If further evidence were needed of the upstairs-downstairs quality of American political life, a writer whom I once admired, Dinesh D’Souza, amply provides it in a new introduction to his best-selling book, “The Roots of Obama’s Rage.”
Upstairs, the gentry, left and right, chatter on about their many friendships, feuds and honors. In the new intro, for instance, we learn of D’Souza’s alliance with Steve Forbes, his praise from Newt Gingrich, his ascent on the New York Times best-seller list and his breathless battles with fellow old-media patricians like Maureen Dowd, Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann.
Downstairs, meanwhile, the researchers who do the real work, who do not rely on “epiphany” for their insights, who unearth truths no matter how inconvenient or impolitic, overhear the upstairs chatter with a mixture of pity and envy and think, “What a bunch of dunderheads, the lot of them.”
In the original release, D’Souza argued that Barack Obama Sr. was “first and foremost” an anti-colonialist and that his son is, too. Both assertions are true enough.
What is not true, but what is absolutely essential to D’Souza’s thesis, is that Obama inherited the philosophy and its attendant rage from his absent father. The first time around, D’Souza may not have been aware of the flaws in his thesis. The second time around, he had to be and persisted just the same.
His thesis rests on two assumptions we know to be false. The first is that Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, was “Obama Sr.’s first convert” to anti-colonialism and that she indoctrinated her son in the same.
To make this storyline work, D’Souza tells the reader only of Ann’s “white-bread upbringing in the Midwest.” This reinforces the portrait of her as a tabula rasa waiting for Obama Sr.’s signature.
D’Souza neglects to tell us that Ann and her parents moved to the Seattle area when she was 12 and remained there until she had completed her senior year of high school. The reader does not learn that she was a veritable teen beatnik, hanging out in her school’s “anarchist alley,” talking jazz, foreign films and liberal politics. An “unreconstructed liberal” in her son’s words, Ann would not need an African’s help to resent the bitter clingers of red-state America.
In the new intro, D’Souza elaborates that, “Repeatedly, unceasingly, [Ann] convinced her son that he should develop his father’s values and identity in imitation of the senior Obama.”
D’Souza tells us that Obama shares this fact with the reader in both of his books, the acclaimed 1995 memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” and the 2006 policy book, “The Audacity of Hope.”
Upstairs, the critics accept this claim unquestioningly. D’Souza, after all, has read Obama’s books. They probably have not, at least not lately. Downstairs, the critic opens his digitized copies of the books and starts word-searching.
In “Audacity,” the mother never talks about the father. The closest we get is this, “I knew him only through the letters he sent and the stories my mother and grandparents told.”
In “Audacity” we learn that the values Ann shared with Obama were not his father’s but those of the civil-rights movement. “Whenever the opportunity presented itself,” he writes, “she would drill into me the values that she saw there: tolerance, equality, standing up for the disadvantaged.”
In the more biographical “Dreams,” Ann likewise never tells her son to adopt his father’s values or his identity. She would not have even known what the father’s values were.
As the Obama Sr. INS file confirms, the couple never lived together. The existing evidence suggests a relationship not much deeper than a one-night stand. As is documented beyond doubt, the boy spent the first year of his life in Seattle with his mother while the presumed father remained behind in Hawaii. It is quite likely, in fact, that Obama Sr. did not see the boy until he was 10 years old.
On the eve of the father’s first visit, as Obama relates in “Dreams,” he told his friends that his father was a “prince” and his grandfather was “sort of like the king of the tribe.” The name “Obama,” he continued, meant “burning spear.”
Upon reflection, the mature Obama concedes that “what I was telling them was a lie, something I’d constructed from the scraps of information I’d picked up from my mother.”
Understandably, Obama’s mother and grandparents tried to make the fatherless son proud of his heritage, but the stories they told were of a bold, flamboyant, larger-than-life African prince, not of an anti-colonialist flamethrower.
D’Souza’s second fatal flaw, uncorrected in the paperback version, is his refusal to see terrorist/ neighbor Bill Ayers’ literary handiwork in “Dreams.”
D’Souza does concede that Obama’s lacked “comprehensive knowledge” about anti-colonialism and that in “Fugitive Days,” Ayers’ 2001 memoir, “The anti-colonial themes jump out at you,” but he refuses to explore whether Ayers might have been the primary source of what knowledge Obama did have.
The reason seems obvious enough. If Ayers proved to be the senior of these “fellow anti-colonial warriors” and provided the anti-colonial overlay to “Dreams,” D’Souza’s thesis is shot.
D’Souza also ignores Ayers’ contribution to Obama’s literary “rage.” He should not have. Ayers is the fellow, after all, who gave us the notorious “Days of Rage.” In his memoir, he speaks of “rage” the way that Eskimos do of snow – in so many varieties, so often, that he feels the need to qualify it.
Other than in the pages of “Dreams,” however, Obama has never seemed particularly angry. Many of his friends have commented on the disparity between the easily enraged Obama of the memoir and the cool, amiable Obama of real life.
In his new intro, D’Souza boasts of his battles with critics, but they are all of the upstairs variety and play by the same informational rules he does: yes, Obama wrote his own books; yes the story they tell is true; yes, only “birthers” and fools suggest otherwise.
D’Souza does not acknowledge the downstairs critiques he received on his tour of conservative talk radio, and there were many. On at least a few occasions, I heard the playbacks.
The callers would remind D’Souza that Obama did not write his books and that their content was provably false in ways lethal to D’Souza’s thesis. D’Souza would politely blow off the caller and kick my thesis back downstairs where it belonged.
D’Souza’s book was published before “Deconstructing Obama,” my book-length exposé of “Dreams.” By the time he wrote the new intro, however, he obviously knew about my book, knew that it undid his own thesis and then failed to mention it in his new introduction.
D’Souza failed also to mention my earlier and much too gentle critique of his book. Battling Maureen Dowd is so much easier and more rewarding.
“I have never objected to genuine and thoughtful concerns and objections,” D’Souza writes in the new intro. No, Dinesh, you just ignore them.
D’Souza invites your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be nice.