Review: ‘Roots of Obama’s Rage’

Americans have  been trying to figure out who Barack Hussein Obama really is ever since he stepped into the spotlight at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.  In 2008 he captured the hopes and dreams of an entire generation of young Americans who had never cared about politics, and for them be became the ultimate symbol of hope, change, and unity.  Since his inauguration in 2009, his political opponents have come to see in him their worst fears realized.  Supporters have lavished every praise on him imaginable, right up to saying “he’s sort of god”.  Detractors, on the other hand, claim he has lied about everything from his religion to his patriotism.

Dinesh D’Souza’s Forbes column–based on his book “The Roots of Obama’s Rage”– burst into this debate like a chain of firecrackers in a crowded room.  It wasn’t so much what he said–D’Souza’s thesis is actually not that original–it was much more the fact that such a respected publication as Forbes chose to give airtime to sentiments like these:

Barack Obama is the most antibusiness president in a generation, perhaps in American history… The Weekly Standard summarizes Obama’s approach as omnipotence at home, impotence abroad.

The best you could say about the reaction of most conservative writers to D’Souza’s book is dismissive.  Writing on the Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin called D’Souza’s argument “poorly reasoned and unsupported by evidence.”  Andrew Ferguson’s book review for The Weekly Standard went quite a bit farther than that, starting with the title: “The Roots of Lunacy.”  Ferguson can’t decide if D’Souza is “a hysteric or a cynic” and lambastes him for “misstatements of fact, leaps in logic, and pointlessly elaborate argumentation.”

John Guardiano, writing for the Daily Caller, sums up other conservative critics:

David Frum, for instance, rails against what he calls D’Souza’s “brazen outburst of race-baiting.” The American Spectator’s Joseph Lawler criticizes D’Souza’s “apocalyptic reading of inconsequential and half-true stories from [Obama's] presidency” and youth. And the Secular Right’s Heather MacDonald denounces the book’s “fever dream of paranoia and irrationality.”

And yet D’Souza isn’t without his defenders.  Newt Gingrich has praised the book highly, and Glenn Beck has had D’Souza on the show and personally vouched for his argument.  Unfortunately the supporters seem to have something in common: they haven’t actually read the book.  I don’t know about Gingrich, but Beck was praising D’Souza in an interview three weeks before the book had even come out.  (Beck did not have an advance copy.)  Guardiano, like Beck, leaped to D’Souza’s defense before actually reading the book.  That should be your first clue that something is amiss, but it certainly won’t be your last.  (Just to be absolutely clear: I do own a copy of the book and I have read it from cover to cover.)

D’Souza’s main argument goes something like this: Barack Obama is clearly left-of-center, but he does things that can’t be explained in the context of ordinary American political ideology.  He’s not a traditional progressive, but something different.  It turns out that what he is, is an anti-colonialist.  More specifically: Barack Obama, Jr. is the ideological conduit for his father, Barack Obama, Sr.

If you think “ideological conduit” is a strange turn of phrase, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  Here is D’Souza’s own description of the situation:

We are today living out the script for America and the world that twas dreamt up not by Obama, but by Obama’ father.  How do I know this? Because Obama says so himself. Reflect for a moment on the titles of his book: it’s not Dreams of My Father, but rather Dreams from My Father. In other words, Obama is not writing a book about his father’s dreams; he is writing a book about the dreams that he got from his father.

Think about what this means. The most powerful country in the world is being governed according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s–a polygamist who abandoned his wives, drank himself into stupors, and bounced around on two iron legs (after his real legs had to be amputated because of a car crash), raging against the world for denying him the realization of his anti-colonial ambitions. This philandering, inebriated African socialist is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son. The son is the one who is making it happen, but the son is, as he candidly admits, only living out his father’s dream.  The invisible father provides the inspiration, and the son dutifully gets the job done. America today is being governed by a ghost. (page 198)

There are three main criticisms of D’Souza’s argument.  The first is that it is factually incorrect, and that’s the case that Ferguson made at the Weekly Standard.  The second is that Barack Obama simply isn’t distinguishable in any meaningful way from a standard American progressive, and that was Ilya Somin’s main point at the Volokh Conspiracy.  Both Ferguson and Somin make good points, but there’s an even more fundamental problem: D’Souza’s argument relies on an impossibility.

The impossibility is this: how is Barack Obama supposed to be following his father’s script so closely that we may as well have Barack Obama, Sr. in the White House if the whole reason for Obama Jr’s devotion is a reaction to the fact that his father was totally absent from his life?  In order for Obama, Jr. to be the mirror image of his father’s beliefs, there has to be some conduit through which those beliefs would have traveled, and yet the two never spoke about anything remotely political, and the only surviving relic of Obama Sr’s ideology is a single publication that anyone could have read and that is far too generic to support D’Souza’s ghost in the White House claims.

