TheDC Interview with Dinesh D’Souza, Part I
Prolific writer, world-class debater, and now president of The King’s College in New York City, Dinesh D’Souza is the author of the new book, “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” a book whose thesis has stirred up heated debate among conservatives and liberals alike. In the book, D’Souza suggests that to understand Obama and the policies he is pushing as president, you have to understand the anti-colonial dreams of his father. These same dreams, D’Souza argues, are what motivate Obama today.
In an in-depth interview, D’Souza defended his thesis vigorously against tough push back by The Daily Caller. At the end of the interview, D’Souza raves that TheDC’s interview with him “is the very best interview. I mean, this is a very interesting exchange because you’re, I think in a very thoughtful way, raising key questions about the book and giving me a chance to engage them.”
Below you will find the first 10 questions of the interview. Come back tomorrow for Part II, where D’Souza combats what he considers the “single best piece of counter evidence against my theory” and talks about his ailing friend and debating partner Christopher Hitchens.
TheDC: What do you think is so powerful about the anti-colonial thesis in explaining Obama’s actions?
Dinesh D’Souza (DD): In understanding a man, you have to give a psychologically compelling account of what drives him. So, for example, let’s say one would hypothesize that Obama was a Maoist. Even if this was usually a valuable lens in explaining his policies, the question would remain, “Yeah, but how did he become a Maoist?” Maoism seems awfully remote from his actual life. So where did he pick it up and how did it have such a big influence on him?
So the point being that we need a theory that is rooted in Obama’s own history, and the beauty of it is that Obama has written extensively about his own history. He tells us where his dreams come from and he says in no uncertain terms that they come from his father. His father was, without a doubt, an anti-colonialist. This is reflected in his father’s writings, such as his 1965 article on African socialism.
So Obama’s father is a socialist but he fits the socialism into a larger anti-colonialism. And so this gives us a very interesting hypothesis to work with, mainly, that Obama has embraced his father’s anti-colonialism. And then the question becomes, how helpful is that model in explaining Obama’s actions and in predicting what he will do in the future? So that’s my starting point in approaching this thesis.
TheDC: And ultimately, where do you think he picked up this worldview more from, was it more from his father or his mother do you think?
DD: Well, so here’s what I would say. He picked up uncritical reverence of his father from his mother. So he got this idea of his father as the mythic figure, larger than life, the great man of Africa. This image of his father was greatly reinforced by a crucial incident that happened when his father came to visit him at the age of ten. Obama writes extensively about this incident in his book [Dreams from my Father]. It’s about when his father came to speak at his school, and the mesmerizing impact that he had on students.
So Obama had this reverence for his father but that reverence was shattered when he learned that his father was a very flawed man. He was an alcoholic, he got into multiple drunk driving accidents, he was a polygamist who didn’t look after his wife and children. So Obama discovered all that and it shattered him. He says it was as if the sky had changed color and animals could speak. So it shook that early, blissful, larger than life image of his father.
Obama now had to put these two facts together. What do you do with the great man of Africa that is a very flawed man? And Obama came up with, I think, a very plausible synthesis. He basically said, “Okay, flawed man, but great ideals.” In other words, Obama said, “I recognize my father was not perfect as a man, but it remains a fact that he was attached to the great liberationist third world cause of the second half of the twentieth century, namely anti-colonialism.”
NEXT: How is Obama’s worldview different from the liberal professoriate?
TheDC: You’ve written extensively in other books and articles that within academia itself there is this anti-colonialist worldview among the professoriate. How is Obama’s worldview different from what you would find in academia, where he spent a long time, or for that matter, from the worldview of Jimmy Carter?
DD: Well, first of all, it is true that anti-colonialism is a powerful theme in academia, particularly elite academia, and in “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” I write about two of Obama’s secret mentors. In other words, Obama got his anti-colonial outlook from his father, but his father wasn’t there. He had to learn chapter and verse of anti-colonialism from other people. He got the first dose of it from the former communist Frank Marshall Davis in Hawaii. He writes about Frank in his autobiography, Obama does, but doesn’t mention about the communism or the anti-colonialism.
Then he went to Columbia where he studied under the anti-colonial writer Edward Said. Said was a former representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization, author of books like, “Orientalism” and “Culture and Imperialism.” Probably the leading anti-colonial scholar in the world. Obama studied under Said, although he never mentioned Said in any of his writings or speeches. He also subsequently attended a fundraiser that Said spoke at for the Palestinians in Chicago.
