Democrats, their apologists, and centrists have dismissed Dinesh D'Souza's argument that Barack Obama absorbed anticolonialist ideology from his father's writings and career. I have yet to see such a critic actually cite the President's autobiography, the basis for many of D'Souza's claims. Dreams From my Father presents a young man who sees himself as a smirky, post-modern and post-nationalist critic of almost everyone he encounters. (I would add to D'Souza's observations Obama's own comments about his anthropologist mother's influence over him, in his second autobiography.)
Clearly the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. goes a long way to explain the actions and policies of his son in the Oval Office. And we can be doubly sure about his father's influence because those who know Obama well testify to it. His "granny" Sarah Obama (not his real grandmother but one of his grandfather's other wives) told Newsweek, "I look at him and I see all the same things--he has taken everything from his father. The son is realizing everything the father wanted. The dreams of the father are still alive in the son."
In his own writings Obama stresses the centrality of his father not only to his beliefs and values but to his very identity. He calls his memoir "the record of a personal, interior journey--a boy's search for his father and through that search a workable meaning for his life as a black American." And again, "It was into my father's image, the black man, son of Africa, that I'd packed all the attributes I sought in myself." Even though his father was absent for virtually all his life, Obama writes, "My father's voice had nevertheless remained untainted, inspiring, rebuking, granting or withholding approval. You do not work hard enough, Barry. You must help in your people's struggle. Wake up, black man!"
The climax of Obama's narrative is when he goes to Kenya and weeps at his father's grave. It is riveting: "When my tears were finally spent," he writes, "I felt a calmness wash over me. I felt the circle finally close. I realized that who I was, what I cared about, was no longer just a matter of intellect or obligation, no longer a construct of words. I saw that my life in America--the black life, the white life, the sense of abandonment I'd felt as a boy, the frustration and hope I'd witnessed in Chicago--all of it was connected with this small piece of earth an ocean away, connected by more than the accident of a name or the color of my skin. The pain that I felt was my father's pain."
In an eerie conclusion, Obama writes that "I sat at my father's grave and spoke to him through Africa's red soil." In a sense, through the earth itself, he communes with his father and receives his father's spirit. Obama takes on his father's struggle, not by recovering his body but by embracing his cause. He decides that where Obama Sr. failed, he will succeed. Obama Sr.'s hatred of the colonial system becomes Obama Jr.'s hatred; his botched attempt to set the world right defines his son's objective. Through a kind of sacramental rite at the family tomb, the father's struggle becomes the son's birthright.