'America: Imagine the World Without Her': Preaching to a choir

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceJuly 3, 2014 

George Washington is played by John Koopman in America: Imagine a World Without Her.

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It takes 90 minutes for Dinesh D'Souza's rambling, mistitled America: Imagine the World Without Her to get to its real point. There's D'Souza — arch-conservative Ivy League immigrant, creator of the popular anti-Obama screed 2016: Obama's America — in handcuffs.

"I made a mistake," he says to the conservative choir he's preaching to. We're supposed to know he pleaded guilty to felony federal campaign finance law violations back in May, and that he faces prison time when he's sentenced later this year.

Snippets of assorted Fox TV commentators link that conviction to his earlier film criticizing President Barack Obama. The implication is that he's a martyr to the cause. For those in his choir a little slower to catch on, he cuts to an actor playing Abraham Lincoln, giving his "farewell address," a speech freighted with symbolism. "I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return," he says.

Cut to John Wilkes Booth, an assassination, and a great Republican lost to history.

What doesn't matter is that Lincoln actually gave that address as he left Illinois for Washington in 1861, four years before his assassination.

What does matter is D'Souza's comical gall at daring to make the comparison.

America sets itself up as a piece of documentary counter-history, opening with George Washington not surviving the 1777 defeat at the Battle of Brandywine, which causes Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty to dissolve. Where would the world be if America wasn't here?

But D'Souza abandons that as he posits his main thesis: A conspiracy by academics and activists has created a culture of "shame" about American history.

He lists five "indictments" that Native American activists, Mexican-American academics, black leaders, leftist historians and the Occupy Movement have sold the American public: We stole Indian land, Mexican land, African slaves, global colonies (and oil) and capitalists are stealing from each and every one of us, even today. Then he sets out to dismiss each of those indictments.

He's on his safest ground going after historian Howard Zinn, whose A People's History of the United States, originally published in 1980, is a de-mythologized look at assorted American wrongs, dating from European settlement of the New World, to slavery, Indian "genocide" the Vietnam War and today's "Oil Wars."

Zinn is a darling of the left — Hollywood liberals embraced him — which makes him a good conservative whipping boy. Yes, his book is taught in a lot of America's colleges and universities. No, D'Souza doesn't mention that it's typically taught as an added text to counter the standard narrative of American history. Using the shrill Zinn along with more conventional texts teaches students critical thinking.

D'Souza takes issue with the notion that keeping "conquered lands" was something we invented and punctures the use of "genocide" to describe the impact of disease on Native American populations in the early years after European settlement.

D'Souza whines that "capitalists are under fire" and flings the usual hero entrepreneurs up on screen (Steve Jobs, et al.) while avoiding mentioning rapacious corporate compensation culture, Wall Street chicanery or high-finance gambling.

He dismisses the notion of any lingering impact of slavery on blacks, 150 years after the fact, with a couple of up-by-their-bootstraps anecdotes, and sidesteps the fiasco of the Vietnam War by interviewing a pilot who was shot down, held prisoner and tortured by the Vietnamese.

What he's doing, it turns out, is lowering the viewer's standards of proof for a vigorous return to 2016 territory, a hatchet job on Obama and Obamacare that tries to tie everything to a 1960s "radical" organizer who might have influenced the president and, of course, Hillary Clinton.

D'Souza cannot help himself. He has discovered a way to get rich by hurling Obama-baiting red meat to an audience that cannot get enough of that, so he abandons any pretense of making a movie about how this country should have a more vigorous debate about its image, its principles and just what the truth is about its history. Well, don't begrudge him that. He will need a nest egg if he goes to prison.

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