I went to see 2016: Obama’s America. Dinesh D’Souza wrote, stars in, directed, narrates, and did the original research for it. If we look at this from the point of view of its success as a documentary, I think it is effective. It is making money in theaters. This is amazing for a documentary. It is a campaign year documentary, and it is a good one.
It is also dead wrong. That is because it misses the fundamental political fact of the last dozen years: the Obama Administration is the operational successor of the Bush Administration. In Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Guantanamo, on Wall Street, Barack Obama is George W. Bush in blackface. Obama is the star of a twenty-first century minstrel show.
This fact has been deliberately ignored for almost four years by both the neoconservative Right and the grin-and-bear-it Left. Neither side will admit what I regard as the fundamental fact of this documentary. It is a long whitewash of the policies of George W. Bush.
THE ON-BUDGET DEFICIT
If you understand this early, you can see it in what is by far the best section of the movie. It appears at the end. It is an interview with the ever-eloquent David Walker, who resigned in 2008 from his job as Comptroller General — senior accountant — of the United States.
This date is crucial: the last year of the Bush Administration.
I need to make three observations. First, the deficit is vastly worse than the movie portrays. The movie sticks with the non-issue: the on-budget debt of $15 trillion, which is chump change, while never mentioning the central problem: the $222 trillion present value of the unfunded liabilities of the off-budget deficit, meaning the deficits of politically sacrosanct Social Security and Medicare. This is the heart of the federal government’s highly entertaining Punch and Judy show over the deficit, with Paul Ryan as Punch and Obama cross-dressing as Judy.
Second, Walker has spent years warning the public about the unsustainable increase of the on-budget federal debt. He was eloquent on camera. But, central to that presentation, is the fact that he blamed George W. Bush as much as he blamed Obama. He says on-camera that the turning point on the deficit began with Bush’s presidency. He showed that we are headed for a fiscal disaster, and it may overtake us during the presidency of whoever is elected in 2016.
In terms of the on-budget deficit, Obama’s Administration is an extension of Bush’s. Miss this, and you miss the whitewash. This documentary is an implicit whitewash. It relies on an assumption, namely, that we are not dealing in 2012 with a single political administration, which began in January 2001. Sadly, we are.
The key to understanding this is Timothy Geithner, who was the president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank (privately owned) in 2008, and is the Secretary of the Treasury now. He does not appear in the documentary.
Third, neither Walker nor D’Souza mentions on-screen what should be the obvious Constitutional fact, namely, that it is the Congress that legally initiates all spending bills, and it is the House of Representatives that holds the hammer constitutionally. There was not one word in the movie about the Congress of the United States as being constitutionally in authority over the budget of the United States government. How in the world could anyone make a documentary that focuses at the very end on the central problem that the country faces, and then try to pin the tail on Obama as the donkey?
We are living in a bipartisan, congressionally mandated, slow-motion train wreck. The Congress of the United States could stop Obama today as easily as it could have stopped Bush. Congress is not interested in stopping the deficit; it is interested in avoiding all responsibility for the annual $1.2 trillion on budget disaster that is the federal budgetary process.
The fiscal killer of killers in Bush’s Administration was never mentioned: the prescription drug law that Bush rammed through Congress in 2003. It added at least $8.7 trillion to the unfunded liability of Medicare. Yet it is never mentioned in the documentary. Instead, the documentary focuses on Obamacare, whose burden is mainly on the private sector and actually relieves some of the Medicare payments. In any case, that law was really Pelosicare. She was the ramrod. The documentary has one brief segment on her. It skips the point: bad as that law is, she was far more responsible for it than he was.
A related thing that bothers me intensely is the fact that the documentary tries to pin the bad economy on Obama. The bad economy should be pinned on Alan Greenspan, with considerable help from his successor.
To suggest that the President of the United States has the power to make the economy worse to imply that he also has the power to make the economy terrible. He has limited power either way, unless he drags us into a war. Bush dragged us into two wars.
Ron Paul always was right for 36 years in not pointing to the President as the main economic problem, but rather the Federal Reserve System. So, any documentary that does not go after the Federal Reserve when it talks about economic problems, but blames the President instead, and also ignores Congress, is doing the general public an enormous disservice. It keeps the Federal Reserve in the background in the thinking of the viewers, when the Federal Reserve ought to be in the foreground, with the presidency in the background. This is basic economics. D’Souza does not know what he is talking about with respect to economics.
If a man goes to church every week, and he sits under the same pastor for 20 years, then we can assume that he agrees with the pastor. For me, the fundamental verifiable historical fact of Obama is that he put up with Jeremiah Wright for 20 years. If you subject yourself to somebody’s preaching for a long period of time, you probably think the way he thinks. When he is a screaming preacher, as Wright is, you leave if you do not like what he is preaching. If you don’t like it, then you don’t think much about church, because you’re listening to something you can’t stand, week after week, for 20 years. I don’t think people do that. So, if you are going to try to figure out what Obama is really all about, you probably ought to listen to a few dozen sermons by Jeremiah Wright. His sermons are racist to the core. It is liberation theology from start to finish. It is left-wing to the core.
The documentary did give some time to Wright, but it did not emphasize the connection as strongly as it should have. When you are dealing with a man who is an enigma, but he submits to the preaching in the authority of another man for 20 years, and that man’s ministry is public, then you start with the preacher, not with some strange thesis about how Barack Obama’s father, whom he met only once, somehow influenced his thinking. I do not understand D’Souza’s methodology as an historian. Start with what you know, not with a thesis for which there is little documentary evidence.
By the way, he gives Obama a “pass” on the birth certificate issue. He says that Obama was born in Hawaii.
So, all things considered, I did not think much of the documentary. It is artistically pretty good, and it gets its neoconservative message across to the assembled choir. But on the issues that really matter, it is either wrong-headed or silent. On foreign policy, it is a defense of the neoconservatives’ version of Middle Eastern foreign policy. He devotes a lot of time interviewing Daniel Pipes. Pipes is a major proponent of the neoconservatives’ interventionist Middle Eastern policy. On the real federal deficit — unfunded liabilities — it is silent. On the on-budget deficit, it ignores Bush and Congress. The deficit is a bipartisan disaster. To suggest otherwise is not just misleading, it is deceptive. It raises hope where there is none. “If only we will not re-elect Obama!” On the deficits — on-budget and off-budget — it makes not a whit of difference. There will be a Great Default.
He fails to pursue the obvious — the influence Jeremiah Wright — while he promotes his own peculiar thesis of Obama as an anti-colonialist son of his absent father. I kept thinking, “Anti-colonialist? If only it were true. If only his foreign policy were not an extension of Bush’s.”
My suggestion: wait for the DVD.
For D’Souza’s views on foreign policy, where I take off the kid gloves, read the full review. Click the link.