In reading about one role model, I adopted another one. But now, the second one’s image has been tarnished in my eyes, hopefully not beyond redemption.
The first role model in question is Ronald Reagan, whom I began to idolize when he ran for president in 1980, while I was in high school.
Now, more than three decades later, I have developed a more balanced view of Reagan. Oh, he’s still my favorite president and I still rank him among the all-time greats, but I also recognize flaws in his presidency that I didn’t notice when I was a teenager.
Somewhere in between high school and my forties, I stumbled upon a book titled Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader. It was about my role model, and was written by a man named Dinesh D’Souza who, to a lesser but nonetheless significant extent, became a role model of mine, too.
Immediately, I was taken with D’Souza’s writing. His premise was that Ronald Reagan seemed to be the “dummy,” according to his “wise” detractors, but he got the last laugh – history vindicated him, and they all looked like fools. That book, written in 1997, was ahead of its time: it was published around the time historians began reassessing the Reagan presidency more favorably.
But what impressed me even more than what D’Souza wrote was how he wrote it. His style is eminently crisp and wonderfully crystal-clear. D’Souza went on to write many other books, most of which I have read, alternating between politics and religion, which happen to be the two topics about which I read – and write – most regularly.
And then, D’Souza became president of the King’s College, a small, Bible-centered college in New York City. Reagan devotee, columnist, published author, lifelong student (and writer) of politics and religion, and higher education administrator. This guy was me! Or rather, I was D’Souza, but on a smaller scale. And that’s why I aspired to be more like him, and I admired him. And then, the image began to tarnish.
It all began in 2010, with D’Souza’s book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage, which he developed into a film called 2016: Obama’s America. Both were based on the dubious claim that Obama had a deep connection to his father, Barack Obama Sr., insofar as he shared his father’s anti-colonial rage. The most stinging blow to D’Souza’s theory is that Obama’s father left his mother when Barack Jr. was only two, and the father visited him again, once, when he was ten. D’Souza’s contention that Obama Sr.’s absence from his son’s life inspired the latter to connect with him ideologically – i.e., to rail against America’s superpower status – is a stretch, to say the least.
Though it says quite a bit about D’Souza’s talents as a writer, to weave a silk story from a sow’s set of facts, it seems more like a case of a bestselling author looking to keep the gravy train going, rather than a serious scholar seeking to learn and spread the truth.
The second strike against my role model came when he was essentially compelled to resign as president of King’s College because of a report that he checked into a hotel with a woman who was not his wife. Insisting that he was separated from his wife – he filed for divorce immediately after the story broke – and that the other woman was his fiancée, he then broke off the engagement so as not to cause negative publicity to himself, particularly with respect to his position at King’s College. It didn’t work – the bad publicity didn’t go away, and this beacon of wisdom seemed downright scatterbrained.
And then, the final straw – the third strike: Dinesh D’Souza has now been indicted by a federal court for campaign finance fraud. When I read that headline, my heart sank. Allegedly, he made greater contributions to the 2012 U.S. Senatorial campaign of his personal friend, Wendy Long, who challenged incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand, the Democratic incumbent who was appointed to office in 2009, to take over the seat of Hillary Clinton, who had left the Senate to become Secretary of State. Presumably, D’Souza exceeded the maximum contribution amounts by compelling others to donate funds and then reimbursing them.
In a world that contains many bad people who do really, really bad things, writing a book and a film based on a wacky theory, dating another woman before your divorce is final, and looking for ways to donate more money to your friend’s political campaign hardly seem like hanging offenses by comparison. But they are enough to disappoint those of us who held Dinesh D’Souza in such high esteem.
Hopefully, he can learn from his mistakes and return to the public arena ready to augment the public discourse with more political and religious analyses, with a flair for prose that only few can match.