Then Obama went to Harvard Law School where he studied under the leading anti-colonial scholar of legal studies, which is Roberto Mangabeira Unger. He became very close to Unger, he took courses from him, I named them through the book, and he stayed in touch with him all the way through the presidential campaign. In fact, Unger pretty much skipped town during the presidential campaign because some reporters were chasing him to interview him on his connections with Obama. Unger said [paraphrasing], “I’m a revolutionary and if it comes out that I’m connected with Obama, it’s going to hurt Obama. So I don’t want that to happen, so see you later.”
So what I’m trying to say here is that here are two people, Said and Unger, who have had an anti-colonial impact on Obama, through the professoriate, through the academy. Obama suppresses their names because he doesn’t want people to know that. So, yes, the theory that these are radical notions in academia, it’s correct that Obama was influenced by them…
But what I’m saying is the psychological roots of Obama’s commitment goes deeper….If you look at Obama’s personal history, the fact that his father was jailed in the Mau Mau revolt, the fact that his grandfather was put in a British detention camp and tortured, for Obama the anti-colonial wars are not academic wars. They are real wars that had a real impact on his family. So his commitment is sawed deeper than that of many tinpot anti-colonialists that we run into everyday.
NEXT: Doesn’t Jimmy Carter have a similar worldview?
TheDC: Unger and Said, do we know how close Obama was to them, besides taking a couple of courses? Do we know if they were close advisors of his during his time Columbia and then Harvard Law?
DD: We do know that David Remnick reports in his book “The Bridge” that Unger and Obama had stayed in touch from his days at Harvard until the presidential campaign. They communicated regularly and Unger gave Remnick a very detailed analysis of Obama’s personality and told Remnick the quote that I paraphrased for you, that basically, “I don’t want reporters to talk to me because I’m a revolutionary and if it got out that I’m basically friendly with Obama it would hurt Obama.” So that’s enough for me to suggest that these were more than casual professors whose classes he wandered into and walked out of.
TheDC: The other aspect of my question was how different is this from Jimmy Carter. Doesn’t he too express an anti-colonialist worldview? He has sympathy for Hamas, for instance. He visited with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Syria. Obama has never gone that far. He hasn’t expressed any sympathy for Hamas.
DD: With Jimmy Carter, I think, you have to assess each person differently. Because I think in the case of Carter, I mean, there’s certainly no consistent anti-colonialism in Carter’s case. What you had when Carter was president was a combination of sort of weakness and buffoonery. In subsequent years, Carter seems to have developed, you might say, an uncritical soft spot for the Palestinians. He’s not consistently anti-colonial.
I don’t see Carter, for example, talking about the Brazilians, or discussing Indian anti-colonialism. It’s just basically that he thinks Israel is the bad guy. Now I think Obama would agree with him on that in that in the larger anti-colonial framework, Israel is the occupier, the unjust occupier, and colonizer of Palestinian and Muslim land. But I think with Obama, this is a far more well thought out thesis.
I mean, here’s a simple thing. Just run a Google search on “Dreams from My Father,” the number of times the word “colonialism” occurs, or is discussed by Obama. Obama discusses colonialism in that book far more than he discusses civil rights. And that is a key clue to the fact that a lot of people have been projecting the civil rights model onto Obama, in a sense reading him into American history while ignoring Obama’s own history.
NEXT: How did Obama push his supposed anti-colonial worldview before he decided to run for president?
TheDC: After Obama returned from Kenya in the late 1980s after visiting his father’s grave, which you suggest is a very important moment in your book, you say he adopted his father’s anti-colonialism, he adopted his father’s hatreds and he was ready to make a difference in the world pushing his father’s anti-colonial vision. How did he go about doing that immediately after he returned to the United States? He certainly didn’t think that he was going to be president. I mean, that would be very hard to imagine at that point.
DD: I think that this was critical in his decision to not go the route of being a stable partner in a law firm and moving up the ranks but rather deciding, “I’m going to become a community activist. I’m going to go into politics. I’m going to rise up the ranks. I’m going to master the lexicon of power. I’m going to start, you know, teaching the Saul Alinsky manual. I’m going to start running for office.” In other words, “I’m going to try to figure out a way to get the levers of power into my hands.” And it’s very clear that Obama began an ambitious, although checkered, rise to power, starting with his activism in Chicago.
TheDC: You have long sections in the book discussing how Obama and his anti-colonialist vision have been manifest his administration’s policies, from the administration’s decision to go after Arizona for its immigration law, to financial reform, to the push for cap and trade, and so on. But aren’t these also just traditional liberal policies supported by almost everyone in the liberal establishment? Isn’t Obama’s base demanding these very policies?
