Chris Hedges Tells Dinesh D’Souza That His Obama Film Is 'Void of Facts, Reality, Intellectual Depth'
Timed for release in the thick of the 2012 presidential campaign season, a new film called "2016: Obama’s America"has hit 2,000 theater screens nationwide and earned an estimated $30 million at the box office. The film is based on a book by conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza titled The Roots of Obama’s Rage, and produced by Gerald R. Molen. Since it first screened at a theater in Houston in July, the low-budget documentary was heavily promoted by Houston-based conservative talk show host Michael Berry, after which it spread by word of mouth and opened in even more theaters locally and then nationally. "2016: Obama’s America" has been endorsed by Glenn Beck and Rupert Murdoch, while Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman has called the film “an outrageously unsubstantiated act of character assassination,” which espouses “the standard right-wing argument that Obama has always been out to hide what a radical he is." President Obama’s reelection campaign has called the film “nothing more than an insidious attempt to dishonestly smear the President by giving intellectual cover to the worst in subterranean conspiracy theories and false, partisan attacks.”
Sonali Kolhatkar: Chris, I want to start with you to get your impressions first of this film. You had the chance to watch the documentary, and then, I’d love to get Dinesh to respond to you. What did you think overall of this film, 2016: Obama’s America?
Chris Hedges: Well, Dinesh is a better propagandist than he is psychoanalyst. It is vile in terms of its underlying racism, its pandering to stereotypes, its demonization of Obama—and I’m no fan of Obama. But the film is in essence a sort of elongated attempt that we saw during the Kerry campaign at swiftboating a politician by using half-truths, innuendos and lies to turn him into a monster. And Obama is a politician. He had some of the roots and connections that Dinesh points out. But he shed them as fast as he could, as he rose within the political machine in Chicago, jettisoning not only whatever principles, in my mind, he had. And I was a good friend of Edward Said, all the way back to Jim Friedman, the president of Dartmouth. When Dinesh was at theDartmouth Review, he characterized him, or dressed him up as a Nazi—Jim was Jewish—and put him on the cover. He threw Jeremiah Wright away, I mean, that’s in the film, and that’s correct, and they did try and, the Democratic party, buy Wright’s silence. And the tragedy of Obama, and it is a tragedy, is that he, in the service of his ambition, was very quick to toss off any principled position that he had until, of course, he became a servant of the corporate state. Which is the real tragedy of Obama.
SK: Dinesh D’Souza, how do you respond to this? What was your main goal in making this film?
Dinesh D’Souza: The film is an attempt to tell a side of Obama’s story that has actually never been told. The remarkable thing is we have a president who was admittedly kind of an unknown guy in 2008. That was understandable. He came out of nowhere, an economic nosedive in part helped propel him into the office, but what is kind of remarkable is that four years later, there’s so much about him that is not known, that if he were anyone else, it would be known. And it’s not just that we don’t know his SAT scores or his law school scores, or we don’t have his thesis, we don’t know who his friends were at Columbia. All of that’s interesting. But I think more deeply, his underlying compass is not understood by people. And so the film is an effort to sort of raise the curtain on how Obama thinks. And if there are half-truths and lies in the film, they come from Obama. Because at critical points in the film, we play Obama’s own voice, saying what he believed, what he did. So Obama will say things like, “I stayed away from all the normal professors. I looked for the punk rock poets, the Chicanos, the Marxists, I wanted to hang out with those guys.” That’s a paraphrase, but that’s Obama’s own voice. And what’s most incriminating in the film comes from Obama. And this is why a guy like Chris Hedges is nervous, because the film is damning, not because what it says is false, but because what it says is true and eye-opening.
CH: I don’t support Obama. You know, I wish somebody would make a documentary on what Obama’s done. I just sued the president in federal court over the National Defense Authorization Act, the assault on civil liberties under the Obama administration. This should not be a left-right divide. It has been far worse under Obama than it was under George W. Bush. And yet none of that is in the film. Obama’s refusal to restore habeas corpus. Obama’s supporting of the FISA Amendment Act, which retroactively makes legal what under our constitution—and I assume Dinesh is a constitutionalist — has traditionally been illegal. Warrantless wiretapping, monitoring, and eavesdropping of tens of millions of Americans. The use of the Espionage Act, six times, to shut down whistleblowers who have exposed, in some cases, war crimes committed by the U.S. government. And finally, the NDAA, Section 1021, which authorizes the U.S. military to carry out detentions, seizures, on American soil, strip American citizens of due process, and hold them in their offshore penal colonies.
None of that’s in the film. The craven sort of obsequiousness on the part of the Obama administration to Wall Street. The expansion of our imperial wars. Our proxy wars in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen. I think these are pretty good criticisms of Obama. And in fact, a lie of omission is still a lie. And we can’t, you know, the fact that a young kid in college gravitates towards a Marxist professor is hardly fodder, I think, for discrediting someone, when you look closely at how obsequious the president has been to serving the military-industrial complex and Wall Street. I care about what he does. I don’t care about, I mean I actually think gravitating toward Marxist professors or reading Edward Said is a good thing. And I wish that Obama had kept that kind of commitment to the other, to the outsider, to those kinds of voices on the margin. But in fact, he has not.
SK: And let’s get Dinesh’s response, right after we hear this short clip from his film. In this excerpt, Dinesh, you explain why you were trying to use this framework to explain President Obama’s actions in an interview.
[Clip of D’Souza from film]: “He’s a Muslim, he’s not an American, he’s a socialist.” I don’t think [those accusations have] really worked. So I’m putting a new card on the table. And look, I’m a college president. I’m not trying to bash Obama in a crude way. I’m trying to give an explanatory framework. And I think the anti-colonial framework explains his domestic policy, explains his foreign policy, and explains a lot of little stuff he’s doing that no other theory can explain.
SK: Dinesh D’Souza, first of all, your responses to Chris Hedges. But in this clip, also, you basically are saying that the standard right-wing rhetoric to discredit Obama saying he’s a Muslim, he’s a socialist don’t really work. But your framework essentially implies he might as well be a Muslim, he might as well be a socialist.
DD: Not at all. In fact, part of what the film does is offer an alternative and a better explanation that can help to make the birthers and the conspiracy theorists go away. Why do we have birthers in this country? We have birthers in this country not because they have any evidence that Obama was born in Kenya. But what the birthers are sensing is that there’s something odd and foreign about Obama. They sense that. And what I’m saying is, you know what guys, the reason you sense that is not because Obama was born outside the United States. He wasn’t. But, he does derive his dreams, which is to say his values, his aspirations, from his father. Who says so? Not Dinesh, Obama. He wrote a 450-page book on that subject.
SK: But why would he write a book about it if he was trying to hide it?
DD: He’s not trying to hide it.
SK: But you said that your film is showing a side of Obama that people didn’t know before. But if all of this is stuff Obama’s written about in his book, they know about it.
DD: Well, here’s the point. I follow the official Obama story. There are conspiracy theorists who will say, Bill Ayers wrote his book. I don’t go along with that. Or Jeremiah Wright was his real dad. I don’t go along with that. I take Obama’s story at face value. Now, having said that, there are a number of guys that Obama hung out with that he conceals. He doesn’t mention, for example, Edward Said in his book. Even though Edward Said was not only his professor, but they remained close until Said’s death in 2003. Obama remained in close ties with Roberto Unger. Biographers have noted this. And in fact, Unger skipped town during the 2008 election, so that no connection between him and Obama would come out in the public. Only later did he talk about it, to David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker.
So my point is, Obama’s book does have deception in it. He mentions Frank, but he doesn’t say that’s Frank Marshall Davis, the former communist. So, what I do is, I dig into who this so-called Frank is, and I look at his FBI files, and I talk about the fact that, wow, we’ve got a president of the United States who for seven years was in effect mentored by a card-carrying member of the communist party. Isn’t that significant? Isn’t it odd that you haven’t read that in the New York Times? Or seen it on the CBS evening news? If Mitt Romney had had that kind of a background, don’t you think it would be everywhere?
SK: And what about Chris’s point that you omitted all of the various attacks on American constitutional rights that Obama has indeed been responsible for?
DD: Okay, so Chris should make his own film on his own critiques, but here’s my point about Chris: that the reason that we have this junction, is because Obama is not a conventional liberal. People like Chris want him to do the conventional progressive thing, and Obama doesn’t do it, and that supports my point. Obama has a global agenda. He doesn’t particularly care about inner cities, or he doesn’t particularly care about race, you know, the hate crimes bill, and he doesn’t particularly care about the kinds of things that the ACLU cares about. What he wants to do is downsize the American economy, transfer large amounts of wealth from America to other countries, reduce America’s consumption of energy, reduce America’s footprint in the Middle East, slash our nuclear weapons. These are the things he’s actually been doing.
