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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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And where facts are missing altogether, faulty reasoning bolsters the case. “Wonder why Obama went to Harvard?” D’Souza slyly asks. “Here is a clue: It is the leading academic institution in America. And here’s another: His father went there.” Forget that neither of these facts is a clue, technically. Surely the first assertion is enough to adequately answer the question without recourse to the second, which is simply gratuitous as well as conjectural. But D’Souza always sees absence of evidence as evidence of something or other.

Let’s linger at Harvard a moment longer. “At Harvard,” D’Souza writes, “his real mentor was Roberto Mangabeira Unger.” Unger is a brilliant crackpot who championed critical legal studies, a left-wing academic fad of the 1980s. I’ve never heard before that Unger served as the president’s mentor. How does D’Souza know it? “Obama took two of Unger’s courses,” he writes. Well, then. “Obama’s attraction to Unger’s work is obvious.” Obvious, but undemonstrated. “So what does Obama say about Unger in his speeches and writings? Nothing.” Aha! “Unger has simply disappeared from Obama’s official record, and not because his influence was minor; in fact, quite the opposite.” QED.

In this respect it’s worth mentioning the just-released Radical-in-Chief, a long, elaborately annotated study in which the writer Stanley Kurtz aims to prove that Obama is a socialist—a term that D’Souza, in his much less careful book, explicitly rejects in favor of “anticolonialist.” Yet Kurtz, in 485 pages tracing Obama’s intellectual geneology, never once mentions Unger. These guys have got to get on the same page.

Will this confusion—the uncertainty over whether Obama is an anticolonialist or a socialist, evil or merely deranged—unsettle the audience that D’Souza writes for? Probably not. A week after its release, The Roots of Obama’s Rage appeared at number four on the New York Times bestseller list. Buyers of partisan books know what they like, and D’Souza is happy to give it to them. Yet the most innocent among them, those readers not yet trained in the Pavlovian relationship between these authors and their eager customers, might want to consider how unnecessary D’Souza’s theory and its “explanatory power” are.

There is, indeed, a name for the beliefs that motivate President Obama, but it’s not anticolonialism; it’s not even socialism. It’s liberalism! 

Nearly everything that Obama has done as president, including the policies that D’Souza cites as proof of his inherited anticolonial ideology, would have been as eagerly pursued by President John Edwards or President John Kerry. And the points where they might differ—in the escalation of troops in Afghanistan, for example, or energetic education reform, or the push for nuclear power—mark Obama as more moderate than either of them. Come to that, many of the policies that D’Souza identifies as anticolonial were advanced by George W. Bush, who doesn’t (I’m guessing) have an anti-
colonialist bone in his body. Bush began the auto bailout, approved TARP, vastly increased federal spending, expanded entitlements, pushed through a large and probably unnecessary fiscal stimulus of his own, and often chided Americans for their “addiction” to foreign oil.

Trained as a young man by Jesuits, D’Souza must be familiar with the principle of Occam’s razor: The simplest explanation is always the best; if it fits the case at hand, there’s no need to go looking for more complicated theories. Yet there’s a cramp in the mind of the committed party hack, a terrible need to believe that one’s adversaries are more ominous or sinister than observable reality suggests. Thus Bill Clinton wasn’t merely an opportunist; he had to be a committed leftist and a criminal to boot. George W. Bush wasn’t merely a well-meaning, incompetent conservative; he had to be a Falangist. What Obama truly represents—unchecked liberalism, genus Americanus—is worrisome enough without dragging in the sad, gin-soaked carcass of his father or the hypnotic power of Roberto Mangabeira Unger.


Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and the author of Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College.


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