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Chris Hedges Tells Dinesh D’Souza That His Obama Film Is 'Void of Facts, Reality, Intellectual Depth'

In a debate with D’Souza, Hedges argues the film "shows how impoverished our intellectual life has become in a kind of national level."

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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 Racism defended 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.

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