Now they don’t all fit the progressive, left-right framework. I mean, typically when Democrats look at America, they talk about the 1 percent, the 99 percent. They think that Obama’s only redistributing domestically. And my argument is, no. He is a domestic redistributor, yes, but he’s also a global redistributor. Obama sees America, the whole country, as the 1 percent. There are 99 hungry nations encircling America, who want our standard of living, our affluence, our wealth, our power, and Obama is also redistributing on that scale. And if union guys knew about that, and retirement guys knew about that, they would be very worried, because they don’t want to see wealth drained out of America.
CH: Well, first of all Edward Said was a friend of mine and it’s just patently untrue that he was close to Obama.
DD: How do you know that, Chris?
CH: Because I’ve spoke to Edward about it before he died and he was not close to Obama at all. That’s just not true, Dinesh. I don’t know where you got it from. He hardly knew Obama. As far as this idea that Obama is serving the interest of, I assume you mean, developing countries in the third world, it just doesn’t play out in Obama policies. We have uprisings throughout the Muslim world because of the expanded occupation and reign of terror that has been visited upon Muslims. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims killed in Iraq, millions displaced in Afghanistan and Iraq, the drone strikes in Pakistan, the cross-border raids are disintegrating Pakistan as a country. The inability on the part of the Obama administration to do anything to alter the Israeli policies towards the Palestinians in particular in Gaza, the largest open-air prison in the world. The facts don’t lay it out. I mean, what people’s rhetoric are, and I don’t trust Obama’s rhetoric anymore than I trust Romney or any other politician’s rhetoric.
We have to look at what they do and what Obama does is serve the centers of power, I think one could argue, in many ways more efficiently than Bush. You talk about energy and Obama has expanded drilling. He has supported half of the XL pipeline and I have a pretty good suspicion that once he’s elected, he’ll build the other half. The jobs bill, you talk about redistributing wealth. The jobs bill went nowhere. They cut unemployment benefits for hundreds of thousands of Americans. We now have 47 million Americans who live in poverty. Tens of millions who live in a category called near-poverty. The Obama administration has done nothing to address the foreclosures, the bank repossessions. Obamacare is a cooked-up version of Romneycare, which came out of the Heritage Foundation: $447 billion in subsidies to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. If you’re talking about redistributing wealth, Obama’s done what Bush does, which is the largest transference of wealth upwards in American history. I mean, those are the facts.
SK: Dinesh D’souza, how do you respond to that?
DD: Well I think part of this is, I actually agree with some of the points that Chris just made, but a part of it is, we’re talking about two different things. I mean, if you look for example at the Middle East, the things that jump out at me, and these are facts just as much as any of the facts that Chris Hedges just mentioned; number one – Obama was almost vigilant in using force in Libya, when a very small number of people, about 250, had been killed after the Benghazi uprising. And that got rid of Gaddafi, a guy who was actually doing business with America. Asad, our deadly enemy, has been killing tens of thousands of people in Syria. Obama refuses to use force. So why are we concerned about stopping genocide in Libya, but not in Syria. Are Libyan lives worth more than Syrian lives?
Similarly, a similar double-standard; Obama intervenes, admittedly not right away, but he still intervenes to push out our ally, Mubarak in Egypt. You can say, "Oh that’s why Obama loves democracy. He’s a champion of democracy." Well, wait a minute, a year and a half earlier, there were massive pro-democracy demonstrations in Iran. Obama refused to get involved. What’s the main difference between Iran and Egypt? Egypt was our friend. Iran is our deadly enemy. So, why is Obama acting in a peculiar way to undermine our own allies and the people who are doing business with us? He seems to be rough on Mubarak, on Gaddafi, on Israel, and he seems weirdly sympathetic to Muslim Jihadis.
SK: Are you defending Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak?
DD: No, no. I’m not defending either of them. They’re both dictators but the main difference between them is one dictator was friendly to the United States and the other wasn’t. So in other words, Hosni Mubarak, call him what you will, he was a despot in a region full of despots. There aren’t too many democrats in the Middle East right now. If you don’t count the state of Israel, the whole region is run by despotic powers. All I’m trying to say is there are two kinds of despots, despots who are friendly to America and despots who are against us. And I’m saying, weirdly, an American president who is elected to protect and defend our interests is friendlier to the despots that are against us than he is to the despots who are for us.
SK: Chris Hedges, do you see any patterns in Obama’s actions or inactions regarding the Arab Spring?
CH: Yeah, Libya has oil and Syria doesn’t. And Dinesh knows that as well as I do. The oil companies, especially the Italian oil companies, about 98 percent, because of the configuration of Libyan oil, Italy gets shut down without Libyan oil. That’s why Italy could never be part of the sanctions as Libya. It makes zero sense and the fact is, they hung onto Mubarak. They were clinging to Mubarak until the last minute. That was part of the problem. It was the Egyptians that overthrew Mubarak and the Americans were the last allies Mubarak had along with the Israelis. The idea that we push Mubarak out is just factually not true.
SK: Let’s hear another clip from the film,2016 Obama’s America.In this excerpt we hear conservative commentator Daniel Pipes speculating about what lies in store for the U.S. and the world if Obama is re-elected and then we hear Dinesh D’Souza talking about what he calls the “United States of Islam."
[Clip of D’Souza from film]: [Pipes] I think it will be a much more vicious environment in which wars will be more common, in which extremist ideologies will be more common and there will be no great power to hold them back. So I think the power of the United States is crucial for people around the world. [D’Souza] So bad not just for us but bad for everybody? [Pipes] Indeed. [D’Souza] We are out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Egypt moves from being an ally to being governed by the radical Muslims. Libya, Saudi Arabia and Jordan follow the same path. No road blocks are placed in the way of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Israel is isolated. The Middle East transforms itself into the United States of Islam.
SK: Dinesh D’Souza, isn’t this a little bit speculative to say the least?
DD: Well it is, but remember it comes at the end of the film when I am speculating about what America might look like in 2016, that’s the title of the film, if Obama is re-elected. So what I’m doing is taking what Obama’s done and I’m projecting it outward. Now look, number one there are three critical countries in the Middle East. There’s Iran, there’s Egypt, there’s Saudi Arabia. Iran has been in the hands of the radical Muslims since 1979, the Khomeini Revolution. Egypt is on its way there now. And, all that’s left is Saudi Arabia. So recently I was watching a map, I think this might have been on CNN, listing all the places with little dots around the world where there have now been uprisings and clashes and protests and if you look at that map you will basically see right there the same map in our film that delineates the United States of Islam. In other words radical Islam is on the march. This is not just about an assassination in Libya or an inflammatory film out there, this is basically about the fact that the radical Muslims see an opportunity to use the transmission belt of democracy to restore Islam as a global power. Islam hasn’t been a global power in four centuries so something very big is going on and it takes a very blind person not to see that.
SK: Chris Hedges, your response to what Dinesh D’Souza just said and also the clip we heard in that Daniel Pipe essentially says that the US is a stabilizing force in the world, with the US weakened under Obama the world will go into chaos?
CH: I think certainly since the first Gulf War, the US cannot in any way be considered a stabilizing force in the Middle East. And unlike Dinesh I’ve spent seven years in the Middle East. I was the Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times. I speak Arabic. Painting the Muslim world with this kind of brush is what fanatics do. The idea that Algerian Muslims or Egyptian Muslims or Turkish Muslims is childish. It creates a kind of binary vision of the world. Black and white, good and evil. But it’s not real. It's not the way it works. Even the Islamists who may share certain aspects of their ideology usually come down along national lines. Most people are not aware that Al-Qaeda, for instance, has declared Hamas or Hamas members to be apostates because they negotiate or they were negotiating with Israel through Egyptian security officials. Those kinds of tensions which exist when you’re on the ground make it a far more complex and even confusing clash of interests even Islamic interests. All of that is ignored for this cartoonish vision of this world that he paints and Pipes paints. It’s scaremongering. We saw it in the age of communism. It again, has no correlation to reality itself. It’s a non-reality-based belief system.
SK: In your film, Dinesh, you explain the 2008 election of President Obama as essentially a racialized vote that people voted for him because he was a black man. Can you expand on that a little bit?
DD: Sure, now the argument, I agree with it, but it comes from the commentator Shelby Steele who is a scholar at the Hoover Institution. Basically what Shelby Steele says is that what made Obama so attractive and magnetic was not simply the fact that he’s African American but that he was a different kind of African American. What Obama should have put on his resume is “I’m not Jesse Jackson,” “I’m not Al Sharpton.” There’s a tremendous resistance in America to that style of African American politics which you can call shakedown politics: “I’m gonna call you a racist unless you give me benefits and programs and essentially pay me.” People are sick of that.
