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BERG: D’Souza’s ‘2016’: Watch out, Hollywood

New film unleashes conservative talent

- - Monday, September 3, 2012

Dinesh D'Souza's sleeper political documentary "2016: Obama's America" was the No. 1, largest-grossing conservative documentary ever in its first week of wide release last week.

It came in at No. 7 on the top 10 list while playing in just one-third the number of theaters where other, wider-release films were screened. As the film continues to open in more and more theaters, its numbers invariably will get bigger, perhaps even reaching No. 1.

This makes Mr. D'Souza, an unassuming, nerdy-looking writer and academic, Hollywood's newest celebrity. His anti-Obama message has resonated with audiences despite minimal coverage from the media. Until now, that is.

The well-produced $2.5-million documentary features Mr. D'Souza as the low-profile, understated narrator, which makes the former Reagan adviser and current president of King's College in New York City more authentic and believable for a polemic film. There is no ranting through a bullhorn or ambushing unsuspecting public officials as Michael Moore did in his left-wing films, such as "Fahrenheit 9/11," the largest-grossing documentary to date. Mr. D'Souza avoids hot-button issues such as the authenticity of President Obama's Hawaiian birth, which he doesn't question.

Instead, he simply tells the story of the president's past to illustrate how his worldview was influenced by anti-colonialist, Third-World thinking. He does this by traveling to and researching places where Mr. Obama grew up, including Hawaii, Indonesia and Kenya. Mr. D'Souza contends he has much in common with Mr. Obama, as they both grew up around people who ardently believed rich countries only got that way by taking natural resources from poor nations.

Mr. D'Souza is from Mumbai, formerly Bombay, India. Both his father and his grandfather were anti-colonialist and anti-American. When Mr. D'Souza emigrated to the United States, he embraced the opportunities it offered him: attending Dartmouth College and later working for President Reagan and becoming a writer. He only could have dreamed of such success in India.

Mr. D'Souza thinks Mr. Obama, on the other hand, was strongly influenced by anti-colonialist thinking, which was shaped largely by his Harvard-educated, absentee father, Barack Obama Sr., who advocated big government supported by high taxes, ranging up to 100 percent on rich people. The film also cites other left-wing radicals who served as Mr. Obama's "founding fathers," including his longtime pastor, liberation-theology minister Jeremiah Wright.

All of this sets the stage for the film's conclusion. The title, "2016," implicitly asks what the world will be like in four years if the president is re-elected. Mr. D'Souza thinks the president's unfettered, anti-American policies could result in a severely weakened military and a damaged economy with a $20 trillion debt load. Maybe, but such predictions -- accurate or not -- can come off like propaganda, which is why they're not the film's strong suit.

"2016" is most effective when it sheds light on Mr. Obama's Third World beliefs. Mr. D'Souza liberally draws from an audio recording the president made for his book "Dreams From My Father," which is very revealing because it comes from the president himself, in his own voice. Many people, including those who voted for Mr. Obama, find him likable but don't know much about him. They don't understand why the president keeps saying the rich aren't paying their fair share of the taxes. American presidents don't usually exploit class envy. The top 10 percent of wage earners paid 70 percent of federal income taxes in 2009 even though they only earned 43 percent of all income, according to the Heritage Foundation.

"2016" makes it clear why the president, whose worldview was shaped by his anti-colonialist father, would promote such an idea. It also sheds light on why he would say something so outrageous as, "If you've got a business, you didn't build that," when talking about American entrepreneurs. Mr. D'Souza's message, softly delivered, validates the anxiety many people are feeling about this president.

Republicans often bemoan the fact that they don't have Hollywood celebrities on their side, but they've been handed a gift. Mr. D'Souza is a legitimate rising star who doesn't look the part. He's perfect for anti-Hollywood conservatives. He's able to explain clearly, in a way that hits home, why this election is really about two different worldviews.

The left is coming after Mr. D'Souza in droves now that he's famous. They fear his power to sway people and affect the election, to be sure. They especially are worried that a conservative who doesn't rant may dethrone their beloved documentarian Michael Moore as the nation's all-time, top-grossing political documentary maker.

When Mr. Moore attended the Democratic National Convention in 2004, he was treated as a hero and seated next to former President Jimmy Carter. Mr. D'Souza was in attendance at the Republican National Convention. The GOP would be wise to show a little respect to its newest celebrity, or at least watch his film.

Dave Berg was a co-producer for "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and "The Jay Leno Show" for 18 years. He's writing a book about his years with Mr. Leno.