I was a little surprised at the petty, vindictive tone of Andrew Ferguson’s review of my book The Roots of Obama’s Rage. Even if I am wrong about Obama, and he is a conventional, all-American liberal, why adopt such abusive language toward a fellow conservative who is offering a fresh, original theory to help explain Obama’s motivation and policies? Obama himself acknowledges the enormous influence of his father in his autobiography Dreams from My Father. And the anti-colonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. does help to illuminate not only Obama’s domestic and foreign policy but also little details—such as Obama’s insistence on returning a Churchill bust from the White House—that no other theory can adequately explain.
Ferguson’s review basically ignores the evidence of the book and focuses on my alleged factual errors which aren't errors at all. Taking his cue from the left-wing hacks at Media Matters, Ferguson writes that Obama’s speech on the oil spill didn’t include the term “British Petroleum.” But Obama did use the phrase in his subsequent comments. If Ferguson had bothered to Google search the phrase "Obama and British Petroleum" he would see that there are a number of news sources, from the New York Times to the BBC to the London Independent, that report Obama did use the term. Obama’s own ambassador to Great Britain, Louis Susman, is quoted by the BBC saying Obama did use “British Petroleum” and has agreed not to say it any more. So on the one crucial error that Ferguson alleges, I am substantively right and he is substantively wrong.
Ferguson also faults me for trying to fit Obama's conventional liberal stances, such as "NASA's budget cuts," into an anti-colonial framework. But Ferguson knows full well that I wrote nothing about NASA's budget cuts. Rather, I focused on Obama's order to NASA chief Charles Bolden to change the mission of NASA into an outreach program to Muslims. As Bolden said about Obama, “He wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science and math and engineering.” As I argue in the book, this can hardly be explained as conventional liberal politics and is very nicely explained on anti-colonial grounds. Ferguson is deliberately distorting my argument to make it look silly.
I cannot recall a more dishonest review in recent times, and would not have expected it of THE WEEKLY STANDARD. My friends tell me I should not worry about Ferguson’s Lilliputian arrows. This book is my sixth New York Times bestseller and my biggest book yet. The book’s impact can be gauged from the intensity of White House attacks on it, and also from the indignation of liberals from Maureen Dowd to Jonathan Alter to Keith Olbermann. Leading conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh, Steve Forbes, Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich have lavishly praised the book. Interestingly, however, Gingrich's remark that The Roots of Obama’s Rage is “the most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama” seems to have rankled some lesser pundits on the right. What does Gingrich’s comment say about what they have been writing about Obama all this time? The implication is that these scribblers have completely missed the boat! Here we may have a clue to the roots of Ferguson's rage.
Best, Dinesh D’Souza
Andrew Ferguson responds:
On page 201 of his book, D’Souza refers to Charles Bolden’s widely quoted remark that President Obama wanted his NASA director “to reach out to the Muslim world.” In the next paragraph, D’Souza says that Bolden’s remark “provoked consternation” among Neil Armstrong and other astronauts. Writing my review, I tried to find a reference to Armstrong’s consternation in Nexis and various data bases. I only found mentions of Armstrong’s consternation at the NASA budget cuts recommended by Obama and Bolden. D’Souza had evidently mixed up the two things – the Muslim-toadying, about which Armstrong was evidently silent, and the budget cuts, which ticked Armstrong off. Rather than make an issue of another factual error, I graciously assumed it was those cuts and the inevitable weakening of NASA that D’Souza was referring to when, on the next page, he wrote “no wonder he [Obama] wants to blunt NASA’s space program, to divert it from being a symbol of American greatness to a more modest public relations operation that build ties with Muslims and other peoples.”
On page 147, D’Souza writes: “Finally, addressing the TV cameras on May 14, 2010, Obama managed to work up some enthusiasm. Time and again, he condemned ‘British Petroleum’ – an interesting term since the company long ago changed its name to BP.” I’ll say it again: A transcript of Obama’s remarks from that occasion does not contain the words “British Petroleum.” Now in his letter, D’Souza concedes the error and adds, “But Obama did use the phrase in his subsequent comments.” This is quite a retreat from “time and again.” Indeed, a search of the White House database of presidential remarks over the last twenty months yields no reference from the president to “British Petroleum.” We’d expect to find at least one formal reference if Obama was on a concerted public relations campaign to remind Americans of BP’s colonial roots. Anyway, BP’s old name is standard usage for lots of us born before 1975. The point is too stupid to argue.
We all make mistakes. I should talk. But as I tried to point out in my review, the factual errors are the least of the problems with D’Souza and his book.