About a week ago, Mitt Romney accused Barack Obama of being a “disgrace,” an “angry and desperate president” running a campaign of division and anger and hate, adding “the president's campaign is taking American politics to new lows, we're going to do something very differently.”
Well, golly, that would be a nice change. Because the bloodlust Republican Party and the rightwing in general has shown over the last few months running up to this election – so fixated has the right become on defeating Barack Obama at any price – that any personal integrity, any sense of decency, morality, even common sense, has eroded at an exponential rate.
It’s one thing to criticize a candidate on his policies, his voting history, his statements and even his personal life if that personal life could have an effect on his political life. It’s even legitimate to criticize members of his family, if they are involved in the political process; Ann Romney surely deserves a reality check after her toffee-nosed “you people” remark. But the recent attack on Obama’s family has been nothing short of outrageous. If the rightwing can’t get to the President himself, they’ll stoop to anything. Anything.
I’d thought the recent smear campaign fabricated against the other Ann, Ann Dunham, had to scrape the bottom of the barrel when it came to maliciousness and spite. It would seem highly improbable to anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together that a woman with bachelors degree in mathematics and a masters and PhD in anthropology, whose research focused on the work of women in third world countries, who created microcredit programs to fight poverty in rural villages, who worked for the United States Agency for International Development, the Ford Foundation in Jakarta and the Bank Rakyat in Indonesia where she applied her research to developing the largest microfinance program in the world... was secretly a nude model for naughty photographs? Seriously? On what planet? Only the most credulous of Fox-fed morons would believe such an idiotic theory. Unfortunately, it seems like there’s a lot of them willing to swallow this bilgewater. But unlike Ann Romney, Ann Dunham isn’t alive to defend her reputation, nevermind her son’s.
Fortunately, George Obama is. Dinesh D’Souza, a naturalized American citizen born in Mumbai, India, conservative political commentator and Evangelical Christian apologist, former policy analyst in the Reagan administration, who has accused “the cultural left in this country [of being] responsible for causing 9/11”, tracked down and interviewed Barack’s half-brother, who lives in Nairobi, Kenya, in what a US news report described as a shack “like something out of Slumdog Millionaire” for his film, 2016: Obama’s America, based on his 2010 book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage, which D’Souza purportedly claims to be an examination of the President’s intellectual influences. He even credits Michael Moore as an inspiration, a rather back-handed sort of compliment, as D’Souza’s film is about as fact-packed as a hot air balloon leaking noxious gas. Even more amazing, his entire approach backfires when D’Souza tries his hardest to pin George Obama down, asking painfully obvious leading questions, such as why the half-brother of the most powerful man on the planet lives in poverty.
To his credit, George Obama displays an integrity and strength of character that seems to run through the Obama family, regarding D’Souza with palpable cynicism. “I think he has a family of his own,” he said. But-but-but, D’Souza sputters, aren’t you his family, too? George shrugs. “I’m a member of his family, but I’m overage. So I help myself.” D’Souza then falls back on his evangelical training, quoting the Bible about being “our brother’s keeper.” George looks as if he’s about to laugh. “He’s got other issues to deal with. He’s taking care of the world, so he’s taking care of me.”
Watching D’Souza flounder while George languidly batted away any accusations against his half brother was actually a pleasure to watch. And quite sobering as well. When D’Souza pressed George about his father, a man D’Souza had reviled in his book as a “philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anti-colonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son,” George’s expression turned from scepticism to a wistful introspection. “He was really educated. My mum was disappointed in me because I actually didn’t finish my schooling. I really did let her down, I let my father down because he was an intellectual guy.”
The degree of humility, intelligence and grace under pressure George Obama shows in this film is admirable. Which makes this latest attempt at smearing Obama through his family even more ludicrous and contemptible. This pathetic imitation of a “documentary” is filled with histrionic imagery, like Benjamin Franklin’s face on a burning banknote, and turns out to be nothing more than a thinly veiled race-baiting fantasy that questions Obama’s patriotism, regurgitates repeatedly discredited speculation on his citizenship, his religious beliefs, his supposed lack of support of Israel, his “Big Government” programs, and trawls the dregs of incendiary rightwing conspiracy theories. He casts doubt on Obama’s birth, his grades at Occidental College, his SAT scores, his GPA at Columbia, the subject of his thesis, his law school tests, his LSAT score that entitled him to enrol at Harvard law school. He questions who Obama’s friends might have been, the names of all his girlfriends since his first kiss, as if this is all proof of some massive secret conspiracy that’s been going on since Barack Obama was in diapers.
D’Souza paints Barack Obama’s absentee father as someone who somehow turned his son into a radical bent on destroying America’s ideals, despite having only met with his son once, when the boy was ten. He then connects the dots in a bizarre picture of how dashiki wearing poet Frank Marshall Davis (a friend of Obama’s grandfather in Hawai’i) and retired university professor Bill Ayers perverted the young Barack’s weak-willed mind with their Commie pinko pro-union anti-war socialist Zionist terrorist fill-in-the-blank-ist propaganda. Oh, not to mention that Barack the student at Columbia once took a class taught by Professor Edward Said, distinguished scholar and author of a number of seminal studies in Post-Colonialism (someone I was also required to read while studying for my master’s degree in English literature).
D’Souza then shows Obama at rally struggling to explain his healthcare bill, but disingenuously edits out the jeering of hecklers. He asserts the Obama is sympathetic to jihadist radicals while conveniently omitting any mention at all about whose administration was responsible for tracking down and killing Osama bin Laden. (Hint: It wasn’t George W. Bush’s).
This simplistic and distorted cautionary tale that Obama is the “...most unvetted man, president, in modern American history” would be absurd in any other country, or any other time in our own. A film this badly researched, this obviously slanted, this puerile, would in any normal circumstances have been laughed out the door to sizzle in the light of day and turn to dust. But a lot of money seems to be behind pushing the promotion of the film, currently in limited release at the moment but scheduled for a full frontal assault in theatres by October. At its preview last month on a single screen in Texas, it grossed nearly $32,000 during its opening weekend, expanding to 169 theatres and surging ticket sales bringing in $1.24 million in the few weeks since it opened. The film has had audiences applauding wildly and chanting “Ron Paul! Another Reagan! Mitt Romney!” with a fervour of Roman spectators cheering on their favourite gladiators, baying for blood.
The rightwing mask of sanity is badly slipping, and the sociopaths lurking underneath are frightening. Worse, it’s not just a few isolated incidents and it's growing every day. It would be nice to think that there would be some limit to the lunacy, some line that oversteps the boundary of what even the most die-hard conservative considers acceptable, some semblance of personal integrity, a smidge of decency, morality, and common sense still surviving by even the most precarious toehold in the Republican party. But this shrill loony-toon circus just continues to descend into new circles of hell. I genuinely fear for the soul of America.