His may not be a household name.
But if you'd never heard of Dinesh D'Souza before last month, chances are, you have by now. D'Souza is the driving force behind what's shaping up as this fall's sleeper Hollywood hit, a documentary movie harshly critical of President Barak Obama. Although he may not have a doctorate or have "M.D." after his name, D'Souza is coming into his own as one of the right wing's best spin doctors.
Entitled "2016: Obama's America," D'Souza's movie has been branded as "an insidious attempt to dishonestly smear the President" by Obama's re-election campaign. Meanwhile, conservatives have generally lauded it as an eye-opening account of how the President's upbringing may be negatively shaping his policymaking.
Of course, what conservatives really want to trumpet is the overt claim D'Souza himself says he's trying to make about the harm Obama is doing to America and our future viability as a world power. In one of the trailers for his movie, D'Souza says Obama wants to see "the sins of colonialism be set right, and America be downsized."
D'Souza also says that our Founding Fathers, contrary to Obama's misguided birth father, believed that "America must grow, so liberty grows."
This is a relatively free country, and D'Souza is free to draw whatever correlations he wishes between Obama's musings in a puffy autobiographical book, the failures D'Souza sees in Obama's policies and methodologies, and D'Souza's own aspirations for his adopted homeland. To the extent that D'Souza and Obama likely share few common political philosophies, there's bound to be a certain amount of friction between the two in the public square.
But D'Souza claims to be a born-again Christian, has written books testifying to his credibility as one, and presides over a small Christian college. So even though he has a right to his opinions and perspectives, doesn't he also have the obligation to be careful with how he shares them? After all, he's not the first evangelical to drape the cross of Christ with the American flag. Nor is he the first conservative to complain about the way Obama seems to pander to other world leaders, and marginalize the country of which he's president in the eyes of the Majority World in general, and Islamic states in particular.
Not that we can't complain about Obama just because we're evangelicals. Just the other day, I complained about the President's Obamacare myself, and felt, both despite and because of my evangelical beliefs, that I was justified in doing so. I don't think the government always acts mercifully to America's healthcare patients. However, I didn't base my complaints on perceived ideological differences or wide-reaching conclusion-jumping based on unconfirmed suspicions. I wrote from the facts of the case. I did not have a personal vendetta against the President; I merely showed how flawed one of the policies he helped ordain proved to be.
In "2016," D'Souza doesn't do that. Yes, he takes quotes from the President and fabricates a plausible scenario of anti-colonialist deprecations on Obama's part. But if somebody stitched together a limited selection of quotes from your past, couldn't they create a wholly unrealistic farce of who you really are, and how you really think? President Obama has already proven himself to be an ineffectual communicator, so it's not like he intentionally loads all of his quotes with hidden meaning. If all D'Souza wanted to do was create a movie about why Obama doesn't deserve a second term, plenty of incontrovertible facts supporting such a claim would have been readily available. Including, yes, the President bowing to King Abdulla of Saudi Arabia, and other disturbing vignettes from Obama's sloppy foreign policy.
Alternatively, he could have crafted a fictional movie based on his assumptions about the President, and marketed it without all of the pseudo-scholarly documentary vibe that he obviously hopes lends an air of credibility to his project. The satirical "Wag the Dog," a movie poking fun at the Clinton administration's incessant spin-doctoring and diversionary tactics, comes to mind as a clever way of making a point without making an unqualified accusation.
At the end of the day, it's not even whether D'Souza is perfectly accurate or even 100% wrong in his fears of Obama's desire to reduce the United States to a third-rate world power has-been. The issue is whether D'Souza is honoring God by making such subjective, overtly partisan, unkind, and reckless accusations as he does with his movie. Especially when we really don't know all of the evil skeletons in Republican candidate Mitt Romney's closets. As a Mormon, Romney isn't even a Christian! At least Obama claims - however unconvincingly - to be one. If somebody wanted to surmise how a cult leader like Romney would ideally desire to guide our country during his presidency, would what they hypothesize and postulate be something D'Souza would embrace? Why not, do you suppose? Because it'd be mostly hypotheses and postulations, perhaps?
Christians are not called by God to preserve America's capitalistic might. We were not called to establish American as a world power in the first place, and certainly not the world's only superpower. So what real, eternal difference does it make if America sinks in the rankings? And whether Obama causes that sinking or not? And on those occasions when America does make mistakes or needlessly offends our international neighbors, what's wrong with apologizing? Does apologizing when you do something wrong betray weakness, or convey strength? Is political gamesmanship more important to God than treating people with dignity?
Today, America can still claim military and economic supremacy, which of course, are indeed significant areas in which to be dominant. But China is breathing down our backs on both the military and economic fronts, and Republicans as well as Democrats have sold mind-boggling amounts of our debt to the Chinese, so who knows how long we can stay ahead of them. In terms of quality-of-life indices, the United States doesn't even rank in the top 2, or even the top 10. And we all know our educational rankings are tanking. Yes, I still think that overall, America remains the best place to live on the planet, considering our large population and its diversity, but isn't D'Souza giving Obama's politics a bit too much credit for being able to single-handedly sink our international prestige? Don't our economy and our ability to innovate deserve any credit for America's prominence on the world stage?
America is an exceptional country, but is it the only exceptional country on the globe? I happen to agree with D'Souza when he says not all cultures are equal, but I'm not threatened if other countries manage to be as successful as we are. In fact, doesn't our economy somewhat depend on that? Otherwise, where would our customers come from in this era of globalization? If D'Souza can prove that Obama's policies will hinder future growth, can't he do that without implying we have a God-given right to be Numero Uno?
Actually, I was planning on seeing "2016," at least before I started doing some research on the movie and D'Souza. At this point, however, I don't think I have a civic duty to support any self-appointed fear monger fomenting more rhetoric in this already-nasty campaign season.
And I'm not talking about Obama here.
If D'Souza can't prove why, based on facts instead of supposition, Romney deserves to be elected over Obama, then maybe I can understand why D'Souza seems so scared.
I, on the other hand, don't need D'Souza to tell me how to vote. He may be a famous movie maker today, but God expects us to base our election day decisions on more than regurgitated partisan gossip. If D'Souza had kept that in mind and crafted a movie based on facts instead of rhetoric and spin, he might have actually changed the mind of some voters.
As it is, D'Souza's tired reliance on fear mocks the exceptionalism he so fervently claims for America.