DD: Well let’s look at some. It is true that there’s an overlap between the progressive agenda and the anti-colonial agenda, but the reason you can tell which one Obama is committed to is by looking at the cases which go one way rather then the other. Let’s say, for example, having high rates of taxes on the rich. I agree. The progressive wants to do that. So does the anti-colonialist. But it is when you look at the more revealing cases that you can make finer distinctions.
For example, let’s compare Al Gore environmentalism versus Obama environmentalism. Al Gore’s environmentalism is that the earth has a fever, a global warming. Therefore, we should all reduce our carbon footprint, and that includes America, China, India, Brazil, Mexico, everybody. We need to cut back because humanity is using too much.
That’s not Obama’s view. Obama’s view, if you listen carefully to his U.N. speech, if you follow the few key decisions — I mentioned the Petrobras decision. What Obama’s view is that we as America are consuming out of proportion to what we have. We should be consuming less so that the others can consume more. He agrees that there are bad environmental standards in places like Africa and Asia, but he thinks there should be global transfers of wealth to those countries so those countries do have access to more energy, so that they can develop. He also has done virtually nothing. China and India have virtually told him, “Forget it, we’re not that interested in any of these carbon standards. We need more carbon to grow.” And Obama essentially has said nothing about it except saying, “We really wish you guys would get with the program.” But otherwise he’s taken no steps whatsoever to influence carbon consumption in places like India and China, which has the largest carbon footprint in the world.
So anything that we did environmentally would be canceled out by what the Chinese are doing. Again, that’s something Al Gore would be concerned about. Obama isn’t because to my way of thinking, Obama is less concerned with whether the world is getting hotter or colder. I think he could care less. But he would like to see us consume less so that the rest can consume more.
NEXT: How are Obama’s Supreme Court picks indicative of his supposed anti-colonial worldview?
TheDC: Why would Obama not take bonuses away from the bankers? You know, they got their bonuses and that was a major concern with the Wall Street bailout. The guys who messed up still continued to get huge bonuses in large part because America bailed them out. Why wouldn’t Obama, an anti-colonialist who wants to sink the rich, push to strip them of their bonuses?
DD: I say in the book multiple times, you know, “Did Rick Wagner deserve to be fired? Probably.” But, similarly, at any given case, you could say, “Was Obama right to attack the huge bonuses of this bank or that bank?” He might have been.
I’m after the big picture. I’m not trying to debate the merits this bailout or that criticism or this firing. I’m simply saying, look, if you listen to Obama in the broad, it’s rather interesting that the temperature of his voice rises when he’s talking about the rich elites or the big corporations. That’s what gets him going. The poor doesn’t get him going. Have you heard him speak animatedly about poverty or the inter-city? No. Those are not the causes that move the guy. Have you heard him speak passionately about Martin Luther King’s dream for a race neutral society, the colorblind ideal? No, he might occasionally refer to it, but it’s usually perfunctory and unimportant. It’s not part of his key agenda. So that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to draw out the essence of the man and his priorities by looking at the logic contours of his allegiances.
TheDC: Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, you say these choices for the Supreme Court also reflect Obama’s anti-colonial vision. But isn’t it a stretch to think that Obama knew of, for instance, Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” comment before he chose her? I mean that came out afterwards.
DD: I’ve worked in the White House and these candidates are extensively vetted and I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t a quotation that was distributed before as something that the White House should deal with. I could be wrong about that. Like everything, what I’m trying to do is I have an explanatory framework. I’m trying to apply it to see how well it explains the facts.
TheDC: You write in your book, “If Obama has his way, America would look a lot like Obama’s father wanted Kenya to look: government-run peasant cooperatives rationing land and natural resources in order to enjoy a modest self-sufficiency.” You really think that is Obama’s vision for America?
DD: I think Obama’s vision for America is, well, you could call it, “soft socialism at home, and impotence abroad.” So an expansion of federal power domestically and a contraction of America’s role in the world internationally. It’s kind of a scissors motion. The state grows bigger at home and the American state loses its standing on the global stage. Again, all you have to do is look at Obama’s actions to see that he is aggressively pushing both goals. If you don’t think he’s pushing both goals, then we just have a different understanding of the facts at hand. If you do see that he’s pushing both goals, you then have to ask, “Does the anti-colonial theory account for it?” And I think it beautifully does.
Tomorrow, check out the final part of TheDC’s interview with D’Souza, where he answers a question about what he considers the “single best piece of counter evidence against my theory” and discusses his recent communication with his ailing debating partner Christopher Hitchens.
This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.