And Obama comes along and he’s an African American but he doesn’t do the shakedown thing. So people are like “wow, it’s so wonderful to have a black leader who isn’t always pointing the racial finger.” So the point Shelby Steele is making is that Obama without ever raising the topic, is a little bit like Oprah Winfrey offering white America a certificate of racial absolution. It’s kind of like you get to feel really good about yourself by voting for me. You get to prove not only to the world but to yourself morally that you’re not a racist and you’re not part of America’s racial past.
So look, to me, this is a very provocative idea, and that’s what a film should do, it should make you think about how a guy like Obama two years out of the State Senate can essentially walk right into the White House. How can that happen? Would that have happened if he was a white guy? So this is not racism. It’s Chris Hedges who’s being crude in saying that these kinds of arguments don’t belong in politics, they’re a thinly veiled cover for racism. Nonsense. They’re an effort to understand the undercurrent of American politics and the fact is you can not discuss Obama without discussing the politics of race.
SK: Chris Hedges?
CH: Well, I mean, let’s be clear this is coming from an author who in his book The End of Racismdefended segregation, once wrote that the American slave was treated like property which is to say pretty well. The idea that Dinesh D’Souza has any sensitivity toward the issues that confront African Americans in this country is absurd. Obama functioned as a brand.
[In] 2008 the financial industry was on its knees. It thought it had been caught in the vast criminal enterprise of fraud it had carried out. George Bush and the Karl Rove Agenda were utterly discredited. And Obama was a gift to the corporate state. He functioned in the same way that HIV-positive models and people of color function for Benetton and Calvin Klein when they put up their billboards a few years earlier. And I think that all of these debates about Obama, or about Romney, ignore the fact that the personal narratives of these candidates is irrelevant. It makes no difference. We have undergone a corporate coup d’etat. And the center of power, as Occupy Wall Street aptly demonstrated is Wall Street, not Washington. These are political puppets. They are the masks, the faces for corporate power. And Obama was an especially effective face or mask. And as much as it pains me, I might even agree with Dinesh. But Obama doesn’t wield power. He knows where the centers of power lie. He serves those centers of power, otherwise he wouldn’t be in office.
The end of American democracy I would argue is the 2010 Citizens United ruling and whatever Obama’s past, whatever Romney’s past, is not particularly relevant because internally it’s corporate lobbyists who write our laws, who write our legislation, and who control most of the airwaves. Roughly a half dozen corporations Viacom, General Electric, Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp control what most Americans watch or hear. And so to channel energy into the personal narratives which of course is exactly what Dinesh is doing, ignores the fact that in relative terms a figure like Obama is largely powerless unless he serves those real centers of power which are corporate.
SK: Dinesh D’Souza, I’d love your response on that and also you wanted to explain how it was that President Obama just waltzed into the White House, but didn’t that also have something to do in large part with George W. Bush’s policies and also the John McCain, Sarah Palin campaign?
DD: Oh, of course. I’m saying there was a perfect storm of circumstances that propelled Obama forward. But I’m simply saying that for Obama to even beat Hilary in the Democratic nomination was amazing. The Clinton machine controlled the Democratic Party at that point so how would a guy ascend so quickly and crush the Clinton machine and be so invincible? As we say in the film, "he was like a wave," that’s an accurate description of 2008.
Look, I want to respond a little bit to Chris here because in some senses there is a whole camp on the right, Conservatives, who will say of Obama he’s inept, he’s a buffoon. There’s a book out on the bestseller list called The Amateur. Obama does not know what he’s doing, he has no power. He can’t even read a sentence without a teleprompter and weirdly Chris Hedges is sort of agreeing with that in that he’s basically saying that the way our society is structured the presidency has no power. Obama himself is a puppet of other people. There’s a book on the right called The Manchurian Candidate. Obama’s being manipulated by some cabal. And for Chris Hedges there’s another cabal, well perhaps sitting at Goldman Sachs or somewhere else manipulating Obama. See I think this is all delusional.
I mean, I worked in the White House, unlike Chris and the fact is that the president of the United States is the most powerful man in the world without question. We have seen Obama in the space of four years, do a lot. He’s not an amateur, he’s not a buffoon. He has increased federal control over the following industries: hospitals, insurance, banking, finance and energy, education, automobiles. I mean he has altered the relationship of the individual to the state.
