It seems that the prolific and effusive America-apologist Dinesh D’Souza has succeeded big-time with a movie about America, which was taken from a book that proclaims the same theme. As a “conservative,” I’m supposed to swoon over this movie and the book that preceded it, predictably put out by the GOP publishing house Regnery. Both these masterpieces convey the exhilarating message of American “greatness.” As someone who is older and better educated than D’Souza and, in addition, politically well to his right, I find his boasting and posturing to be profoundly annoying. Further, most of his books have no redeeming intellectual or social value and, from what I can determine, are churned out for those whose minds have already been diseased by the Murdoch media.
Dinesh’s writings all go after the same convenient targets, anti-American leftists who are either senior citizens or rapidly approaching that status. These baddies allegedly hate us, despite the (for D’Souza and his fans) self-evident facts that our government is a model of civility and constitutional continuity, and that every war we’ve waged has been beneficial for the world. Apparently taking on critics of American greatness suffices to make one a conservative star, although the question goes begging whether someone who is truly on the right should applaud what the US and its Western European clients are becoming. Is it possible to question the exceptional goodness of the US in its present state, without having to be compared to such paradigmatic leftists as Howard Zinn and Ward Churchill? What about someone who questions D’Souza’s rallying cry, because that person is disgusted with the direction in which the US is moving politically, culturally and constitutionally? Are we expected to swallow our scruples and scream the D’Souza-Fox mantra?
I also don’t happen to think that Dinesh’s villains are as consistently awful as he suggests. I have uncovered some useful facts by reading Howard Zinn, for example how the American government entangled us in World War One or about the collaboration that went on between the American government and certain business and banking interests. But I’ve never learned anything of value from reading Dinesh; and I doubt that I ever will. The guy’s done too well as a noisemaker to change his calling. For once in my life I find myself in agreement with Huffington Post, when it points out the silliness and lies in Dinesh’s latest movie, which we are told is intended to redeem us from our leftist culture. The film abounds in reenactments of war, to a point that would have caused Mussolini to blush with embarrassment. We see, among other visual pleasures, our national savior Abraham Lincoln periodically coming out to regale us with speeches about how we’re all equal. We also get to hear Dinesh emoting about he loves America and about how he couldn’t imagine the world without it. (Yes, I could easily imagine the world without having to listen to this emoting.)
Unfortunately, according to HP, D’Souza “strays off the costumed path to prove his point.” He warns us that the US is harboring villains who want to destroy us, and the scoundrel he spits at the most is Howard Zinn, whom “he introduces as the most influential historian of the last fifty years.” “Although a popular survey of the profession and a consideration of awards and publications do not support D’Souza’s contention,” which is “a total fabrication,” our movie-maker has a deep investment in this invention. It is entirely indicative of where D’Souza is coming from as a neocon propagandist. A far more obvious choice for the rap he’s bestowed on Zinn is the longtime Stalinist and despiser of Southern whites Eric Foner, who has held every conceivable honor in the historical profession and is the favorite historian of Karl Rove. But Foner, whose radical reconstruction of Reconstruction has had a far more widespread effect on American society and his profession than any People’s History produced by the aged radical Zinn, is a less useful target. While the retired Boston University professor railed with particular vehemence against American war-making, the retread- Marxist-Leninist Foner has made a career out of attacking racists, especially the ones who are white and who speak with Southern drawls.
Huffington Post also brings up another problem that has something to do with D’Souza’s integrity. He writes in defense of traditional marriage, but is far from the best representative of what he preaches, as judged by his philandering lifestyle. Recently our movement conservative hero was forced to resign his presidency of King’s College, a Christian institution in New York City, after he was found performing indelicate acts in a hotel with his latest paramour.
Dinesh and I go back a long way, to the time when he wrote commentaries for me when I was senior editor of The World and I in Washington in the 1980s. He was then working at Heritage, and his colleague Adam Meyerson, whom I knew well, assured me that Dinesh “writes very efficiently.” Since I was required to fill hundreds of pages of a gargantuan magazine every month, I needed lots of copy, and Dinesh, I was told, could help me reach my goal because he just “keeps typing.”
At that time I was grateful for his prompt services, but as I reflect on his voluminous submissions, there was nothing he ever sent me that had the slightest substance. It all had the same overriding theme, which was particularly evident in a commentary on the literary corpus of Graham Green. All I could discover from looking at this text is who liked America’s foreign policy and who didn’t. Although Green may have held crotchety political opinions and exchanged mistresses with some regularity, I was looking for a commentary that dealt with his writing craft. Whether or not Green consistently supported the “democracies” or “democratic capitalism” was likewise not the intended focus of the assignment. Green was one of the greatest novelists in the English language in the twentieth century. But Dinesh’s interests lay elsewhere, and he obviously choose shrewdly when he decided to become a neoconservative, establishment Republican propagandist.
The idea that the “Left,” whatever that means in contemporary political debate, “hates” America is a neocon idée fixe going back to the 1970s. Back then the New Left engaged unrestrainedly in anti-American statements, and the neocons rose to prominence by countering these indiscretions. This new class gained prominence not as hardened rightists but as seemingly gentler progressives than the loudmouths they attacked. A friend of mine had it right right when he satirized the typical neocon polemic as an attack by social democratic gradualists against those who were further on the left. Moreover, the neocons were and are aggressive internationalists, a position that didn’t sit well with what there was of the Old Right in the 1970s. By the same token, there were leftists, including leftist politicians, who once made careers out of ranting against “Amerika.” One can hear their tirades on old news clips. In any case forty years ago neocon defenses of what the American polity had become had at least some relevance.
With due respect to those who continue to scream about this grievance, I haven’t noticed President Obama, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi or Barbara Boxer perpetuating the oratorical tradition of Jerry Rubin and Jane Fonda. Much has changed since the 1970s, including political rhetoric. The Left has been able, with generous GOP assistance, to turn this country in the direction they want. When Obama tells us America is “a special place on Earth,” I’ve no reason to doubt that he means it. After all, the USA is a country this national leader is helping to refashion. Running as the most leftist presidential candidate of all times, he won two presidential races, and both of them handily, and since then he has been able to push the country even further to the left than his Republican predecessor.
Yesterday I heard remarks by another FOX bête noire, Hillary Clinton, which may have surpassed Dinesh’s prose in its boasting about American greatness. This came conveniently at a time when neoconservative moneybags are looking at Hillary as someone they would support for president, if the GOP presidential candidate did not turn out to be a predictably obliging tool of their interests. No sooner had Hillary recited her neoconservative phrases than Sarah Palin oozed pleasure over the “boldness” of her onetime ideological opponent.
D’Souza has to dig deep into the nut barrel to come up with current examples of anti-American ranting in our political class. Most of our politicians sound to me like either funeral directors or Cultural Marxist maniacs. But none of them is denying that we’re the greatest. By the way, the single most abject admission of American guilt by a president I’m aware of was the lachrymose performance offered by Obama’s predecessor during a visit to Benin. In that African country in July 2003, G.W. Bush bewailed America’s participation in slavery and did so in the presence of the local power-holder. Significantly, Obama’ critics at FOX praised Bush for “apologizing over slavery” in Africa. One could only imagine how they would have reacted if a Democratic president had provided the same show.
Dinesh may be right in deciding that some things are more profitable for him than pursuing research scholarship. His early work, The End of Racism (1995), is so egregious that once, when asked in a discussion involving the author to enumerate the book’s weaknesses, I almost passed out in exhaustion after ten minutes. Contrary to D’Souza’s contentions, racism is not a modern invention that came along in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Although “scientific racism” is a product of the Enlightenment and the age of science, racialist attitudes can be traced back to the dawn of world civilization. These attitudes and sentiments have been institutionalized in legal codes and sacred texts. Indeed in the country from whence D’Souza comes, racial domination shaped an elaborate caste system imposed by the Indo-German invaders on the darker-skinned older settler population– about four thousand years ago. And while the encounter of more developed Western explorers and missionaries with less developed or more decadent non-Europeans spurred racialist thinking in the nineteenth century, it is glaringly wrong to argue that this experience caused people to become preoccupied with racial and ethnic differences. That focus has been there for quite some time.
And it’s even more ridiculous to pretend that people will cease to make such distinctions because we now live in what D’Souza proudly announces is a “multiracial society.” I have noticed, and it does not surprise me, that there are continued signs of racial consciousness in what is supposed to be D’Souza’s super-great society. This was obvious, at among other times, during the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman affair, when racial polarization surfaced unmistakably. D’Souza’s efforts to demonstrate the “end of racism” often elides into mere happy talk. But I don’t want to be unfair to the author. I know he’s trying to soothe tensions and discourage minorities from stressing racial grievances. That’s fine with me, but I have one question about the format of his magnum opus: Can’t D’Souza express his view succinctly, without drowning us verbiage?
Despite these critical observations, I should mention that I could never produce a book with as many words in it as The End of Racism. It is a weighty coffee-table decoration that may have begun as something that the author intended to send me in installments for The World and I. But then I left Washington, while Dinesh kept pecking away on his word processor.