July 23, 2014
Editor’s Note: In the current issue of National Review, Jay Nordlinger has a piece called “Take Two: D’Souza films again.” It’s about Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative author and filmmaker, and his new movie, America: Imagine the World without Her. Nordlinger has been expanding on his piece in Impromptus. For Parts I and II, go here and here. Today concludes the series.
In our rolling conversation — rolling in more than one sense, because we’re aboard the rock-star bus — Dinesh makes a familiar point, but one that bears repeating: Capitalists are terrible at defending capitalism. They will defend it on grounds of efficiency, but not on grounds of morality or justice. We will lose capitalism, says Dinesh, unless we learn to defend it, rhetorically, against its enemies.
You recall what the Marxists used to say, and probably still do (I haven’t listened to them in a while): “‘Freedom!’ say the capitalists. Yeah: the freedom to sleep under bridges.”
For my money, Dinesh’s most compelling insight is that justice is a more powerful idea than freedom, in political debate. Justice will trump freedom every time. The Left eats our lunch, over and over.
“What do little kids say?” Dinesh points out. “‘That’s not fair! That’s not fair!’” It is elemental.
In the old days, people didn’t ask whether the king made the economy grow. They had one question: “Is he just or unjust?”
“The Left recognizes the power of justice,” says Dinesh, “and they recognize the vulnerability of America, because capitalism is a counterintuitive system that has never been in tune with our instincts about justice.
Look at the teacher, the plumber, and the rock singer. If you were distributing their salaries, how would you do it? Your distribution would probably look different from the market’s.”
I have a memory of speaking at a Renaissance Weekend, many years ago. (This is a recurrent Democratic jamboree, and I was a token, which was fine. My hosts were wonderful.) I said that Orwell spoke of the “law-and-liberty countries,” and that Robert Conquest had described himself to me as a “law-and-liberty man.”
In the Q&A, a man very angrily said to me, “You left out justice!” (Turned out, he was a judge.) I said that I thought the rule of law and liberty included justice.
President Obama talks about fairness constantly — constantly. It is “the core theme of his presidency,” as Dinesh says. Couple of memories (further memories).
Obama was debating Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries. A moderator, Charlie Gibson, brought up the capital-gains tax, pointing out its history: When the rate had gone down, revenue had gone up; and when the rate had gone up, revenue had gone down. “So why raise it at all, especially given the fact that 100 million people in this country own stock and would be affected?”
Obama answered, “Well, Charlie, what I’ve said is that I would look at raising the capital-gains tax for purposes of fairness.” Yes. Economics is out the window. Cause and effect is out the window. Real, practical consequences are out the window. All that matters is something psychological: someone’s notion of “fairness.”
At National Review, we were speaking with someone in the Republican House leadership. This was about four years ago, I would say. The leader said that, in budget negotiations with Obama, the Republicans would make economic arguments — and the president would ignore those arguments, coming back with the theme of social justice.
Rich Lowry, our editor, said, “Does he really say ‘social justice’?” The congressional leader said, “Well, he says ‘fairness.’ That’s his word: ‘fairness.’”
I love the way Daniel Hannan, the British politician and writer, began a recent column: “Would you rather live in a 1000 square foot house where everyone else’s was 800, or a 1200 square foot house where everyone else’s was 1400? I sometimes think it’s the most elemental question in politics.”
Dinesh D’Souza says, “The Founders’ idea of freedom is the solution to injustice.”
One could write at length about his legal case, but let me put things briefly: In the 2012 election cycle, Dinesh made a financial contribution to his friend Wendy Long. She was the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in New York. She was a severe underdog — indeed, she wound up losing by some 45 points — but Dinesh wanted to help her. They are old college classmates. They are comrades.
Dinesh wrote his own check, and then, asked to do more, and wanting to comply, asked others to write checks — for which he would reimburse them. That is illegal. And it was “cockamamie” and “dumb,” he said to me. “I was swamped, I was rushing, and my brain just shut down.” There were all sorts of legal ways he could have helped his friend: by setting up a PAC, for example.
The FBI found out about his reimbursements in a supposedly routine review. That is a head-scratcher. The matter went to the U.S. attorney’s office in New York (a Democratic stronghold, naturally). D’Souza was prosecuted and, in May, pleaded guilty. He will be sentenced in September. He faces up to two years in prison.
He and his defenders say that the prosecution was spectacularly selective and suspect, smelling of political retribution. It is smelly indeed. One day, Dinesh will write a compelling book, article, or pamphlet about it.
Jail or no jail, his career will continue (perhaps with an aspect of martyrdom). His goal, he says, is to create a movie company that will offer maybe two products a year: a documentary and a feature film. “The Left knows the power of telling a story,” he says. “Oliver Stone and Steven Spielberg are much bigger than Michael Moore. They don’t make liberal films — they just make films, and they have a point of view. I want to make films with a different point of view.”
Dinesh inhabits two worlds: the book world and the film world. The best-selling book he ever had sold 150,000 copies — which is a whopping number, let me tell you. But his first movie was seen by 8 million people. That’s a bigger megaphone, as he says. And, as he also says, conservatives need more and bigger megaphones.
He makes a further point: The resources are there, i.e., the conservative money. But the know-how and initiative? Not so much.
I tell him that I regard him as someone who came from a foreign land to teach or remind Americans what is good about their country. He likes to quote a remark from Jeane Kirkpatrick: “Americans need to face the truth about themselves, no matter how pleasant it is.”
Yes. America is sometimes like a pretty girl who, afraid to be stuck up, is a self-condemnatory, neurotic wreck.
Dinesh gives me some autobiographical reflections. I will paraphrase: “I’ve had a great life in America, and I recognize that I wouldn’t have had this life in India or England. If I had gone to England — which was kind of my parents’ aspiration for me — I might have become a barrister or businessman. I might have been like Dodi Fayed or someone! Somewhat excluded from the corridors of power, so to speak.
“I married a girl from Louisiana. Her family and friends welcomed me with open arms. America in general welcomed me with open arms. I have faced no limits.”
Some years ago, Dinesh turned on the television and saw Christopher Hitchens debating a pastor. Hitchens was running rings around him, of course, using every trick in the book. He was sneering at the pastor, undermining him at every turn. Hitchens was Oxford Union; the pastor was . . . not.
And Dinesh, sitting in front of the TV, thought, Hey, no fair. Pick on someone your own size. You should be debating me, not him.
Someone like Dinesh gives voice to people who cannot speak for themselves, or who cannot do it adequately. “I see myself as standing up for an America that has been good to me.”
I ask him, “Is America going down the tubes? Is it curtains?” No, he says. “I’m a congenital optimist, temperamentally happy. I wake up in the morning happy. I also have great faith in the inner American spirit. I think that, if you activate that spirit, it’s a formidable force.
“This is the spirit that resisted getting involved in World War II, that is prone to looking the other way, that doesn’t want to be bothered. But when that spirit is aroused” — whoa, baby, look out.
Thanks for joining me, ladies and gentlemen, on this D’Souzan journey, and I’ll talk to you soon.