S.F.: Some posters were dismissive of the idea of “American exceptionalism.” They wondered what the phrase meant and suspected that it was a rhetorical device enabling the United States to justify actions it would condemn if they were performed by other nations. What, in your view, is so exceptional about America?
D.D.: My definition of American exceptionalism is one of identifying the ways in which America is unique in the world. First of all, America is unique in being a country founded, in a sense, by a group of people sitting around a table. Other countries have been founded by “accidents of force.” America is a creation of thought. A second aspect of American exceptionalism is that while in other countries citizenship is a function of birth and blood, you become an American by assimilating to a certain way of life, a certain aspiration. And third, America has been a kinder, gentler superpower than traditional empires have been. What does the doctrine of American exceptionalism empower the United States to do? Nothing more than to act better than traditional empires — committed to looting and conquest — have done. So that’s American exceptionalism, an exceptionalism based on noble ideas, ideas that it holds itself to even when it falls short of them.
S.F.: You say in an e-mail to me that you don’t think Obama is anti-American. You just think he wants to “downsize” America, take her down a notch. Isn’t that a distinction without a difference? You pose a choice between America’s dream and Obama’s dream; the subtitle of your new book is “Unmaking the American Dream”; you say that the most dangerous man in America lives in the White House, and that those who vote for Obama will be “voting for their own decline and impoverishment.” Aren’t you labeling him anti-American at least in the sense that he desires America’s demise as a super-power?
D.D.: O.K., if the desire to knock America off its pedestal, to redistribute American income to other countries, to shrink America’s footprint in the world, makes you anti-American, then Obama is in fact anti-American. I don’t use that label for Obama because he thinks it would be good for America to play a smaller role economically, politically, culturally and so on. Most everyone else agrees that America should be prosperous, should be strong, should be a force for liberty, should be No. 1 as long as possible. All I’m saying is that Obama stands outside that consensus. So he might be very happy if the world was dominated not by one, but by six countries. He’d be very happy if America, which has 5 percent of the world’s oil, but uses 25 percent, instead used 10 percent, allowing developing countries to use more. These are not inherently evil or un-American ideas — so the slogan of anti-Americanism is not helpful; but they are ideas and an ideology most Americans don’t agree with.
S.F.: The vast majority of readers objected to your main thesis — that Obama’s views are best explained by the anti-colonialist ideology of his father. Some readers scoffed at what they call pop-psychologizing and find your analysis implausible given that Obama spent so little time with his father. Others deemed the analysis unnecessary as an explanation of Obama’s policies, which are, they say, exactly what one would expect from a mainstream, slightly left-of-center Midwestern pragmatist, many of whose ideas are taken from the moderate Republicans no longer welcome in the party.
D.D.: Well, let’s take that second argument first. We have seen in America, within four years, a complete redefinition of the relationship of the citizen to the state. The federal government has made incursions into a whole series of industries that were previously in the private domain. Bill Clinton’s doctrine — that the era of big government is over — has been completely repudiated. So the federal government now has a very active hand in medicine, in hospitals, in insurance, in banking, in finance, in automobiles, in energy. I’m not saying that government has had no role in these institutions before, but the degree of involvement has changed substantively. As for Obama and his father, in the film we interview psychologist Paul Vitz, who identifies two models of paternal influence, the inner city model — my dad abandoned me, he’s a jerk, I want nothing to do with him — and the World War II model — my father’s away, but he’s a hero, a great man fighting for his country and I wish I could be worthy of him. Obama ultimately takes neither of these two models. Instead, he takes a middle route and divides his father into the good father and the bad father. He says, I will not try to be like my father as a man, but I do want to take my father’s dreams. That is the meaning of his book’s title: “Dreams From My Father.” What I’m doing is not pop-psychologizing, unless you want to call Obama a pop-psychologist of himself. I’m just taking Obama’s cue that his father had a decisive, shaping influence on him, and saying let’s take the dreams of the father and look at the actions of the son and see if the jigsaw fits.
I recommend reading the entire interview. Fish's readers ask questions like: isn't the King's College a stupid creationist college? Who funded the 2016 movie? Aren't you (D'Souza) just a dark-skinned immigrant cozying up to the white elite? Obama-rage?
Read the full interview here.