The last time that father and son met.

D’Souza is basically saying that the butler did it with a handgun because he was so angry about not having a handgun; his whole argument is self-defeating.  He could have made a more subtle, nuanced argument, but this is not a subtle or nuanced book.  Whenever he has half an opportunity to ridicule Obama’s deceased father or demean our current President, he takes it.  And he does so with such a complete lack of class that it makes the book very hard to read.

Not only does he accuse Barack Obama of being the mortal vessel for his dead father’s anti-colonialist machinations, but he throws out several additional rhetorical hand-grenades which he not only fails to back up, but actually attempts to disavow immediately after having made them.  Here is a small sampling:

Now why would a president who has a big political stake in Afghanistan not care about proposed strategies to successfully prosecute the offensive and maybe even win the war? Short answer: Because he doesn’t want to win. (page 51)

Obama’s goal is not to discourage Iran or North Korea but rather to limit the nuclear capability of the United States and its allies. (page 55)

While most Americans are likely to view this change [towards a post-American world] with foreboding, I see a lone man in the Oval Office watching these trends that he has helped to exacerbate, cheering them on and grinning in triumph. (page 173)

The point is to allow the Iranians to get nuclear weapons while the Obama administration pretends to try to stop them. (page 185)

Remarkably, America now has a president who seems to want his country to go the way of Britain, one collapsed empire following another. (page 196)

According to D’Souza, Obama wants the US to lose in Afghanistan, wants to allow the Iranians and North Koreans to get nukes, and is intentionally attempting to collapse the United States of America from within.  Even D’Souza knows that these charges are a load of crap, and he engages in a pathetic and cowardly process of throwing one verbal hand grenade after another and immediately following them with jewels like “I’m not suggesting that Obama actually favors placing nukes in the hands of mullahs.”  Yes, Mr. D’Souza, that is exactly what you are suggesting.  It’s the old “I’m not sayin’… I’m just sayin’” routine.

His outrageous charges against Obama are matched with a disturbing level of immature taunting.  The following is a list of terms (not complete) D’Souza uses to refer to Obama:

  • lactification man (page 143)
  • our Artful Dodger (page 147)
  • Big Daddy Obama (page 172)
  • the Great One (page 192)

If “lactification man” stands out in that list, it should.  The word literally means “to make white”, and is a blatant example of race-baiting.  Once again, D’Souza provides just enough of a pretext of serious discussion to provide plausible deniability.  His modus operandi throughout the entire book is to make outlandish claims and derogatory statements, and then pretend that he hasn’t actually said what he just said.

As I stated previously, the most disappointing thing about the book is that there are some truly valuable insights scattered amidst the dross.  The fundamental question of anti-colonialism vs. progressivism offers a valuable paradigm for how we view Obama.  D’Souza also makes some astute observations about Obama’s personal character and race relations in the United States.  I  believe that I do understand Barack Obama better having read this book, but it’s very hard to give D’Souza a pass for the sloppy arguments, poor reasoning, factual errors, and egregiously inflammatory tone of the book.

D’Souza could have written a thoughtful, serious, respectful book.  It would have been better received by conservatives, and harder to dismiss by Obama’s defenders.  Instead, he chose to sprinkle the book with trash talk, racially hostile nicknames, and a lot of sophomoric innuendo.  I’m just not sure if D’Souza thought that would goose his sales figures, or if he is so blinded by arrogance that really can’t tell how much he has sabotaged his own writing.

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Comments

  1. Randy Wills says:

    “Even D’Souza knows these charges are a load of crap, and he engages in a pathetic and cowardly process —–.”

    “And he does so with such a complete lack of class that it makes the book very hard to read.”

    “His modus operandi throughout the entire book is to make outlandish claims and derogatory statements, and then claim that he hasn’t actually said what he just said.”

    Pretty harsh critique of an author who is generally well respected, don’t you think? If what you say is objectively correct, Dinesh must have gone off the deep end. I am truly sorry to hear that.

    I haven’t purchased or read Dinesh’s book, but now I might, just to see how objective your critique is. Your review smacks of hysteria in view of my own reading of some of D’Souza’s earlier writings.

    And as far as there being a “missing link” (the “handgun that wasn’t there”) between the junior and senior Obamas, I would venture a guess that the main linkage was through Barack’s mother, who likely espoused and continued to school the impressionable Barak, jr. in the philosophies, ideologies, and worldview of his father.

    But it only stands to reason that others, such as Dinesh, would try to analyse and define Barack Obama because he refuses to let the public know who he really is. If you happened to watch “The Factor” last evening, you would have heard Bill O’Reilly say that, no matter how much he has researched. studied, and even interviewed, Obama, he has found it impossible to know who he is.