Bob Woodward shows in his book that there was opposition to Obama’s policies from the military, from the Defense Department, from the State Department, from the CIA, from Hilary Clinton. One by one he defeated that opposition and made sure that what he said goes. I respect Obama, to me Obama is a powerful, effective man. My disagreement with Obama is with what he wants to do to America. He has a different vision of America than I do and in the film we contrast two dreams. My dream is the immigrant dream and then there’s Obama’s dream which is the dream from his father, and in a sense we’re putting forward these dreams for the people and saying, which dream do you prefer for America?
SK: Well also in the film, you talk about how Obama’s ideology “couldn’t be more directly remote from what Americans believe or care about.” But if he has done all the things you claim he’s done in terms of federal control, is it possible he’s following at least at the margins, at least in those small places, what Americans actually want him to do? Which may be in agreement with what Mitt Romney claimed in a fundraiser that was just revealed by Mother Jones yesterday, saying that 47 percent of the people who vote for the president no matter what and Romney sees these as dependent upon the government, who believe that they are victims, that the government has responsibility to care for them. I mean that’s Romney’s opinion of these folks. This is a very large percentage of this government that believe that the government should be working for them, that their taxes should go towards things like Social Security, having regulations to pay them per power.
DD: Well first of all, you know, it’s simply a matter, you just have to look at the economic tables to see that there’s about not quite a half, but almost a half of Americans who are not recipients from the government. In other words, when you look at the amount of money they pay in taxes, in other words what do they pay out and what do they get back from the government, their getting a lot back, more than they pay in. So let’s put those on one side of the ledger and there’s another group of Americans who pay far more taxes than they see benefits from the government. There’s two groups of Americans, you can then in a way call them the payers and the recipients. So all Romney was saying, which is a statement of the obvious, is that if somebody is getting freebies from the government and are dependent on the government, they are likely to vote for a candidate that says I’ll give you free stuff: free food, free housing, free this, free that. Don’t worry about your retirement, don’t worry about you healthcare, somebody else will pay. Obviously any government that robs Peter to pay Paul can’t fully count on Paul’s support.
SK: Chris Hedges?
CH: Well, I guess Dinesh is speaking about Bank of America, who don’t pay and are utterly parasitic forces on the American taxpayer, funneling trillions of dollars in taxpayer wealth, upwards into their bank accounts where they are sitting on it. You know, right now we are paying Goldman Sachs every penny of the dollar because of their bad debts or bad gambling and then lending money zero percent interest. You know the fact is that there is a force that is hollowing the country out from the inside and it’s not Barack Obama; it is the corporate state, which is moved our manufacturing overseas, which is building the most intrusive security and surveillance apparatus in the history of humankind and I speak as someone who’s covered East Germany, the Stazi state and yet I don’t hear conservatives like Dinesh ever speaking out, they all talk about how they want to defend the Constitution, these are the most egregious assaults against our constitutional rights and against the rights of American citizens to determine how they are governed and I never hear a word from these people. They don’t, they refuse to address where the center of power lies and what they do is they whip up these emotions and I would argue that this film plays that racist card. I find it very disturbing especially around my friend Jerry Wright and they funnel these emotions into dead political theater; that’s really the aim of what he’s doing. I’m sure he’s really well paid for it.
SK: I want to discuss a very strong thread throughout the documentary 2016: Obama’s America and that’s the issue of what anti-colonialism is. Dinesh, you talk about your anti-colonialism versus Obama’s anti-colonialism and you also talk about how the US is a different kind of empire. Can you expand on that a little bit and what you mean by these different kinds of anti-colonialisms because you’re from India, a country that was occupied by the British and that happened until 1947 and one would assume that you would be anti-colonial as much as any other Indian would be.
DD: Absolutely, but American foreign policy is not the same, I mean when the British came to India, they basically decided to stay for 300 years. Right? America has invaded countries, we invaded Grenada; we’re out of Grenada. Even if George Bush remained the president, we would be pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan. So it’s never America’s intention to occupy these countries and stay there and rule those countries and lord it over those people. Even when in Iraq, we had free elections and Bush turned over the keys to the Iraqis and said, “Listen guys, it’s your oil, burn it, use it, sell it to whoever you want. We don’t have any claim on it.” So the bottom line on it is that America is a different kind of empire. Jefferson calls it an empire of ideals.
