The conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza is in the news lately for a number of reasons. His book Obama’s America , which purports to show the Kenyan anti-colonialist roots of the American president’s worldview, is a bestseller. Accompanying the book is a documentary entitled 2016 which has been been a great popular success, at least as far as polemical political films are concerned.
But aside from his public activities, D’Souza’s private life is now much talked about with the news that he offended his Christian evangelical fans last month when he was spoke at a South Carolina Baptist church. When he arrived at the event, for which he was paid $10,000, D’Souza came not with his wife of two decades but with a much younger woman who was introduced as his fiancé. (This so-called fiancé graduated high school in 2002, when D’souza was 41 years old and the author of nine books). Further investigation revealed that D’Souza hadn’t in fact initiated divorce proceedings against his wife when he gave the talk, but did so when he started being questioned about his behavior. (Sarah Posner has an fine rundown of the controversy here).
The idea that the personal is political comes out of the political left, but it applies nicely to D’Souza since he has a history of using personal facts about his political opponents against them. Given D’Souza’s current prominence, this history is worth reviewing.
In a review that ran in the May 20, 1991 issue of The New Yorker, Louis Menand gave a good rundown of D’Souza’s background:
After his arrival in the United States, [D’Souza] attend a public high school in Arizona for a year, and then entered Dartmouth College. There, as a sophomore, he became editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth Review, an off-campus newspaper found in 1980 by students unhappy over what they regarded as Dartmouth’s liberal tendencies, and in particular its efforts to attract female, black, and Native American students. During D’Souza’s tenure at The Dartmouth Review, the paper published an interview with a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, illustrating it with a staged photograph of a black man hanging from a tree on the Dartmouth campus, and an article on affirmative action written in what was supposed to be a parody of black speech (“Now we be comin’ to Dartmut and be over our ‘fros in studies, but we still not be graduatin’ Phi Beta Kappa”); it once ran the slogan “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” on its back page; and it printed documents, stolen from the office of the Gay Student Alliance, that revealed the homosexuality of at least two Dartmouth students who did not wish it to be made public.
After graduating from Dartmouth, D’Souza went to Princeton, where he edited Prospect, an alumni magazine that had been started, by an organization called the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, in 1972, not long after the university began admitting women as undergraduates. Under D’Souza’s editorship, at a time when Princeton was trying to increase the number of women in its student body and on its senior faculty, the magazine published an article making fun of women’s studies, written by D’Souza, in which the sex life of a female undergraduate, who had decline to be interviewed by the magazine, was described without her consent.
Michael Berube has written a useful blog post amplifying the cases Menand describes and also discussing D’Sousa’s attempts at covering them up. One of the students D’Souza outed at Dartmouth contemplated suicide. Berube’s post can be found here. Berube’s also wrote an devastating review of D’Souza’s book The End of Racism which demolishes any claims D’Souza has to intellectual credibility, available here for those with access to jstor.
Nor can D’Souza’s obsession with the sex life of college students be dismissed as a callow conservative’s youthful sowing of wild oats. As Michelle Goldberg has noted, D’Souza’s latest book is rife with misogynist speculations about the sex life of Obama’s mother:
D’Souza argues that part of the reason Ann Dunham sent Obama to live with her parents in Hawaii was so she could pursue affairs with Indonesian men. “Ann’s sexual adventuring may seem a little surprising in view of the fact that she was a large woman who kept getting larger,” he writes. On the next page, he continues, “Learning about Ann’s sexual adventures in Indonesia, I realized how wrong I had been to consider Barack Obama Sr. the playboy … Ann … was the real playgirl, and despite all her reservations about power, she was using her American background and economic and social power to purchase the romantic attention of third-world men.”
D’Souza’s speculation that Ann Dunham used her “economic and social power to purchase the romantic attention” of younger men is very revealing and perhaps autobiographical. Could it be that D’Souza has used his “economic and social power to purchase the romantic attention” of a much younger woman?
A few weeks ago a friend of mine predicted that D’Souza will soon be exposed as having a sordid sexual secret. How was he so prescient? It’s a well-tested law of nature that creepy moralists always have something to hide. My biggest disappointment is that D’Souza’s dirty laundry turned out be fairly banal: bringing your mistress to church is small potatoes compared to previous conservative Christian sex scandals involving variously public washrooms, prostitutes, diapers, and similar accrourtiments. If D’Souza really wants to stay in the game, he needs a much filthier erotic imagination.