The Roots of Obama's Resentment
D'Souza churns out books too frequently. (This is his 12th). And in his haste, he's developed a bit of a reputation for sometimes…neglecting to give full credit to his sources.
D'Souza's most substantial book, 1995's The End of Racism, owes much to Jared Taylor's groundbreaking 1992 book Paved with Good Intentions—as Peter Brimelow politely pointed out in the (pre-purge) National Review (He Flinched, November 27, 1995).
But D'Souza was not merely deceptive about how intellectually indebted he was to Taylor—he even smeared Taylor in The End of Racism as a bad guy, the kind of dangerous white extremist from whom D'Souza's moderate realism would protect everyone. (Just so readers would know what to think, D'Souza helpfully described the famously handsome Taylor as "gaunt."))
In his latest book, D'Souza hasn't actually attacked his most important sources. He's just avoided mentioning them. Which is unfortunate, since his sources tend to be more sophisticated thinkers than he is.
Most notably, the central piece of evidence in The Roots of Obama's Rage for D'Souza's theory about Obama Sr.'s influence is his 1965 article, Problems Facing Our Socialism, which criticizes the influential Sessional Paper No. 10. by Tom Mboya, a labor leader who was financed by the anticommunist AFL-CIO. Mboya had called for capitalism (under regulation) and colorblind treatment of white and Indian-owned businesses in Kenya.
D'Souza writes in Forbes:
"Obama Sr. was an economist, and in 1965 he published an important article in the East Africa Journal called 'Problems Facing Our Socialism.' … Remarkably, President Obama, who knows his father's history very well, has never mentioned his father's article. Even more remarkably, there has been virtually no reporting on a document that seems directly relevant to what the junior Obama is doing in the White House."
This important historical document wasn't online until April 2008, when libertarian blogger Greg Ransom (n.b. not the MSM) obtained a copy of Obama Sr.'s article from the dusty stacks of the UCLA library. Ransom's April 7, 2008 blog post for the Ludwig von Mises Institute introducing his discovery, Obama Hid His Father's Socialism from Readers, reads unmistakably like a first draft for D'Souza:
"There's a big mystery at the heart of Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. What was Barack Obama doing seeking out Marxist professors in college? Why did Obama choose a Communist Party USA member as his socio-political counselor in high school? Why was he spending his time studying neocolonialism and the writings of Frantz Fanon, the pro-violence author of 'the Communist Manifesto of neocolonialism,' in college? Why did he take time out from his studies at Columbia to attend socialist conferences at Cooper Union?"[Links added]
"… one thing is not left a mystery, the fact that Barack Obama organized his life on the ideals given to him by his Kenyan father. Obama tells us, 'All of my life, I carried a single image of my father, one that I ... tried to take as my own.' (p. 220) And what was that image? It was 'the father of my dreams, the man in my mother's stories, full of high-blown ideals.' (p. 278) …
"So we know that his father's ideals were a driving force in his life, but the one thing that Obama does not give us are the contents of those ideals."
But as far as I can tell from searching on Amazon's online copy of The Roots of Obama's Rage, the name "Ransom" doesn't appear in D'Souza's book.
It's perfectly fine for D'Souza to profit off Ransom's enterprise. But it would have been only polite to mention him.
What's new in D'Souza's interpretation of Obama Sr.'s ideology is more distracting than insightful.
In his book jacket copy, D'Souza attempts to separate himself from the main interpretations previously put forward of Obama Sr.'s influence. Without mentioning Ransom's name, D'Souza denies his analysis by claiming that Obama
"…is not motivated by the socialist or Marxist propaganda that hypnotized a whole generation of wooly–minded academics and condescending liberals—those concepts also leave him cold."
D'Souza also attacks the interpretation put forward in New Yorker editor David Remnick's 2010 worshipful biography of Obama, The Bridge, which paralleled my less awestruck 2008 reader's guide to Obama's autobiography, America's Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama's "Story of Race and Inheritance". To Remnick and myself, Obama's story is, indeed, one of Race and Inheritance. Obama's struggle up through his disheartening loss to former Black Panther Bobby Rush in the 2000 Democratic House primary was to prove himself "black enough" to be a leader of blacks, as his father had planned to be in Kenya.
(D'Souza's book parallels my numerous Obama articles and my book in quite a few places, including numerous shared quotes. But he doesn't mention my name either, so evidently he figured it all out by himself. In contrast, he absolutely couldn't have figured out Problems Facing Our Socialism without Ransom's work. That's the more indisputable, and reprehensible, omission.)
In contrast, D'Souza asserts:
"[Obama] is not motivated by the civil rights struggles of African Americans in the 1960s—those battles leave him wholly untouched."
But Obama says over and over in Dreams from My Father that he is indeed deeply moved by the civil rights epic. How can we resolve this conflict?
Well, D'Souza in his Forbes article explains that he's interpreting the terms "civil rights" and "race" as not having anything to do with, you know, race. Instead, like Humpty-Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland, D'Souza is using "civil rights" to mean "opposition to affirmative action". (Similarly, D'Souza's The End of Racism thesis depended on the pointless semantic trick of defining "racism" only as the scientific study of racial differences.)
"Perhaps, then, Obama shares Martin Luther King's dream of a color-blind society. The President has benefited from that dream; he campaigned as a nonracial candidate, and many Americans voted for him because he represents the color-blind ideal. Even so, King's dream is not Obama's: The President never champions the idea of color-blindness or race-neutrality. This inaction is not merely tactical; the race issue simply isn't what drives Obama."
Needless to say, D'Souza here puts far too much emphasis on that lone King quote about "the content of our character" that conservatives have used for the last two decades to suggest that King opposed affirmative action. But it is time to face the plain truth: King was just against discrimination against blacks. He favored discrimination for blacks. There's no difference, other than a few decades' history, between King's and Obama's advocacy of racial preferences for blacks.
This may seem sacrilegious, but if King had not been assassinated in 1968, his subsequent career probably would not have been all that different from that of his most talented disciple, Jesse Jackson. The Rev. Jackson is a capable man who responded rationally to powerful incentives. He did what he had to do to be the leader of black America.
In his book, D'Souza writes, more reasonably:
"Obama's central concern wasn't race but power … Obama seems to have recognized that race was now a source of power in American society. Somehow whites have been shamed by the nation's past into conceding to blacks a kind of unquestioned moral superiority."
D'Souza's jacket copy gets to his thesis:
"What really motivates Barack Obama is an inherited rage—an often masked, but profound rage that comes from his African father; an anticolonialist rage against Western dominance, and most especially against the wealth and power of the very nation Barack Obama now leads. "
But this is just too simplistic. Obviously, anticolonialism is part of Obama's dreams from his father, as filtered through his mother's left-romantic disposition. (In his memoir, for example, Obama explains how her Indonesian second husband Lolo had wooed her with stories about the fight against colonialism after WWII. She fell out of love with Lolo as he came to like his neocolonial job working for an American oil company as a go-between to his brother-in-law high up in the national oil company.)
But for all the exoticism of his background, Obama was never terribly internationally oriented. (He doesn't speak a foreign language). His memoir shows him as working hard to overcome his completely nonblack upbringing to become "black enough" to be an African-American leader. He turned his back on international affairs when he moved to Chicago in 1985 to get in on the racial enmity of the "Council Wars" between black mayor Harold Washington and white alderman Fast Eddie Vrdolyak. Chicago politics is local. Period.
Moreover, the Obama family's anticolonialism has always been race-based. Thus Obama has never shown much interest in protesting, say, Chinese colonization of Tibet. The Dalai Lama's name doesn't come up in Dreams. The name of Gandhi, the most famous anticolonial leader of the 20th Century, is used merely once, as a sort of joke. In contrast, Dreams reverently invokes Malcolm X's name 17 times.
Even Obama Sr.'s 1965 article was less truly socialist than extremely racial. He was annoyed by how much business in Kenya was owned by Brits and Indians. He favored Marxist outcomes not for the sake of Marxism, but because government control of the economy was most convenient for taking power and wealth from white and Asian businesses and giving it to blacks, especially to blacks of Obama Sr.'s tiny class of foreign-educated black intellectuals.
Furthermore, anticolonialism wasn't exactly the same as anti-Americanism in the ex-colonies with which the Obama family was most familiar.
The U.S. had actually ended colonialism in the East Indies in 1949 by threatening to cut off Marshall Plan aid to the Netherlands unless the Dutch freed Indonesia. In Kenya, the U.S. played an anticolonial role due to Washington's mild rivalry with London. The British had come to an agreement with the largest tribe, the Kikuyu, to safeguard British commercial interests after independence. So, the Americans competed with the Soviets for the support of Obama Sr.'s tribe, the Luo. The prosperous and politically well-connected Obama clan maintained connections both with Moscow's man, Oginga Odinga (whose son Raila became Prime Minister in 2008, shortly after asserting, probably falsely, that he was Obama's first cousin), and Washington's man, Tom Mboya, who flew Obama Sr. to Hawaii on the America-funded Tom Mboya Airlift.
Remarkably, Obama Sr. claimed to have been the chief witness for the prosecution at the trial of the Kikuyu hitman who assassinated Mboya in 1969—the most traumatic event in the first generation of Kenyan independence.
Obama doesn't mention in Dreams his father's claim that his political troubles began with his taking the witness stand against the Kikuyu inner circle's hired gun. Did Obama Jr. stay silent out of skepticism or out of prudence?
You might think that somebody would have publicly asked Obama about this. But the American press has shown little interest.
(As an aside, I am intrigued by the fact everybody in Obama's life, not just Lolo, made their livings on the ragged coattails of Imperial America, Inc. Obama's mother worked at the American Embassy, where she got to know lots of CIA men, then went on to the Ford Foundation and other Establishment fellow travelers of American foreign policy. His father worked for an American oil company; then was an Mboya man. Obama Jr.'s one corporate job, where he claimed to feel "like a spy behind enemy lines," was as a copyeditor for Business International, which has admitted to sometimes fronting for CIA agents. Obama's parents were the kind of well-educated, non-Communist leftists that American Cold War institutions, such as the CIA, found handy. What does this tell us about Obama? I don't know. But perhaps somebody could ask him about it?
Everybody, including D'Souza, wants an esoteric explanation of the secret Obama: He transcends race; he wasn't born in America; he's a practicing Muslim; he's a socialist; he can't write a word and is a tool of Weatherman Bill Ayers; his father was Communist Frank Marshall Davis; his father was Malcolm X; the Obama family are Arabs. Now he's an anticolonialist.
I'm impatient with all this. For three and a half years, in contrast, I've argued that the key to both Obama's life and to his election as President is totally obvious.
Yes, Obama is a man of the Left. But what he is most importantly, and most insistently, is a "Race Man"—motivated by the fact of being black (in his case, half black) in America. As the subtitle of his autobiography helpfully explains, his is truly "A Story Of Race And Inheritance."
[Steve Sailer (email
movie critic for
The American Conservative.
features his daily blog. His new book,
AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S
"STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is
[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]