The second point is that if you look at anti-colonialism is India, it has taken two forms. There was a socialist anti-colonialism of the first 40 years and there’s the free market anti-colonialism of now and you can just ask yourself empirically, which one works better. When I was growing up in India, we’d learn about the five-year plans and how much we improved the previous year and so on. And this was all copied from the Soviet Union and it was as economic disaster and it deprived a whole generation of Indians of their birthright.
So the problem between me and Obama is that he’s following this kind of third-world collectivism. It’s all about redistributing this income. It is completely ignorant about the concept of economic growth. India on the other hand recognizes the stupidity of all of this and started imposing liberalization, modernization, free market and you could see India now having growth rates that are comparable to Malaysia and Singapore and China. So look we’ve had this debate, we can look around the world to see that it is the free market that is allowing countries that are previously colonized to come up in the world. For Obama and the sense of implementing the discredited policies of fifty which he gets essentially from his father’s failed dreams.
SK: Chris Hedges, how do you respond to that?
CH: Well, his father left him when he was two and met him once when he was 10. You know Dinesh comes out of the Christian community of the state of Goa. There are all sorts of pockets including the Sikhs who comprise 40 percent of the Indian army and the British, who allied themselves to their colonial rulers and did the dirty work for their colonial rulers. And I look at this film and Dinesh’s stance is essentially like that. You know it is the stance of the Judenrat. It is those who feel that if they obsequiously bow before the power of white supremacy and white imperial supremacy and are willing to express and they can get away with it because of course they are not white, racist opinions that white supremacists feel or the white power elite feels but is unable to utter. They can somehow ingratiate themselves and enter into that world of white power. That’s what the Dartmouth Review is about.
And yet I have a very peculiar personal window into that world because I come from it. My father’s family comes from the WASP aristocracy from the East. We founded the East Hampton New York in 1633. I went to prep school with the Buckleys. I know this world. And the more interesting sort of psychoanalytical dissection for me. And I think is an undercurrent with this film is this kind of pathetic craving on a part of a person of color to be accepted into a world and lauded and rewarded by a world that fundamental will always despise him.
SK: Well Dinesh D’souza had to leave us just seconds ago to do another interview and Chris Hedges I’d love for you to stay with us until the end of the hour. And if you would like to make your comments on this debate, what you just heard, on Dinesh D’souza’s ideas, if you’ve seen the documentary 2016: Obama’s America, call us at 818 985 5735. That’s 818 985 KPFK. We’d like to hear from you the listener. If you’ve been listening to this very interesting debate between Chris Hedges and Dinesh D’souza, Chris will be staying with us for the next ten minutes.
SK: Welcome back to Uprising, I’m your host Sonali Kolhatkar. With us is still Chris Hedges, joining us from a studio in New Jersey, commenting on and debating Dinesh D’Souza, whose film 2016: Obama’s America, has been a box office success, considered one of the most successful, if not the most successful conservative documentaries of all time and we’ve got a number of you waiting to ask questions and while we get your names and where you are calling from, Chris let me ask you, when you hear someone like Dinesh D’souza speaking about these issues the conspiracy theories on the right, the standard ones are the ones that he rejects, that Obama was really born here, that he’s really a socialist in disguise, but this particular framework in my opinion seems very much in line with those things seems to be more intellectual version of the same kinds of conspiracy theories. What do you think?
CH: Well, I would hesitate to use the word intellectual, but it certainly is a conspiracy theory and it uses the veneer of psychoanalysis and intellectual and even journalistic pursuit in the film, he you know he flies to Kenya and that kind of stuff. But he’s as bad an intellectual as he is a journalist as he is a psychoanalyst. And so it functions, what it does is attempt to lend itself legitimacy and credibility by posing as a journalistic endeavor and even an intellectual endeavor and of course a psychoanalytic inspection and so what it does is that it employs that jargon to cover just another stupid and hallow conspiracy theory, it just happens to be a new one.
SK: Let’s turn to one of our listeners who’s calling. Michael, welcome to Uprising. What are your comments or thoughts?
