In October 1995, writer Glenn Loury and community builder Robert L. Woodson Sr. announced they were resigning their posts at the American Enterprise Institute because D’Souza was a fellow there. D’Souza took the episode as proof that critics outside the conservative orbit were committed more to a political agenda than the truth with a capital “T.” Already a recent convert to the idea that book sales were not wedded to critics’ judgments, D’Souza decided to stop writing with one eye on the reaction of critics.
Sometimes, conservative authors have broken new intellectual ground despite unhinged reactions from critics on the left and the center. Witness “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1965 report on the parlous state of the black family, which was considered so incendiary that Ivy League professors and students prevented Moynihan from speaking on their campuses. Today, Moynihan’s report is viewed as prophetic.
Yet failing to take on the best arguments of the other side—“to play Notre Dame” in the words of Charlie Peters, editor emeritus of Washington Monthly—carries risks. D’Souza’s subsequent books and films testify to the intellectual pitfalls of ignoring the critics. His demonization of President Obama is a case in point. In the book Obama’s America, D’Souza wrote that “Obama is not merely the presiding instrument of American decline, he is the architect of American decline. He wants America to be downsized.” This claim is problematic, to put it mildly. The jobless rate has declined from 7.8 percent in January 2009 to 6.1 percent in June; the administration’s bailout of General Motors helped revive the car industry; and the editors of The Economist concluded recently that “reports of the death of American influence in the Middle East are exaggerated.”
In the movie America, D’Souza ridicules Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment in July 2012. “What he’s saying is that [the business] was not earned but stolen,” D’Souza says. However offensive to entrepreneurs Obama’s comment was, the context of the quote was Obama’s argument that the federal government helps individuals and businesses succeed by helping create infrastructure like public schools, the Internet, and roads. “The point is,” Obama said, “is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”
At times, America lives up to D’Souza’s old intellectual standards. He meets in person with left-wing critics, including Ward Churchill, a former professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. He argues persuasively that Alexis de Tocqueville is a more reliable guide than Howard Zinn to troubling episodes in early American history such as slavery and the treatment of Native Americans. D’Souza admits he improperly helped Senate candidate Wendy Long in 2012.
In fact, America contains a brief scene in which D’Souza is shown wearing handcuffs in a room that looks like a jail or prison cell. But is this real humility or a Uriah Heep act? D’Souza’s pride, his belief he needs neither intellectual nor moral critics, has brought about his fall from the first rank of conservative intellectuals. That's a shame, because if he'd stayed humble D'Souza could have reached an exalted status.