Fishing for an Indictment

Reviewing the 2004 movie Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore’s cinematic attack on George W. Bush and the War on Terror, the late Christopher Hitchens found that its message was all over the place. The movie supposedly revealed the unsavory true motive of the U.S.-led coalition’s invasion of Afghanistan: that the Americans wanted to establish an oil pipeline connecting Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. It also aired the complaint that not enough troops were sent for the mission to succeed. The only thing unifying its not-very-compatible criticisms was the filmmaker’s disdain for Bush’s politics and his personality.

Dinesh D’Souza’s new movie, Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party, is the Rightwing version of this—a jazzy documentary that throws everything at its target but the kitchen sink. It has two agendas, both of which need work and frequently miss golden opportunities; and they don’t link up logically.

D’Souza uses the bulk of the film to try to prove that the Democratic Party, notwithstanding Democrats’ characterization of Republicans, is the true party of racism. The second thesis is about the party’s presidential nominee, namely that Secretary Clinton is part of the far Left, a radical who would finish the “fundamental transformation” of America away from its founding principles that Barack Obama started.

From a cinema propaganda point of view, he and the director doom that second point from the outset by clumsily trying to prove it using actors standing in for Hillary Clinton. The casting is over the top. The actress sharing an almost demonic laugh with Richard Nixon (a figure who reminds the Clintons’ critics of the Clintons, to be sure), Rebekah Turner, comes across as a Nurse Ratched. Also over the top is the reenactment, replete with actors standing in for prisoners, of Dinesh D’Souza’s own incarceration last year for making illegal donations to the senatorial campaign of Wendy Long and causing false statements to be made to the Federal Election Commission.

Perhaps it was inevitable that a controversialist who ended up in the pokey would make cinematic use of that experience, and would present his being in close quarters with gang members as a “Road to Damascus” moment allowing him to realize that his cell block comrades are like Democrats—showing loyalty only to themselves and closing ranks if their leader gets in trouble. This sets up his broadside against Clinton, and his plea that his country be saved from the “fundamental transformation” that’s in store if she’s elected. Throughout, there is music from the reliably conservative country music groups to swell the heart and alert the masses.

The interesting part is where the “secret history” of the Democratic Party is exposed. D’Souza is correct that the Ku Klux Klan was exclusively made up of “Yellow Dog Democrats” (party loyalists who would die before voting Republican), vengeful ex-Confederates who would never accept the Reconstruction of the Old South. Unable to topple legislatively the Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution, they instead established Jim Crow in the late 19th century, which was lethally enforced until its destruction with the civil rights legislation of the 1960s  (which passed because of Republican support).

Woodrow Wilson, in many ways the father of today’s Progressivism, supported segregation and as President banned interracial marriage in the District of Columbia. Some of the most notorious racists who opposed the policies of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and fought tooth and nail—or actually water hose and nightstick—to stop the peaceful protests of leaders like Martin Luther King and Bob Moses—were Democrats. King’s bete noir, Sheriff Bull Conner of Alabama, was one, and so was the often overlooked Texan, General Ted Walker of the U.S. Army, a dingbat anticommunist who was relieved of his command by President Kennedy for sharing with his troops communist conspiracy theories involving Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Walker next appeared in 1962 waving a Stetson at the University of Mississippi atop a Confederate statue, as he cheered on the rabble who were abusing black students trying to attend the school—a melee that resulted in some serious injuries that day.

Such episodes are worth noting, but D’Souza doesn’t stick around to show how the party’s racism was expressed via presidential power. For under Democratic Presidents whole populations of minorities were punitively dealt with: President Wilson used internal security as an excuse during World War I to expel scores of immigrants, not always for socialist ties but because they were antiwar (and Wilson actually imprisoned Socialist leader Eugene Debs for publicly criticizing him—Debs was later freed by President Harding). FDR, without any legitimate cause other than the assumption that all yellow men were in league with Emperor Hirohito, forced Japanese Americans into relocation camps (while only monitoring German Americans) during World War II.

Nor does he look at the sorry record of Democrats on civil liberties. The Republicans have their own blemishes in this regard (Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus; Nixon trying to yank the broadcasting license of CBS because of newscasters critical of him), but Democrats have racked up more violations in the long run. It was Wilson’s Espionage Act that made any antiwar criticism reason for imprisonment. FDR authorized the FBI to wiretap his political opponents in 1940. Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.), a liberal but a staunch anticommunist, supported legislation that gave the executive authority to detain suspected communists. JFK wiretapped Martin Luther King. LBJ authorized CIA agent Howard Hunt to infiltrate agents into the Goldwater campaign. When Mrs. Clinton’s husband was President, he used armed federal troops in what was essentially a custody case to forcibly remove Elián Gonzáles from his relatives’ home in Florida and send him back to Cuba.

Then, too, it would have been good to establish a Democratic baseline with which to compare Mrs. Clinton—which would have meant showing that the party wasn’t always fiscally profligate and internationally feckless. Some examples:

FDR sought a balanced budget; he acknowledged the potential harm to people’s self-reliance if governmental assistance to the disadvantaged were too continuous. It was Harry Truman who initiated the “containment” policy vis a vis the Soviet Union that would contribute to the victory of the West in the Cold War. It was JFK who passed the first capital gains tax cut—against considerable opposition even from such stalwart Republicans as Barry Goldwater (who worried it would damage the U.S. economy). Jimmy Carter cut off wheat trade with the Soviet Union (over its invasion of Afghanistan in 1980), and aid to the anti-Sandinista fighters in Nicaragua started under his watch. Such a move on D’Souza’s part would have been canny; it would have helped to show how far the current President and his would-be successor have moved from the political mainstream, which might have been a learning experience for non-Republicans (if any) who attend this film.

All of this, moreover, could have been backed up with authentic film and speeches, or reenactments of much more worthy historical episodes than the ones we see, of (for example) Hillary throwing objects all over the room because of Bill’s infidelities.

The basic problem is that the “secret history” of the Democratic Party hasn’t anything to do with the Democratic Party’s 2016 standard-bearer, Hillary Clinton. Rather than charge her with racism or homophobia, the filmmaker instead brands her a simon-pure Leftist who would continue the current administration’s destructive Leftism. But even his attempts to link her to Saul Alinsky aren’t strong based on the evidence he presents: a lone film clip in which she criticizes the Chicago community organizer for trying to change the system from the outside rather than from the inside. In the absence of her graduate thesis on him (which, incidentally, has never been released to the public), it is not clear what were her views on this Leftist.

What the evidence tends to show about this familiar figure is that she is more a corrupt politician with no ideological core than a kamikaze socialist. Never has the injunction to “follow the money” been more apt than in her case. From Whitewater to the shady acceptance of monies from countries on the terrorist watch list by the Clinton Foundation to padding exorbitant fees as a speaker, she is the type of big business figure she hypocritically condemns.

There are certainly plenty of “gotcha” moments about her greed that could have been efficiently spliced into this movie. One of the most effective would have been Hillary self-pityingly saying that she and Bill were “broke” when they left the White House at the end of his presidency.

But alas D’Souza misses the boat on this. As I watched the recreated scenes meant to bolster his two theses, the model I began to think of was not Michael Moore but Oliver Stone. The latter’s JFK (1991) also hit audiences over the head with any fact or theory, no matter how incongruous, for the sole purpose of activating the masses.

God knows we conservatives need filmmakers. But what we don’t need is documentaries such as this.