Michael: Well I just wanted to comment on what Dinesh D’souza said about India as a reflection of his politics. He said India now has growth rates as good as Malaysia, China and Singapore. Al of those are dictatorial regimes that have a kind of form of state capitalism that has nothing to do with democracy or liberalization. What’s going on in India now is an increase in economic inequality. There are people within India that are being crushed by the kind of economic reforms he is talking about and the fact that the national income rate is going up is the same reflection here, the national income of the United States is going up, but it’s all being gobbled up by a small, small sect of Indian society, the same way that the 1 percent here are monopolizing all the increase in wealth, productivity is going under the economical restructuring.
SK: So inequality is increasing. Well, thank you for your comment, Michael.
CH: Let me just throw in there: over a quarter of a million farmers in India have committed suicide which I think buttresses the point that what we’re seeing is a reconfiguration of the global economy into a form of neo-feudalism with the same kinds of inequality and same kinds of repression.
SK: Let’s go to Linda calling into Uprising, welcome to Uprising. You’re on the air.
Linda: I just want to thank Chris Hedges for being honest. And I’m an African American and I certainly feel I will vote for Obama, but I believe he’s done a deplorable job at many things. And the one thing I wanted to comment about Dinesh and I think Chris hit it right on the head: it’s unfortunate that all of us that come from countries that have been colonized and colonized; we feel a need to push toward being European. It’s unfortunate, because as he said we’ll never be that. And I just want to thank you Chris for being honest and candid and keep the good work up.
SK: Thank you so much, Linda. Let’s go to Peter next. Peter, you’re on the air.
Peter: Hi everybody, thank you Chris Hedges and Dinesh D’Souza. I’ve read and have, I’m looking at my bookcase right now, I have books of both of them. I completely agree with Chris Hedges view of the world. The US as we like to know it anyways, was and with Citizen’s United became codified and official, that this is a corporate state. Chris is completely correct that Obama and with a whole lot of other contexts can be really looked as a tyrant with indefinite detention, habeus corpus happening and torture and Libya and Syria and it’s completely a creature of corporate America and is their other vassal. The only thing I agree with Dinesh D’Souza on is when he said people, a lot of people voted for Obama because he’s black. My wife is black and my daughter is considered black. The only reason, because I was well aware of Obama’s background I didn’t have any illusions about what we could expect from him, but I voted for him simply so I could tell my daughter she could be president of the United States.
SK: Chris Hedges, what’s your response?
CH: As you know Sonali, I did not vote for Obama in 2008, I voted for Nader and wrote several of Ralph’s major policy speeches and will not vote for Obama in this election, not least of which is because I just sued him in federal court. And unfortunately the appellate court last night issued a stay on Judge Forest’s ruling of a permanent junction on the section 10:21 on the NDAA, which means it’s now law again until they review it. Yes, it’s really heartbreaking. Because you know because Sheldon Wolen nailed it in his book Democracy Incorporated that we live in a system of what he calls inverted totalitarianism. And we’ve got to push back against those corporate forces, even if it’s a kind of protest vote which I intend to do.
SK: We have time for a last caller, let’s turn to Dele calling to Uprising. Welcome to Uprising Dele. Hi Dele, you’re on the air.
Dele: Very quickly, I just want to say this is beyond Obama. I want to commend the insight you have brought into broadcast journalism. This is the kind of broadcast material, the kind of profoundness, that Pacifica and KPFK offer to their listeners. And this is material that will constitute a veritable anchor of history in the future. I’m very proud that you’ve arranged them for this kind of debate between Chris Hedges and Dinesh.
SK: Well, thank you very Dele, unfortunately we’re out of time. Chris Hedges, just about a minute for your final comments.
CH: Yeah I think it’s, I think that this film is in essence, unfortunately a kind of poster child for what passes for national debate, how void it has become of both facts, reality, intellectual depth. The fact that a film like this could resonate I think across the society, it is deeply disturbing and it shows how impoverished our intellectual life has become in a kind of national level.
Special thanks to Marjorie Hunt, Brian Lee, Dayve Samek, and Bipasha Shom for transcribing this interview. Special thanks to Peter Fretwell at WWFM and Stan Misraje at KPFK for their technical help. Listen to the full program and debate here.
Chris Hedges is a veteran journalist, foreign correspondent and Pulitzer Prize-winning author. He is currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and a columnist at Truthdig.com. His most recent book with Joe Sacco is titled, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.
Dinesh D’Souza is president of the King’s College in New York, and has worked at the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His latest book, God Forsaken was released this April. He is also the writer and director of 2016: Obama’s America.