By Boris Volkhonsky
One of the latest surprises in US cultural life is the unexpected success a new documentary “2016: Obama’s America” had at the box offices over the past weekend.
The film based on a book by a famous conservative author and film maker Dinesh D’Souza who once served as Ronald Reagan’s policy advisor raked in more than $6 million over the weekend to a total of $9 million which has placed it among the highest-grossing political documentaries in film history. It has become the No 2 grossing documentary of the year and has beaten a number of Hollywood blockbusters.
The film tells the personal story of Barack Obama beginning from his early childhood, and quite often quotes Obama’s own words from his book “Dreams from My Father”. It also features an interview with Barack Obama’s half-brotherGeorge Obama, who lives in a slum in Kenya.
It is probably futile to go deeper into the details of the film – for those who haven’t seen it, it would be advisable to see it open-mindedly, for those who have, and have made their decision, it makes no sense at all. More important are the political consequences and the possible impact on America’s future.
The film is clearly anti-Obaman in its attitudes. The fact that it was made by another person of foreign origin only provides additional conservative flavor to the accusations of Barack Obama as being “anti-American”.
The main question the author poses is “What will become of the US in 2016 if Obama is re-elected for the second term?” The author also gives some frightening hints as to what the answer may be.
The critics predictably differed in their assessment of the film. Liberals naturally slammed it as another attempt to tarnish their icon, while conservatives praised the film as well-founded. And almost everyone is drawing parallels with the 2004 film by Michael Moore “Fahrenheit 9/11”. That one made, by contrast, by a prominent liberal commentator was as strongly, if not stronger, anti-Bush in nature as this one is anti-Obama. D’Souza’s “Obama 2016” has not and hardly will ever break the record $119 grossed by “Fahrenheit 9/11” at US box offices alone (not to mention its global distribution and the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival). More so, it is not going to get as much applause from the mainstream (and therefore, liberal-leaning) critics.
But even despite this, the results achieved so far and likely to be achieved while the degree of political debate in the US is rising, is quite impressive.
Political history (and the US is no exemption) can be described as a movement of a pendulum. George W. Bush with his proclaimed “compassionate conservatism” which resulted in two wars and a sky-rocketing budget deficit, alienated not only his regular Democratic opponents, but managed to antagonize such wide layers of the society, that Americans enthusiastically turned down much more moderate democratic candidates in favor of the guy brought up by all kinds of leftist and radical mentors like communist journalist Frank Marshall Davis or radical theology minister Jeremiah Wright. His slogan “The Change We Can Believe In” appealed to too many.
The four years of Obama’s first tenure have shown, though, that in many ways he is not much different from his predecessor. The budget deficit is still there, and Obama’s administration is doing everything to let it grow. One of the two wars ended in total chaos in Iraq, the other one is as far from being ended as in 2008. In addition, there has been an invasion of Libya, and two more wars – in Syria and Iran – are constantly looming.
In fact, despite all this, there is little ground to believe that Obama will lose the November 2012 election. Rather, there is little ground to believe that his opponent will win it. But this leaves open a space for 2016.
Maybe D’Souza is slightly exaggerating the consequences for the US if Obama is re-elected. But four more years of his reign, in full correspondence with the pendulum movement, are more than likely to shift public opinion in the US much farther right than it is now. And this gives an opportunity for a much more radical right-winger not only to win the Republican nomination in spring-summer 2016, but to sweep the national polls in November as well.
One of the ordinary Americans who has seen “Obama 2016” wrote on Facebook: “I have always been a Democrat & I voted for Obama in 2008. I am not rich, I do not oppose gay marriage, I am not racist, I believe in a woman’s right to choose and affordable healthcare…” However, after seeing the film “I walked out of there enlightened & more than anything extremely fearful of what the future holds for not only myself, but more so my children in America.” And she concludes: “I think at this point at least for me what it comes down to in NovemberI think at this point at least for me what it comes down to in November is voting for the lesser of two evils is voting for the lesser of two evils.”
One can only wonder what “the lesser of two evils” will look like in 2016.
Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies.