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The Roots of Lunacy

How not to understand Obama

Oct 25, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 06 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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It’s in this light that the anti-Obama hysteria of recent months should be seen. Among professionals, political loyalties and hates are as changeable as the weather, bearing no relation to the plain evidence that normal people try to rely on. Taking the long view means never taking them seriously. Lucky for us, the hysterics make it so easy not to take them seriously. 

On the evidence of his new book, we can’t be sure if Dinesh D’Souza is a hysteric or a cynic. Newt Gingrich, for his part, thinks D’Souza is a visionary, and he’s been praising the visionary and his book with the patented Gingrichian intensity. D’Souza is the possessor of a “stunning insight,” Gingrich said recently, in an interview with National Review Online’s Robert Costa. This insight is “the most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama,” Gingrich continued, while poor Costa looked for a table to duck under. “Only if you understand Kenyan, anticolonial behavior can you piece together [Obama’s actions]. That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”

As a professional partisan with a Ph.D., Newt Gingrich will take anything seriously if it suits his immediate purpose and has the necessary intellectual pretensions (whatever happened to the Tofflers anyway?). D’Souza’s thesis, with its exoticism (Kenya) and its scholarly tags (anticolonial behavior), looks tailor-made for the former speaker. The insight with which D’Souza has stunned him is purely abstract and syllogistic: (1) Barack Obama really admired his father, Barack Obama Sr., and wanted to be like him; (2) Obama Sr. grew up in Kenya and became an anticolonial agitator; therefore (3) Obama Jr. wants to be an anticolonial agitator, too, and since he’s simultaneously president of the United States, he gets to be anticolonial in a very big way and drag us along with him. 

“The central tenets of [Obama Sr.’s] anticolonial ideology,” D’Souza writes, “are alive and well three decades later in the White House. .  .  . We are today living out the script for America and the world that was dreamt up not by Obama but by Obama’s father.” 

From that set of radical ideas flows every policy of Obama’s that has annoyed Republicans and confounded the public: the bank bailouts, the takeover of the auto industry, the huge fiscal stimulus, the health care bill, the hostility to the rich, the feckless approach to foreign affairs, even NASA’s budget cuts. D’Souza applies his insight with a clever simulation of the scientific method, insisting on his own clinical detachment at every step. Sometimes he sounds like a lab technician holding up a petri dish to a classroom of third-graders. “The best way to verify a theory is to test its explanatory power,” he writes, pedantically. “If the theory can account for Obama’s major policies and .  .  . also explain the little details about Obama, details that otherwise seem puzzling or mysterious, that would give our paradigm a degree of confirmation that very few comprehensive theories enjoy in politics.”

Readers will not be shocked that D’Souza’s paradigm easily passes D’Souza’s test, thanks to the author’s misstatements of fact, leaps in logic, and pointlessly elaborate argumentation. The misstatements range from the very small to the very large. As “further evidence that this anticolonial reading is on the right track,” he cites Obama’s press conference after the Gulf oil spill. 

“Time and again,” he writes, Obama “condemned ‘British Petroleum’—an interesting term since the company long ago changed its name to BP. Given our anticolonial theory, it’s no surprise that Obama wanted to remind Americans of what BP used to stand for.”

Right you are, Holmes! Except .  .  . I’ve read the transcript of the press conference, and Obama didn’t make a single reference to British Petroleum—a name which, in any event, is commonly used by many people of a certain age (including me) who are sworn enemies of anticolonialism. D’Souza makes many errors of this sort, citing facts that aren’t facts in support of an otherwise unsupported conclusion. He says that Obama, in his memoir Dreams from My Father, never mentions his father’s drunkenness. Obama mentions it often. Indeed, D’Souza misreads the entire memoir: Far from admiring his father and emulating him, Obama makes his disillusionment with his father one of the themes of his own life story. 

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