One of the intriguing things about this election year is the fact that a documentary that focuses on Barack Obama’s failures as a President is something of a box-office hit (as documentaries go). It is titled 2016: Obama’s America and it was made at a cost of $6.2 million by a conservative scholar by the name of Denesh D’Souza. The film is based on D’Souza’s book The Roots of Obama’s Rage.
Now we know how difficult it is to get the facts regarding a politician — any politician. This is especially true in an election year. It has become commonplace for those marketing their candidates to simply state a half-truth or a downright lie and let the chips fall where they may. By the time the truth comes out the damage is done and the candidate has been elected. And marketers have discovered that if they repeat something often enough people take it to be the truth. I think they learned that from Joseph Goebbels. We are seeing this happen at the Republican National Convention and we will see it again when the Democrats convene. Usually in such cases what happens is the candidate lied about spends a great deal of time and money trying to disprove the allegations and forgets to present his or her point of view on the issues — or he starts throwing mud of his own. In either case it is the voters who lose out.
Ignoring the falsehoods and distortions that are filling the air at the NRC, let’s take the case of D’Souza’s film where there is apparently a nest of lies and half-truths amid the facts about Obama’s early life and his presidency — focusing especially on Obama’s putative anti-colonialism and his “excessive” sympathy for the underprivileged. “Fact Check” on Yahoo News recently pointed out some of the problems with the film:
In Kenya, D’Souza interviews Philip Ochieng, a lifelong friend of the president’s father, who claims the elder Obama was “totally anti-colonial.” . . . D’Souza seems to suggest that if a onetime friend of Obama’s late father holds those opinions, so too must the president himself.
D’Souza then goes through a list of actions Obama has taken as president to support his thesis. Many of them don’t hold water:
— D’Souza rightly argues that the national debt has risen to $16 trillion under Obama. But he never mentions the explosion of debt that occurred under Obama’s predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, nor the 2008 global financial crisis that provoked a shock to the U.S. economy.
— D’Souza says Obama is “weirdly sympathetic to Muslim jihadists” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He does not mention that Obama ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and the drone strikes that have killed dozens of terrorists in the region.
—D’Souza wrongly claims that Obama wants to return control of the Falkland Islands from Britain to Argentina. The U.S. refused in April to endorse a final declaration on Argentina’s claim to the islands at the Summit of the Americas, provoking criticism from other Latin American nations.
—D’Souza says Obama has “done nothing” to impede Iran’s nuclear ambitions, despite the severe trade and economic sanctions his administration has imposed on Iran to halt its suspected nuclear program. Obama opposes a near-term military strike on Iran, either by the U.S. or Israel, although he says the U.S. will never tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.
Now whether or not we can trust the “fact check” article itself remains a chronic problem, though it does promise to correct misstatements on both sides of the political aisle. At some point we must simply have faith that the words we read are true. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, what we must do is think about what is written and judge it against what we know to be the case and what seems plausible. Certainty is simply not available to us.
But in the end, the truth may not matter, sad to say. People generally believe what they want to believe and those who will be persuaded by this documentary almost certainly already have their minds made up about this president and his failures. As a good friend of mine said in a comment on an earlier blog: “It seems as though many on the [political] right are only looking for passionate belief and see logic, evidence and critical thinking as being fundamentally opposed to the passionate belief they desire. . . They prefer that people just say what they believe and say it with lots of conviction; be loud and be proud. The louder one talks, apparently, the more truthfully one speaks.” This may well be true of all of us to a degree. So we shouldn’t despair: we who write for public consumption know full well that we preach to the choir. Few of us are as open to the antithesis as we should be if this were the best of all possible worlds and we were seriously interested in a balanced perspective.