Is D’Souza’s anti-Obama film ‘subjective’?

Claims about president’s worldview in ‘2016’ at issue

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ANALYSIS:

“2016: Obama’s America,” a new conservative film exploring the roots of President Obama’s political views, took in $6.2 million to make it one of the highest-grossing movies of last weekend.

The film, written and narrated by conservative scholar Dinesh D'Souza, argues that Mr. Obama was heavily influenced by what Mr. D'Souza calls the “anti-colonial” beliefs of his father, Barack Obama Sr., a Kenyan academic who was largely absent from the president’s life.

To document that claim, Mr. D'Souza travels in the film to Kenya to interview members of Mr. Obama’s extended family as well as to Hawaii and Indonesia, where Mr. Obama grew up. He also cites several actions and policy positions Mr. Obama has taken to support the thesis that Mr. Obama is ideologically rooted in the Third World and harbors contempt for the country that elected him its first black president.

The assertion that Mr. Obama’s presidency is an expression of his father’s political beliefs, which Mr. D'Souza first made in 2010 in his book “The Roots of Mr. Obama’s Rage,” is almost entirely subjective and a logical stretch at best.

It’s true that Mr. Obama’s father lived most of his life in Kenya, an African nation once colonized by the British, and that Mr. Obama’s reverence for his absent father frames his best-selling memoir. Mr. D'Souza even sees clues in the book’s title: “Notice it says, ‘Dreams From My Father,’ not ‘of’ my father,” Mr. D'Souza says.

But it’s difficult to see how Mr. Obama’s political leanings could have been so directly shaped by his father, as Mr. D'Souza claims. The elder Mr. Obama left his wife and young son, the future president, when Mr. Obama was 2 and visited his son only once, when Mr. Obama was 10. But Mr. D'Souza frames that loss as an event that reinforced rather than weakened the president’s ties to his father, who died in a car crash when Mr. Obama was in college.

Mr. D'Souza interviews Paul Vitz, a New York University psychologist who has studied the impact of absent fathers on children. In Mr. Obama’s case, Mr. Vitz says, the abandonment meant “he has the tension between the Americanism and his Africanism. He himself is an intersection of major political forces in his own psychology.”

From there, the evidence Mr. D'Souza uses to support his assertion starts to grow thin.

Mr. D'Souza says Mr. Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, shared his father’s left-leaning views. After living in Indonesia for several years, Mr. D'Souza said, Dunham sent the younger Obama to live with his grandparents in Hawaii so he would not be influenced by her second husband, Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian who worked for American oil companies and fought communists as a member of the Indonesian army.

“Ann separates [Barack] from Lolo’s growing pro-Western influence,” Mr. D'Souza says in the film. Mr. Obama has said his mother had sent him back to Hawaii so he would be educated in the United States.

In Hawaii, Mr. D'Souza asserts with no evidence, Mr. Obama sympathized with native Hawaiians who felt they had been marginalized by the American government when Hawaii was becoming a state. Mr. D'Souza also asserts — again with no evidence — that Mr. Obama had been coached to hold those views at Punahou, the prestigious prep school he attended in Honolulu.

“Oppression studies, if you will. Mr. Obama got plenty of that when he was here in Punahou,” Mr. D'Souza says, standing on the campus.

In Kenya, Mr. D'Souza interviews Philip Ochieng, a lifelong friend of the president’s father, who claims the elder Mr. Obama was “totally anti-colonial.” Mr. Ochieng also discloses some of his own political views, complaining about U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Iraq and saying the U.S. refuses to “tame” Israel, which he calls a “Trojan horse in the Middle East.” Mr. D'Souza seems to suggest that if a one-time friend of Mr. Obama’s late father holds those opinions, so too must the president himself.

Mr. D'Souza then goes through a list of actions Mr. Obama has taken as president to support his thesis. Many of them don’t hold water:

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