Dinesh D'Souza's documentary 2016: Obama's America burned up the box office in a very slow movie week. Nikki Finke reports that the film took fourth place in U.S. ticket sales Friday and eighth place for the weekend. (The drop over three days indicates the film's heavy reliance on pre-sales.) On the chance that my more or less positive review helped drive those impressive numbers, let me just point out that you'll definitely want to see Home Run Showdown, the stand-up-and-cheer movie of the year for the whole family, when it bows in L.A. the day after tomorrow.
In an Associated Press "Fact Check," Beth Fouhy lives up to her last name by saying "Fooey!" to many of the claims D'Souza makes against President Obama in the film. But most of the facts she refers to are matters of emphasis rather than specific truth claims.
"The assertion that Obama's presidency is an expression of his father's political beliefs, which D'Souza first made in 2010 in his book 'The Roots of Obama's Rage,' is almost entirely subjective and a logical stretch at best," Fouhy writes. I said as much in my review, which judged that the film persuasively makes a case I don't agree with. (I'm a New Critic. What's up on the screen, not what we know from outside the theater, is what matters.) But a subjective claim by its nature is not susceptible to verification.
Here are Fouhy's fact claims:
—D'Souza rightly argues that the national debt has risen to $16 trillion under Obama. But he never mentions the explosion of debt that occurred under Obama's predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, nor the 2008 global financial crisis that provoked a shock to the U.S. economy.
– D'Souza says Obama is "weirdly sympathetic to Muslim jihadists" in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He does not mention that Obama ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and the drone strikes that have killed dozens of terrorists in the region.
– D'Souza wrongly claims that Obama wants to return control of the Falkland Islands from Britain to Argentina. The U.S. refused in April to endorse a final declaration on Argentina's claim to the islands at the Summit of the Americas, provoking criticism from other Latin American nations.
– D'Souza says Obama has "done nothing" to impede Iran's nuclear ambitions, despite the severe trade and economic sanctions his administration has imposed on Iran to halt its suspected nuclear program. Obama opposes a near-term military strike on Iran, either by the U.S. or Israel, although he says the U.S. will never tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.
– D'Souza says Obama removed a bust of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill from the OVAL OFFICE because Churchill represented British colonialism. WHITE HOUSE CURATOR William Allman said the bust, which had been on loan, was already scheduled to be returned before Obama took office. Another bust of Churchill is on display in the president's private residence, the White House says.
In reverse order:
Fouhy is drawing on a "Fact Check" that appeared in June on the White House blog, trying to clear up the controversy over the Churchill bust. (The Obama Administration is never too busy to attend to The People's business.) The Obama folks, as they did with Solyndra, try to push the decision regarding the bust back to the Bush Administration. Jake Tapper notes that there are actually two Churchill busts, and points out that the original news was not anti-Obama propaganda but a claim from the British Embassy itself. (As far as I'm concerned any president who gets rid of a bust of Churchill – a figure far more beloved on this side of the Atlantic than in the island nation he actually ruled – is A-OK.)
The claim about Obama's having done nothing to prevent Iran from getting nukes is itself subjective. Unless Fouhy can demonstrate that sanctions have actually slowed Iran's nuclear weapons program (unlikely, given that the program's very existence is in doubt), it's perfectly fair to say that, from the standpoint of an Iran-nuke hawk, Obama has achieved nothing.
Fouhy is correct about Falklands policy, which has been one of neutrality going back to the Reagan Administration, when Argentina and the United Kingdom went to war over the islands. Prime Minister David Cameron somewhat complicates this narrative by saying the U.S. supports both the "status quo" and "self-determination" – which, since the overwhelming majority of Falklands residents want to remain with the U.K., could be considered British-leaning neutrality rather than the pro-Argentina position D'Souza implies. Neither Fouhy nor D'Souza mentions the president's biggest Falklands embarrassment: when he tried to call them the "Malvinas" but it came out "Maldives." (As I pointed out, D'Souza is more fair to his subject than any of his leftwing counterparts ever were to George W. Bush.)
The correction about Islamists is, again, subjective. D'Souza says Obama "seems weirdly sympathetic." That's one weasel word, an adverb and an adjective. If you're on D'Souza's side (I'm not), the statement is not controversial. But it makes no factual claim. D'Souza is under no obligation to burnish Obama's terror-fighting reputation, and the killing of Osama bin Laden is not some obscure event that audiences would not have known about otherwise.
Fouhy is wrong about the film's misstatement on the national debt. D'Souza's source for that stuff is a former comptroller who places the blame evenly on Bush 43 and Obama. D'Souza, who co-wrote and co-directed, left that statement in the film, and it is false to say he "never mentions" Bush's profligacy.
Subjective assertions are worth arguing about. D'Souza's view of Obama as a Fanonian radical at war with the establishmentarian U.S.A. seems to me less plausible than a critique rooted in Chicago shakedown politics, and far less plausible than Thaddeus Russell's view that Obama is devoted to the traditional American empire of welfare and warfare. (These theories also strike me as better supported by Obama's history in office.) That's why there are 31 flavors. D'Souza blends his own autobiography with Obama's in a way that you will find either charming or narcissistic, depending on your political views. The title of his film is a year that hasn't happened yet. It's clear that he is working subjectively. I'm not just concerned about the defining down of the "Fact Check" concept but also with the crumbling of the left's movie-reviewing skills.
In other movie news: Werner Herzog can hypnotize chickens.