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2016: Obama’s America (2012)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

In 2016: Obama’s America, Dinesh D’Souza does an interesting thing: He paints a picture of what the USA will look like in the future based on a presidential candidate’s past associations. Hmmm. It’s an important question to ask, yet there are a lot of dots to connect in between those two points. Nonetheless, how leaders deal with their personal associations is an important indication of their present views and potential actions. On that account 2016 brings forth data points to consider, but it doesn’t consider them deeply enough. NOTE: Given the nature of 2016 as documentary film, this “Quick Talk” goes somewhat further in discussing it than the usual Quick Talk.

In 1995 (and reaffirmed in a 2004 edition), Barack Obama published a book entitled Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. The 2016 film begins with D’Souza pointing out that word choices are important and the fact that Obama’s book is about dreams from his father (i.e., meaning that Obama’s has adopted at least some of his father’s dreams), which makes it important to know what his father’s dreams were. It turns out that his father had strong strains of socialist and anti-colonialist dreams, as did other key people with whom Obama has been associated over the years. 2016 builds on these threads, continuing on with certain (disputed) instances of Obama decisions that resonate with his father’s dreams. These are the data points from which D’Souza asks what the USA might look like in 2016 after a second Obama presidency. Running time: 87 min.

As documentary films go, 2016 is less strident than many — particularly the political films of Michael Moore, such as Fahrenheit 9/11. Still, it is not without fault, primarily in that fails to deliver on its title’s promise to paint a compelling picture of the year 2016. There are simply too many dots left unstated — not to mention unconnected — between the data the film brings forth and the picture of a broken USA 2016 that D’Souza paints. Legislation would be required. Treaties would have to be ignored or else negotiated and confirmed. Political watchers would still be watching. This is not to say that the film’s picture couldn’t come true, but only that the film doesn’t adequately support the picture it paints.

One tack the film takes is to assert, at a high level, that Obama has taken certain decisions that are perplexing in their seeming slant against the USA. Two in particular are the claims 1) that Obama financially supported oil exploration in South America (Brazil), while withholding support for oil investments in North America (Keystone pipeline) and 2) that he directed NASA to develop an outreach program to the Muslim world. In the first case, the funds under consideration were a loan to enable purchasing US-made equipment. In the second, there seems to be some truth, but the specifics, scope, and implications are not clear.

The film’s other tack is to point out certain personal associations that Obama has had. Before reviewing some of them, consider that there are two levels on which to consider the implications of such associations. First, and less important because it is ambiguous and hard to support, are any implications of the associations for policy and action in a second Obama presidency. 2016 does precious little to draw or support such connections. Second, and more directly of interest to concerned citizens, is what Obama's associations with various people and mentors might say about what informs the core of his conception of, thoughts about, and vision for the USA. For that point, one might view the film from the point of view that "a man is known by the company he keeps."

To that end, Here are a few among the associations the film brings out:

  • Obama's father, an activist for expelling colonialist powers from Africa who once wrote that income tax rates of 100% could be justified if the government gave back appropriately in return. Something along these lines seem to be the dreams Obama's father had, to which Obama's book title must refer in some degree (not that Obama would advocate tax rates of that sort).
  • Frank Marshall Davis, a member of the Communist party in America who was a mentor and quasi father figure through Obama's youth and college years — and for whom Obama's book fails to provide a full name (referring to him only as "Frank"). Obama records in his book that Frank warned him if he went to college "they" would brainwash him into "believing what they tell you about equal opportunity and the American way and all that [trash]" — and Obama records this without countering its attitude.
  • Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, where Obama was a member for two decades, until Wright made controversial statements about the US (which Obama later denounced). It is these late statements of Wright's that the film focuses on, not so much on the 20 years before when Obama was a member of his church. In the film, it's unclear what Wright's specific tone was during that earlier time, thus unclear what influence Obama chose to remain under.
  • Bill Ayers, co-founder many years ago of Weather Underground, a revolutionary group with ideas of overthrowing the US government. However, analysis by Snopes indicates that the association between Ayers and Obama was not much beyond acquaintance.

As these examples illustrate, 2016: Obama's America does disservice to some of its reasonable points by not closely enough investigating, and perhaps simply glossing over, points that need further backing. Other points might have been (but weren't) investigated, including this, which Obama records in his book: He relates that, while visiting Kenya with his sister, Auma, and having tourists given better service at a restaurant, his feelings were that the tourists — "Germans, Japanese, British, Americans" — were "an encroachment, somehow; [and] their innocence vaguely insulting." These seem to be feelings that would have resonated with his father's anti-colonialist views.

One other note: regarding the associations the film brings out, the Obama campaign chose to neither deny them or comment on them in its rabid denunciation of the film.

On the whole, your time is likely better spent reading D'Souza's books and reading Obama's book (links below), and in researching various Obama issues on your own. The film doesn't bring a consistently strong enough case to the screen to rely on it without going afterwards to investigate it on your own, anyway.

The film has no content to advise audiences of, except perhaps one mild bit of profanity.

  • Director: Dinesh D'Souza & John Sullivan
  • Screenplay: Dinesh D'Souza & John Sullivan, based on books by Dinesh D'Souza
  • Leads: Dinesh D'Souza and various interviewees and others in archive footage
  • Music: Calvin Jones & Greg Kellogg


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