A handful of my friends are conservatives. I don’t maintain those friendships out of tokenism—these misguided folks possess otherwise marvelous qualities. Besides, when we became friends, I was a rightie, too. Last century, I was a Limbaugh-listening (I swear he’s worse now) Republican. I honored my family’s political traditions in seven presidential elections, finally breaking ranks in 2000 with a Nader vote.
One Republican friend, Jeff, and I met as workmates in the mid-’80s in Seattle. Our political views were close at the time, but our religious philosophies weren’t. He’s an Evangelical; I was an active Mormon. Our debating habit began over the question of who exactly gets to call themselves Christians. I moved away in ’89, and we didn’t reconnect until Facebook two years ago. We again became willing adversaries, but over different topics. I’d become a religious agnostic and was no longer the Republican whom Jeff remembered, so we began debating the merits of the more liberal political positions I’d adopted.
Things came to a head over diametrically opposing critiques of the Republican convention. I thought the Romney/Ryan speeches were tepid, full of mom-and-apple-pie pandering to the far right with a disastrous debate between Clint Eastwood and an empty chair that the former tough guy lost. Jeff challenged me to look at the right’s perspective through the film 2016: Obama’s America. I countered, “I would, but I won’t financially subsidize it by buying a ticket.” Jeff said, “My treat.”
What could I do? I’d trapped myself.
To prepare for my sponsored introduction to conservative cinema, I hit the Rotten Tomatoes website but decided to not prejudice myself with others’ opinions. My eye did catch the scores, however. The film had garnered positive reviews by a whopping 80 percent of viewers, but the top professional cinema critics were less kind. Only 15 percent gave it the proverbial thumbs-up.
Sunday afternoon, Jeff’s Fandango ticket in hand, I skulked into a dark multiplex to be initiated into celluloid Republicanism. And what an adventure it was.
As my eyes adjusted to the light of the previews (all for films in a conservative genre I didn’t know existed), it became apparent that I was a youngster in the theater ... and I’m almost 62! By showtime, only a smattering of 40 and 50-somethings had shown up, making it look like movie night at the retirement home.
But before I could lament that I was missing out on the summer’s waning sunshine, I started to be impressed by the film’s cinematic qualities. This is a fairly well-executed documentary, with interesting camera angles, clever editing and a subtle touch.
The content is less impressive, however. It’s one man’s attempt (and that man is writer, director, executive
producer, narrator, lead star, Indian immigrant and “university” president Dinesh D’Souza) to armchair-psychoanalyze Barack Obama’s early life experiences with a few known radicals who’d crossed his path.
To his credit, D’Souza dismisses the birther conspiracy, placing Obama’s origins in Honolulu, but then his film goes downhill in the facts department. His premise is this: If America gives Obama a second term, then we’ll finally see him transform into the anti-capitalist, African anti-colonialist, Muslim-coddling, military and NASA crusher who was programmed from the cradle by dark, nefarious forces to destroy America. Never mind that this president hasn’t shown any of those tendencies and has governed somewhere to the right of Eisenhower or Nixon. This cinematic fear/smear job fails the truth-sniff test in so many ways that I lack the space to fully deconstruct it here.
One of the more blatant distortions, however, is that Obama secretly wants to unilaterally disarm the United States of nukes. It claims America has “only” about 1,500 warheads left. The real number is closer to a world-wasting 5,000. And it doesn’t mention that Reagan’s mutual disarmament dream would be anathema to today’s hyper-conservatives.
Most of what the film criticizes Obama for are things that I, as one of his disappointed ’08 campaigners, am critical about him doing halfway or not at all: reducing military spending, raising taxes on the wealthy back to what they used to be and ending the unwarranted threats of attacking other nations like Iran.
Accompanied by an ominous soundtrack, the film wends its way through false or exaggerated dualities, like collectivism vs. capitalism, support for Israel vs. support for terrorism, and has the usual litany of bogeyman warnings one hears 24/7 on Fox News. I’ll send Jeff a more detailed list from the four pages of notes I scribbled in the flickering light.
Fans are labeling D’Souza as the conservative Michael Moore. The difference? D’Souza is decidedly un-entertaining. And thus the conservative-celebrity dearth continues. Clint Eastwood, struggling to come up with one fellow Hollywooder in attendance in Tampa, finally remembered that Jon Voight was there.
Conservative “comedians” like Dennis Miller and Ben Stein have a huge problem: They’re not funny. As far as hot Republican movie stars ... I’m waiting to see a list that exceeds five. D’Souza’s film is yet another right-wing attempt to play in the entertainment world, and it doesn’t make the grade, either.
City Weekly’s film critic, Scott Renshaw, doesn’t need to worry about his job, but I’ll take a stab at doing it for him this once. Go see 2016: Obama’s America. Even though it’s just an enactment of D’Souza’s 2010 Forbes article, “How Obama Thinks,” it’s encouraging to see just how feeble the propaganda from the right is, and you’ll be decidedly unscared as you walk back into the lobby.
I’ll be voting for Rocky Anderson, but if this is the best conservatives can do, lesser-evil Obama will crush Romney with more than 300 electoral votes.