D’Souza’s Case and My Role in His Film

Published February 3, 2014

National Review Online

Serious questions have been raised about whether the indictment of Dinesh D’Souza on charges that he violated campaign-finance law represents selective prosecution, double standards, and other forms of political mischief. I have a personal interest in the case, which wraps together with my continuing questions about President Obama’s political past.

Two weeks before D’Souza was indicted, he filmed an interview with me for inclusion in his forthcoming filmAmerica. In that interview, I discussed the ideological radicalism and intimidation tactics of the founder of community organizing, Saul Alinsky, as well as the entanglement of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the world of Alinsky and his disciples. The interview touched on various aspects of Obama’s political history, many still largely unknown to the wider public. (D’Souza’s new film has a much broader focus than Obama and Hillary, although they will certainly be covered.)

I don’t know anything about D’Souza’s conduct during the 2012 New York senate race, but I do know something about the thuggish tactics that Obama’s people deploy on his behalf. During the 2008 presidential campaign I had some first-hand experience. There was the initial blocking of my access to documents about Obama’s past and unanswered questions about how this happened. There was the Obama campaign’s attempts to prevent me from discussing my findings about the Obama-Ayers relationship on Milt Rosenberg’s radio show. There was the Obama campaign’s over-the-top attempts to discredit me, and its false denials (very arguably, knowingly false) when I pointed to evidence that Obama had joined a leftist third party.

A variety of incidents, from the Obama campaign’s attacks on me in 2008, to theirtreatment of David Freddoso, to the Obama administration’s 2009 “War on Fox News,” to the IRS scandal, show that the Obama administration is perfectly capable of politically motivated targeting designed to silence, discredit, and intimidate critics.

Despite my familiarity with Alinsky-style moves to silence “enemies,” in 2008 I at first believed that the Obama campaign’s attempts to keep me off the radio had backfired politically and would not likely be repeated. The Freddoso incident proved me wrong. The Obama camp was willing to brave a spate of bad publicity — so long as it was generally confined to conservative circles — for the sake of keeping critical accounts, as well as damaging information about Obama’s political past, out of broader circulation. The willingness of the mainstream press to ignore negative information about Obama’s past, and to largely overlook his attempts to suppress such information, vindicated this hardball strategy.

I’ve had some differences with D’Souza over the years, yet my respect for his work is real. His first book, Illiberal Education, helped to place me on my current trajectory. I took strong public exception, on the other hand, to The Enemy at Home.

D’Souza’s Obama studies have strengths as well as weaknesses. Was Obama’s political development shaped by knowledge of his absent father’s socialism? I believe it was. In foreign affairs, has Obama’s evident preference for “managed decline” been influenced by his African family’s fraught encounter with the legacy of colonialism? I believe it has.

It’s not implausible to attribute outsized significance to Obama’s struggle with his absent father’s legacy. That is the premise of Dreams from My Father, after all. Yet in concentrating so heavily on Obama’s earliest years, D’Souza weakens his case. To be rounded and convincing, any account of the president’s ideological development has to pay more attention to Obama’s adulthood than D’Souza has done up to now.

D’Souza would concede this point, I believe, which is why he’ll have more to say about Alinskyism in his forthcoming work, and why he sought me out to speak to the issue for his film.  D’Souza understands the need to grapple more directly than he has with Obama the community organizer and the budding politician. That said, nothing in Obama’s later development is fundamentally at odds with D’Souza’s portrait of the young Obama.

Ultimately, D’Souza’s minor sins of rhetoric and emphasis pale by comparison to the mainstream press’s refusal even to acknowledge, much less grapple with, the reality of the president’s radical political past. Consider that President Obama joinedleftist third-party and allowed his 2008 campaign to lie about it to the American people.

Had it been learned at any point in his presidency that President George W. Bush once joined a rightist third-party and had lied about it during his first presidential election campaign, the story would have been on every network newscast and every front page in the country for days, if not weeks. Yet when Obama’s affiliation with a far-left party was demonstrated by archival documents, the major outlets said nothing.

So when D’Souza asked me to speak about this and other issues for his forthcoming film, I was more than happy to do so.

For many, this will all be water under the bridge. But political lies do have a way of coming back to haunt their perpetrators. That is, of course, what happened with Obamacare, which could never have passed without the president’s claims that you can keep your plan, keep your doctor, and save big money to boot. What encouraged Obama to believe he could get away with these lies if not his earlier success at suppressing the truth about his political past? The press had rolled over once. Surely they would do so again. They did.

Over time, there will be a reckoning. Friends and associates of Obama have apparently already made available to sympathetic historians various document — letters, event transcripts, and such — that will enlarge the account of Obama’s radical past I laid out in Radical-in-Chief and Spreading the Wealth. We will not see this material until Obama’s term is over. When it finally emerges, I hope historians will allow the public access to the full texts, and not simply secondary summaries, of these important yet currently unavailable documents.

In a sense, the process has already begun, since, as I point out in Radical-in-Chief, David Remnick’s Obama biography acknowledges the truth of some of the most contested claims by Obama’s critics, if only in “blink-or-you’ll-miss-it” fashion.

Given this history, I am less than surprised to discover that a motion picture project with prospects of conveying poorly known facts about Obama’s radical past to a broad audience has hit a speed bump.

The decidedly non-conservative Alan Dershowitz rails against the D’Souza case, calling it “an outrageous prosecution and certainly a misuse of resources.” Elsewhere, Dershowitz says, “I can’t help but think that [D’Souza’s] politics have something to do with it. . . . it smacks of selective prosecution.” (Paul Rahe’scomments on the Dershowitz defense of D’Souza are well worth a read, as is Andy McCarthy’s important piece on D’Souza here at NRO.)

Yet a Reuters investigation by Alison Frankel, which makes an argument that D’Souza was not unfairly targeted, may be most telling in the end. After significant research and reporting, Frankel acknowledges that given the amount of money involved, the charges against D’Souza are unusual. Her “gut feeling,” she says, is that “prosecutors like to make examples of notable alleged law-breakers, whatever their politics.”

That prosecutors are “making an example”of D’Souza is itself an important concession.  D’Souza’s treatment — heavy criminal charges for an alleged infraction usually considered a misdemeanor — is atypical, even according to Frankel.

Yet if prosecutors make examples of high-profile defendants, regardless of their politics, where are the liberal political pundits, left-leaning Hollywood filmmakers, or other celebrities on the left who’ve been charged as D’Souza has for the same alleged infraction? They may exist, but until we see examples, the most carefully reported D’Souza-unfriendly piece I’ve found in the mainstream press seems actually to buttress the argument that he’s been unfairly targeted.

Having said all this, if Dinesh D’Souza is found guilty of campaign-finance violations, he ought to pay a price. But will the penalty be just, given what appear to be inflated charges? At the moment, I’m inclined to doubt it.

I remain convinced that, in the fullness of time, a more truthful account of President Obama’s political history and ideological leanings will emerge. In an effort to make that happen sooner rather than later, I am pleased to appear in Dinesh D’Souza’s forthcoming film, America.

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