    It’s no surprise to me that others would attempt to solve the puzzle by trying to connect the dots to form some coherent explanation for who Obama is. I’m only surprised, based on my previous experience with D’Souza’s writings, that he would produce anything as “classless”, “misinformed”, and “sophomoric” as you decribe. If you are objectively correct, it will certainly change my opinion of Dr. D’Souza.

    Respectfully,

    Randy

  2. MS says:

    Randy: Wouldn’t it make more sense to critique Johnny’s critique after you’ve read the book and confirmed or denied Johnny’s assertions?

    Johnny: “It’s the old ‘I’m not sayin’… I’m just sayin’’ routine.” I hate that routine.

  3. Randy Wills says:

    “MS”.

    If you read my critique properly, you would know that I didn’t critique Johnny’s accuracy nor did I refute it. I simply said that it was very harsh and at varience with the generally accepted opinion of Dr D’Souza’s intellect and writing ability. In fact, I thought that the critique bordered on some of the same faults that Johnny was accusing D’Souza of, but I’m willing to be proven wrong.

    As I said at the end of the comment, if I find Johnny’s “review” to be an accurate representation of the book itself, I’ll change my opinion of D’Souza. Hopefully, others, such as Beck, will as well. I recall that he said that Dinesh’s theory (and that’s all that it is) was the most feasible that he had heard.

    I’ll read the book, but not today or tomorrow. I’m in “Bonhoeffer” right now and then there are three more books in my “reading stack” waiting to be
    read. In the meantime, I thought that it only fair to post a counterpoint to what I considered to be a very harsh indictment of D’Souza’a book, character, and intellect.

    Randy

    No disrespect intended.

  4. Gail B. says:

    Thanks, Randy. I got the same impression. Although I had never heard of D’Souza until I saw him on Glenn Beck and haven’t read his book (but I will), I was impressed by what he had to say on Beck’s program.

    My past two years of researching Obama has turned up the same thing that O’Reilly got: NOTHING!

  5. Gail B. says:

    “Remarkably, America now has a president who seems to want his country to go the way of Britain, one collapsed empire following another. (page 196)”

    If you have watched Glenn Beck this week, you will know what George Soros is doing. Soros collapsed the British banks FIRST, and followed up with more countries. Soros has said on video tape that America is next, that America stands in his way of globalization.

    Before we examine the veracity of D’Souza’s words, perhaps we need to examine Obama’s veracity regarding his agenda and even his citizenship.

  6. Johnny Lathrop says:

    Randy-

    You’re right that I used some strong words, and I encourage you to read the book yourself (whenever you find the time) to confirm/deny my assertions. I certainly don’t mind the counterpoint, but I would simply point out that my own take was actually not very far out of the response from many on the right. As I pointed out in the article, several prominent libertarians and conservatives have expressed negative views of the book, and some quite a bit more negative than my own.

    Gail-

    I’ve been troubled by Glenn Beck’s Soros coverage this week. I haven’t watched all of it, but I have watched more than 1/2. One of the most deeply disturbing things to me is the way that Beck has raised the image of a nefarious, government-toppling supervillain despite the fact that several of the Soros-backed revolutions were *good things*.

    I’m not sure if this is true or not, but Beck credited Soros in both the Rose and Orange Revolutions. The Rose Revolution (in the former Soviet satellite of Georgia) brought Mikheil Saakashvili to power. When Russia attacked Georgia a year or two ago, Beck had Mikheil on the program once or twice and vigorously held the Reagan-loving leader up as an example of virtue. This is the man that–according to Beck–Soros helped overthrow a corrupt, Soviet-style autocrat. The story is basically the same in the Orange Revolution in Ukraine: an old-school, corrupt thug was overthrown without violence in a widespread, democratic movement that brought pro-freedom, pro-western leaders to power.

    If Soros did this, then he did good. Reagan himself would be proud. And yet Beck lists the Rose and Orange Revolutions as among the “scary” things that Soros has done.

    There’s plenty of legitimate ’cause to be deeply, deeply concerned by Soros’s role in US politics right now, but I feel like Beck is playing fast and free with the truth in order to make his point, and that’s not something that I can approve of.

  7. Randy Wills says:

    Thanks, Johnny, for your reasonable response.

    Until I have time to read D’Souza’s book, I’ll peruse other reviews to get a cross-section of how it has been received. I just printed out the “Human Events” review of it (bland), but I’ll look for more in other venues such as Amazon and in the print media (WSJ,etc).

    Your review is important to me because I have read other works by Dinesh and had a favorable impression of his philosophy and intellect and frankly, I felt that your review of “Rage” was more a critique of D’Souza (the content of his character, might we say) than it was of the validity of the theory that he was proffering. That bothered me.

