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Dinesh D’Souza was born and raised in Mumbai, India, and worked as a policy analyst in Ronald Reagan’s White House. He is currently president of The King’s College in New York, and has worked at the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He has written a number of books: What is So Great About America (2002) , What is So Great About Christianity (2008), The End of Racism (1995), Letter to a Young Conservative (2003), and The Roots of Obama’s Rage (2010). His latest book, God Forsaken was released this April. He is also the writer and director of 2016: Obama’s America
Chris Hedges is an award winning veteran journalist, foreign correspondent and best-selling author. He won a Pulitzer prize for his reporting on global terrorism at the New York Times in 2002. He served as a war correspondent for nearly 20 years and is currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and a columnist at Truthdig.com. He has written many books including War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002), Losing Moses on the Freeway (2005), American Fascists (2007), I Don’t Believe in Atheists (2008), Empire of Illusion (2009), and Death of the Liberal Class (2010). His most recent book with Joe Sacco is entitled, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.
Kolhatkar: In your film Dinesh you explain the 2008 election of President Obama as essentially a racialized vote that people voted for him because he was a black man. Can you expand on that a little bit?
D’souza: Sure, now the argument, I agree with it, but it comes from the commentator Shelby Steele who is a scholar at the Hoover Institution. Basically what Shelby Steele says is that what made Obama so attractive and magnetic was not simply the fact that he’s African American but that he was a different kind of African American. What Obama should have put on his resume is “I’m not Jesse Jackson”, “I’m not Al Sharpton”. There’s a tremendous resistance in America to that style of African American politics which you can call shakedown politics: “I’m gonna call you a racist unless you give me benefits and programs and essentially pay me.” People are sick of that. And Obama comes along and he’s an African American but he doesn’t do the shakedown thing. So people are like “wow, it’s so wonderful to have a black leader who isn’t always pointing the racial finger.” So the point Shelby Steele is making is that Obama without ever raising the topic, is a little bit like Oprah Winfrey offering White America a certificate of racial absolution. It’s kind of like you get to feel really good about yourself by voting for me. You get to prove not only to the world but to yourself morally that you’re not a racist and you’re not part of America’s racial past.
So look, to me, this is a very provocative idea, and that’s what a film should do, it should make you think about how a guy like Obama two years out of the State Senate can essentially walk right into the White House. How can that happen? Would that have happened if he was a White guy? So this is not racism. It’s Chris Hedges who’s being crude in saying that these kinds of arguments don’t belong in politics, they’re a thinly veiled cover for racism. Nonsense. They’re an effort to understand the undercurrent of American politics and the fact is you can not discuss Obama without discussing the politics of race.
Kolhatkar: Chris Hedges
Hedges: Well, I mean let’s be clear this is coming from an author who in his book “The End of Racism” defended segregation, once wrote that the American slave was treated like property which is to say pretty well. The idea that Dinesh D’Souza has any sensitivity toward the issues that confront African Americans in this country is absurd. Obama functioned as a brand.
[In] 2008 the financial industry was on its knees. It thought it had been caught in the vast criminal enterprise of fraud it had carried out. George Bush and the Karl Rove Agenda were utterly discredited. And Obama was a gift to the corporate state. He functioned in the same way that HIV Positive models and people of color function for Benetton and Calvin Klein when they put up their billboards a few years earlier. And I think that all of these debates about Obama, or about Romney, ignore the fact that the personal narratives of these candidates is irrelevant. It makes no difference. We have undergone a corporate coup d’etat. And the center of power, as Occupy Wall Street aptly demonstrated is Wall Street not Washington. These are political puppets. They are the masks, the faces for corporate power. And Obama was an especially effective face or mask. And as much as it pains me, I might even agree with Dinesh. But Obama doesn’t wield power. He knows where the centers of power lie. He serves those centers of power, otherwise he wouldn’t be in office.
The end of American Democracy I would argue is the 2010 Citizens United Ruling and whatever Obama’s past, whatever Romney’s past, is not particularly relevant because internally it’s corporate lobbyists who write our laws, who write our legislation, and who control most of the airwaves. Roughly a half dozen corporations Viacom, General Electric, Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp control what most Americans watch or hear. And so to channel energy into the personal narratives which of course is exactly what Dinesh is doing, ignores the fact that in relative terms a figure like Obama is largely powerless unless he serves those real centers of power which are corporate.