Dinesh D’Douza’s new book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage, has a reputation that precedes it — in large part due to some advance buzz from Newt Gingrich and a piece in Forbes. Now that the book is on shelves, in a conversation with NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez, Dinesh D’Souza seeks to set the record straight about The Roots, and Obama.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What makes you so sure you know how Obama thinks?
DINESH D’SOUZA: It’s really simple: I figure out how Obama thinks by reading what Obama writes and says. My theory about Obama is really derived from Obama himself. It’s quite silly how people are saying things like, well, Obama didn’t really know his absentee father, so he couldn’t have been influenced by him. Go read his book, starting with the title Dreams from My Father. The whole book is about how Obama shaped his values, personality, and identity in the image of his father. So I took Obama at his word on this and then asked the question, “If Obama took his father’s anti-colonial ideology, how does that help to explain his policies?” Not only it does it explain Obama’s foreign and domestic policy, it also explains lots of little details about Obama’s actions that no other theory can explain.
LOPEZ: Be honest. You were worried everything had been said about Barack Obama, so you looked for something new and found yourself in Kenya.
D’SOUZA: Actually, I started with another theory about Obama, no less original. My working hypothesis was that Obama was really a civil-rights guy — shaped, that is, by the ideals of the civil-rights movement. This would explain Obama’s fierce allegiance to the federal government. After all, it was the federal government that desegregated the schools; the federal government helped to create a black middle class; to this day, blacks are much more sympathetic to the federal government than whites. So this was my theory: Obama is a civil-rights guy, but his innovation was to take the black civil-rights agenda and remove the word “black.” It was only when I began to study Obama’s own background that I realized that my theory was wrong. Obama has little or nothing to do with the civil-rights movement. His roots are in Kenya, and he is shaped far more by anti-colonialism than by anything that Martin Luther King said or did.
LOPEZ: Much of your argument could have been made during the presidential campaign — based on Barack Obama’s own writings. Why is it new and important now?
D’SOUZA: My argument is relevant now because if we know what motivates Obama, we have his compass. Not only can we explain what he is doing, but we can also predict what he is going to do in the future. For instance, there is a lot of speculation now about whether Obama will be a centrist after the midterm election, like Bill Clinton became after 1994. My theory says that he won’t because he cannot. Clinton was largely a non-ideological guy. If Obama came by his liberalism in the faculty lounge, then sure, he can see it hasn’t worked and he can modify it. But if Obama got his formative ideas when he was very young, and if they are the result of his traumatic relationship with his father, then they are built into his psyche. He’s not going to change because, to his anti-colonial mindset, meeting the Republicans halfway is a form of sellout. He would be untrue to his principles if he were to cut deals with a group that he considers to be the neocolonial party.
LOPEZ: You write that “Obama recognized that he had to deliver radical and even revolutionary themes in a bland, anodyne way so that they could cross the threshold of political acceptability.” Isn’t that just smart politics?
D’SOUZA: Yes. We can all admire the skill with which Obama does this. Somehow he has the ability to translate the dreams of his father — a Luo tribesman from the 1950s — into language that mainstream America can understand. So Obama doesn’t say, “I don’t care whether Iran gets a nuclear weapon; my goal is to reduce America’s nuclear arsenal because I consider America to be the world’s rogue nation.” Instead, Obama says, “I want a world free of nuclear weapons.” And the only practical action he takes in this connection is to reduce America’s nuclear arsenal, while North Korean continues its nuclear buildup and Iran continues to move closer to acquiring a nuclear bomb.
LOPEZ: If you have so much in common with Barack Obama, how did you wind up as a conservative intellectual, now president of an evangelical university?
D’SOUZA: Obama remains frozen in his father’s time machine. His anti-colonialism is the anti-colonialism of Africa in the 1950s: state confiscation of land, confiscatory taxation, and so on. My anti-colonialism is the anti-colonialism of India in the 21st century. Recently, the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, gave a speech at Oxford in which he gave two cheers for colonialism. He said India is growing fast and is on its way to becoming a superpower. How? Because the Indians speak English, they have technology, they have universities, they have property rights, they have democracy. And why do they have these things? They got them from the British. Now, Singh could never have said that a generation ago. But the world is changing. Poor countries today have a better solution to the legacy of colonialism. They are able to use their cheap labor costs to make what other people want to buy. This is what the economist Thorstein Veblen once called “the advantage of backwardness.” So the difference between Obama and me is that I have embraced the new world of globalization and free trade, and he continues to be haunted by his father’s ghost.
LOPEZ: Why does Barack Obama look so angry on the cover of your book?
D’SOUZA: Obama looks angry on the cover because he is angry. The cover image captures Obama’s suppressed rage and is true to the argument of the book.
LOPEZ: I know from listening to him that he’s condescending and annoyed at the fact that he has critics, but rage? What justifies use of that word? How has “rage” manifested itself in the Obama administration?
D’SOUZA: Some people consider Obama very serene because he talks about issues like equality and the poor in a very calm manner. He sounds like he is reading from his tax return. Some liberals are confused, and say that Obama must be a very cerebral guy. But there is an alternative explanation. He sounds bored about these issues because he doesn’t care about them. He isn’t motivated by poverty or inequality. He is motivated by hatred of the rich and the banks and the investment companies and the drug companies. Notice that when Obama speaks about these groups, his lip curls and his face darkens and he shows real passion. That’s when he wants to, in his words, “kick ass.” So there is a sublimated rage in Obama that is reminiscent of the rage of Barack Obama Sr., a man who often sat outside his hut and went into drunken rages against the West for denying him the fulfillment of his anti-colonial dreams.
LOPEZ: What are some clear examples of how this anti-colonialist mindset can be seen in the presidency of Barack Obama?
D’SOUZA: Ramesh Ponnuru and others say Obama is a conventional liberal. But conventional liberals don’t come out for the release of the Lockerbie bomber. Conventional liberals don’t return the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office. Conventional liberals don’t block oil drilling in America while subsidizing oil drilling in Brazil. Conventional liberals don’t try to turn the space agency NASA into a Muslim-outreach program.
My anti-colonial theory beautifully explains all these facts. If Obama views America as the neocolonial occupier of Iraq and Afghanistan, then Muslims fighting against America are anti-colonial resisters and deserve a measure of sympathy; no wonder Obama has no problem with releasing the Lockerbie bomber. Obama hates Churchill because Churchill was the prime minister who cracked down on an anti-colonial uprising in Kenya, one in which Obama’s father and grandfather were both arrested. Obama’s oil-drilling double standard is fully understandable when you see that he wants the neocolonial oppressors to have less and the former colonized countries to have more. If Obama sees NASA as a symbol of American power — not only are we the world’s superpower, but now we are trying to colonize space — then we can see why he might want to convert NASA into a symbol of international achievement, not American greatness. So plug in the anti-colonial theory and you can explain the facts; remove it and Obama’s behavior becomes almost impossibly difficult to account for.
LOPEZ: Do you worry you’re encouraging “birthers” and those who believe Barack Obama is a Muslim by going all the way to Kenya to figure him out?
D’SOUZA: My argument has nothing to do with the “birther” claim that Obama was not born in America. In The Roots of Obama’s Rage, I specifically say that Obama was born in Hawaii. His birth was noted in two local newspapers in August 1961. That pretty much settles it for me. The White House press secretary Robert Gibbs is the one who raised this “birther” allegation in connection with my book. Others, like the New York Times, have uncritically circulated it. But it is a complete misrepresentation of my argument.
LOPEZ: You’re not disputing that Obama is a socialist, though? You’re simply saying it’s not the full picture?
D’SOUZA: Socialism is clearly part of the picture. Remember that many Third World countries, in opposing Western colonialism, allied themselves with the main alternative, which was Soviet socialism. Obama’s father, Barack Sr., was by his own account an African socialist. He wrote a paper in 1965 proposing tax rates of up to 100 percent. He said that there was nothing wrong with 100 percent taxation as long as the benefits accrue to the state and to society as a whole. Interestingly, Obama, who knows everything about his father, has never alluded to this paper in any of his writings or speeches. Even more remarkable, there has been virtually no reporting on a document that seems to throw valuable light on what Obama is doing in the White House, on what Obama means when he says the rich won’t pay their “fair share,” and so on. So socialism fits within the larger anti-colonial model. Both theories, viewed in conjunction with each other, are necessary to give a full account of what Obama is doing.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is an editor-at-large of National Review Online.