    As for your comments regarding Beck, it is true of him as well as D’Souza; if they lose their credibility, they have nothing left, so, if what you say is true and one of them “knows that these charges are a load of crap” and the other “plays fast and free with the truth”, they both are done, and that would be a shame.

    Randy

  8. Johnny Lathrop says:

    Randy-

    FWIW, I don’t consider my review of D’Souza to be a dismissal of his character. I realize that I did criticize him along those lines, but I draw a distinction between the the flat silhoutte of a person’s character which they may cast with a particular project and the real, three-dimensional thing.

    D’Souza came across in a negative way in his book, but I don’t believe the projection necessarily reflects who he really is. It’s merely what comes across in the book. And what comes across in the book, sadly, detracts from otherwise insightful theories about Barack Obama’s background and ideology.

    In Beck’s case, I am disapointed when he falls short, but I think it’s important to realize that he is covering a tremendous breadth of material on a very, very short news-cycle. I don’t see it as a failure of character so much as a failure of execution.

  9. Johnny Lathrop says:

    Randy-

    The exchange prompted some much extended musings on my part. If you’re interested, you can find them here: http://johnnylathrop.com/?p=33

  10. Randy Wills says:

    Thanks, Johnny, for your referral to your blog posting on this subject. Quite impressive. I would recommend that others visit it as well to get a fuller presentation of your perspective.

    Randy

  11. Randy Wills says:

    I’m not sure that anyone is still following this thread, but, if so, here’s an update on my “review of the reviews” of D’Souza’s “Rage”.

    The bottom line; you either give it five stars or one (or none, as one reviewer would have liked to have done) but the majority of Amazon readers/reviewers rated the book very highly. Such comments as “Extremely well written and very logically reasoned from factually accurate research” and ” —- better than any all-encompassing explanation I have seen. He also does it with neither rancor or vitriol” out-numbered the negative reviews five-to-one. The composite rating on Amazon was four-and-a-half stars out of five.

    So, we’ll see how much I agree with the Amazon reviewers who gave it five stars and Johnny’s very negative one-star view of Dinesh’s work after I’ve read it myself.

    If you’re interested, check back in a week or two.

    Randy

  12. Sam says:

    Thanks for taking the lead on reading this book, Randy.
    I’m deep into Becks book ‘BROKE’ right now, so am having to wait to read this.
    I await your review.

  13. Randy Wills says:

    To “Sam says”:

    And I’ll await your comments on “Broke”. I don’t think that any one of us has time to keep up with all the books that are being published on subjects of real interest to us, so sharing is good.

    Randy

  14. selwyn mills says:

    I am glad to have the opportunity to react to several negative reviews I have read by Andrew Ferguson, David Frum, and Bob Costa. I have read Roots of Obams’s Rage and was impressed with his writing ,logic and tone. I think it a brilliant analytic work.
    I found the three negative reviews had a lot in common…nit-picking,full of personal smears ,insulting to the author and readers who were too stupid to recognize the racism he displayed. I also viewed a one hour TV interview between D’souza and Johnason Alter in which D’souza remained calm and clear in answering Alter’s rude and similar complaints voiced by his other critics. Alter was perspiring throughout and continually interrupting D’Souza before he could complete a response. I can only conclude that his critics were grinding an ax replete with envy. Obama is hardly an open book and lends himself to conjecture and theorizing. D’souza’s point of view is as good as any on the market. I suggest that anyone who has doubts about the value of the book should read it.

  15. Randy Wills says:

    O.K., as a man of his word, I bought and read D’Souza’s “Rage” and found it to be exactly what it was advertised to be; the author’s theory on what makes Obama tick. Personally, I found little to take issue with and, in most cases, came away believing that D’Souza presented as plausible a case for his theory as any in the marketplace of ideas on this subject.

    Yes, Dr. D’souza makes no attempt to hide his disagreement with President Obama and the direction in which he is taking the country, but I can’t find any real fault with that, other than he could have expressed that disagreement with a little more respect for the position Obama holds.

    Although I would suggest that Newt Gingrich’s pre-publication blurb (“Stunning, provocative, original, and telling – no one has better diagnosed who Obama is, what he intends to do, and why he poses an existential threat to America than Dinesh D’Souza in “The Roots of Obama’s Rage.”) is a little over the top (but aren’t all pre-publication blurbs?), given Mr. Gingrich’s stature, both as a historian and author, I doubt that he would so glowingly endorse any literary work that was “sophomoric” or ” pathetically cowardly” or totally lacking in class, “making the book hard to read”. Notwithstanding being “a little over the top”, I would rate D’Souza’s “Rage” closer to Newt’s assessment than Mr. Lathrop’s.

    Sorry, Johnny.

    Randy

  16. Dolly says:

    All I can say is that Beck is right on target about Geo. Soros. He is one evil man out to destroy our country. He has alreay shut down 3 banks in foreign countries.

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