Poster for the documentary '2016: Obama's America'
Despite not having many fans among liberals, '2016: Obama's America' has earned $20 million in box-office receipts to date.

I propose a contest. Would documentary filmmakers Dinesh D’Souza and Michael Moore be willing to sit down and engage in a debate? Who is man enough to take the challenge?

I’ll come clean and say I have a bone to pick in this proposition: I recently saw D’Souza’s film, 2016: Obama’s America, and I found it to be the most offensively funny movie of the year. I wish I could say it uses humor in the same way that Moore does, but it happens to be an unintentionally hilarious denunciation of President Obama that actually attempts to weave a theory that Obama is, at heart, an anti-colonist and therefore an anti-American who is willfully gutting our nation and propping up other nations in a deep-seated-attempt to please his long-deceased, absent father. It posits the similar accusation levied at Moore: that he hates America. The thesis is as thin and ridiculous as a Michael Bay movie, which is why it’s no surprise that it’s become a box office juggernaut, making $20 million over its eight weeks in release so far, according to Box Office Mojo.

D’Souza is utterly cynical and deceptive, so much so that I don’t believe he even believes what he’s proposing, but he knows that throwing crap on a wall will gain traction with Americans, so he willfully misleads a populace he believes he can play like a fiddle.

One thing I didn’t count on is that the movie doesn’t deliver on the promise of its title: a political analysis of where Obama could bring America in four years. That’s an intellectually engaging subject that is just touched on at the very end. Instead, the documentary is a totally weird pseudo-psycho-intellectual threading of D’Souza’s personal history with that of Obama’s.  He draws on his own books to tell us he understands where Obama is coming from because he comes from the same place (India, a post-colonial country, like Kenya). He so desperately and tenuously makes this connection, but then he flips and disavows the connection with a conclusion that he loves America and Obama hates it.

Let’s start with the most damning evidence D’Souza has to offer: Obama removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the White House. This is the best evidence the great thinker D’Souza can muster? He’s playing to the lowest type of thinking.

In one instance, it’s dizzying how D’Souza takes a paragraph purportedly written by Obama’s father in an academic journal in 1965 to suggest Obama is in favor of a socialist state. He connects the dots for us, saying the aforementioned assertion is President Obama’s wish because he wrote in his book Dreams from My Father that he wants to realize his father’s dreams. It’s a jaw-droppingly stupid reach, but there it is.

Or there’s the time D’Souza painstakingly tries to build the case that Obama has callously turned his back on his half-brother in Kenya (going so laughably far as to place two images of the two, one with Obama walking away from his half-brother) because he may be pro-colonization. But when he interviews the brother, the guy isn’t having it. He denies that he feels neglected by his famous distant relative and smiles at D’Souza, while D’Souza gropes for air. Why he’d leave this in his film is bizarre, but there it is.

The Hawaii section inspired more howlers. First, D’Souza builds the case Obama’s menacing anti-American mother can’t bear to let his American-leaning Indonesian stepfather influence him to be too pro-American, so she sends young Obama to… America! Did D’Souza ever take a moment to think that this totally contradicts his case? And while in Hawaii, we hear that Obama went to study “oppression studies” at Punaho, a high school that D’Souza suggests is a haven of rebels and anti-colonialists. WTF? Punaho is one of the most elitist schools in the country. It’s like the Oxford of the Pacific. Then, we hear all about the anti-colonial hostility brimming under the surface in Hawaii, but it’s just spaghetti in our ears. D’Souza never makes a connection between Obama and this movement. It’s laughable, but there it is.

Sure, it’s funny. It’s so stupid that it’s funny. But all great comedy is rooted in tragedy. And as the 20 or so of my fellow audience members (yes, they live among us even in the blue states) applauded the final credits of the film, I couldn’t help hoping that there were more than just box office similarities with the last hugely popular election season documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11. That film made $120 million, but it also turned a lot of people into Michael Moore haters. And, most significantly, it did not help defeat its target, George Bush.

Not surprisingly, D’Souza has said he was inspired by Moore’s success with Fahrenheit 9/11, so I think we can make the circle complete by bringing these two together. As much as I’d like to see Obama weigh in on this, I don’t think it’ll happen. An equally compelling discussion can be had. Here’s the subject of the debate: Who loves America more: Dinesh D’Souza or Michael Moore?

Full disclosure: I couldn’t bear to be in a position to “support” this movie, so I may have bought a ticket to The Dark Knight Rises instead, and slipped into 2016: Obama’s America. I suggest you do the same, if you’re a masochist like me, and want to drown yourself in lies wrapped in celluloid.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen