Dinesh D’Souza and Obama’s “Anticolonial” Ideology

Gene Healy of the Cato Institute recently wrote a harsh, but I think correct assessment of Dinesh D’Souza’s recent movie 2016, which purports to prove that the origins of Barack Obama’s leftism are to be found in the “anticolonialism” and socialism of his Kenyan father:

“2016″ grew out of conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza’s 2010 Forbes article, “How Obama Thinks,” which posited that dreams from the president’s Kenyan absentee father motivate everything Obama Jr. does.

“It may seem incredible,” D’Souza wrote, “to suggest that the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. is espoused by his son, the President of the United States.”

True enough: That theory wasn’t remotely credible when D’Souza advanced it in Forbes, and it’s even more ludicrous on the silver screen…..

The whole cinematic mess is the mirror image of Left-wing fascination with Skull and Bones, Haliburton and George W. Bush’s alleged Oedipal complex as explanations for the Iraq War. At least Michael Moore’s crackpot documentaries provide a few impish laughs. In “2016,” all the yuks are unintentional.

I wrote a more detailed critique of D’Souza back when he first proposed his theory in 2010. Later, I compared D’Souza’s interpretation of Obama with that of Princeton Professor Cornel West:

Last year, Dinesh D’Souza made waves by claiming that Barack Obama’s left-wing ideology and policies can be explained by his “anti-colonial” attitudes, traceable to his father’s Kenyan background…. This year, Cornel West claims that Obama’s racial background is the key to explaining why the president isn’t left-wing enough. West believes that it’s because Obama mixed-race background led him to have a “certain fear of free black men,” and to be more comfortable with “upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart.”

Both West and D’Souza err in assuming that there is something unusual about Obama’s policies that requires explanation based on his personal background. In reality, as I explained in my critique of D’Souza, Obama’s policies are largely what any liberal Democratic president would have done under similar circumstances. Had Hillary Clinton or John Edwards (sans sex scandal) won the 2008 election, they would have done most of the same things. Indeed, Obama’s most important policy initiative, the health care bill, is in large part based on a proposal that Hillary Clinton promoted in the 2008 primaries, at which time Obama harshly criticized it….

[T]his is another case of pundits overestimating the impact of the personal on the political. Most of what Obama has done is readily explicable by his partisan background and the political situation he finds himself in rather than by personal idiosyncracies. To the extent that his personal views are discernible, they seem very similar to those of other liberal intellectuals of his generation, both white and black.

In a weird way, critics like D’Souza and West have much in common with the enthusiastic Obama supporters who in 2008 believed that Obama represented a fundamental break with politics as we know it. Both groups assume that the president is a lot more special than he actually is.

UPDATE: I initially forgot to include a link to my post comparing Cornel West’s interpretation of Obama with D’Souza’s. I have now fixed that mistake above.