Barack Obama is out of the White House, but you can still see him on TV almost every night. That is, in the form of several TV characters clearly created in his image by fawning Hollywood writers and producers still very much under Obama’s personal spell.
Most of the “Obama clone” characters are basically there just for show, like actor Hill Harper’s role as Dr. Marcus Andrews on the hit ABC show “The Good Doctor.” The Dr. Andrews character is even now the president of the show’s fictional hospital, just in case the Obama connection was otherwise lost on any viewers.
But the most instructive and telling use of the Obama-clone device in Hollywood comes from the even bigger NBC hit show “This is Us,” with its very central character “Randall Pearson.”
Let me start by saying that “This is Us” is an excellently written, produced, and acted show. I singled it out early last year for its effective and intelligently presented storyline that regularly presents crucial messages about the importance of fatherhood. Plus, the actor portraying Randall on the show, Sterling K. Brown, is an enormously talented artist.
But Brown’s character checks off almost every box on the list of things the left and much of the rest of America believes to be true and important about our immediate past president. And so many of those things are not only factually incorrect, they are also counterproductive to our cultural and political discourse.
For those who don’t watch the show, the Randall character is African-American, handsome, brilliant, well-spoken, and — most importantly for the purposes of the show — was raised by a white family. Randall suffers from anxiety at times, but he is otherwise a flawless person. He’s a loving and adoring husband, doting father, and so concerned about the plight of his less fortunate fellow African-Americans that he adopts a foster child from the inner city, buys and renovates a tenement once owned by a slumlord and regularly volunteers at soup kitchens.
But apparently all that wasn’t enough for the writers, who this season have decided to make Randall even more like Obama by having him run for public office. In this case, it’s for a city council position in Philadelphia where Randall is challenging an African-American character who has been serving in that office for decades.
That incumbent councilman is portrayed as complacent, but cunning enough to have held onto his office with something of an “us against them” political strategy. In short, he’s the “Old School” African American politician.
Now here comes the younger, better looking, better educated, and more likeable Randall Pearson character to take him on. In many ways he couldn’t be more like the way Vice President Joe Biden famously, (and inappropriately), referred to Obama back in 2007 when he called him, “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy… I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”
And now that “storybook” character lives on!
I don’t like to throw the racism card around at all, but Biden’s comments 11 years ago and the character construct they’re using now on “This is Us” are racist and ignorant.
Let me explain why.
Now it’s true that I’m a conservative, and almost every African-American elected official in America is a liberal Democrat I can’t agree with on a lot of issues. But I bristle at the common notion held by many conservatives and plenty of liberals that black politicians are more likely to be corrupt or deceitful than their white counterparts. If the last 242 years of American history have taught us anything, it’s that all politicians are just as likely to be corrupt and/or inept no matter what their skin color.
Right now in America, thousands of African-Americans are joining the so-called #Blexit movement in hopes of breaking the long connection, or subservience, to the Democrats in the black community. Now, no one is expecting the “This is Us” writers to depict the Randall character as a converted conservative Republican. But his character’s push to change the long running status quo is the same message. It’s too bad that making him a Republican character in the mode of someone like Candace Owens would be a bridge way too far for Hollywood.
But that doesn’t mean that the only other options for Democrats or Hollywood are to cast certain candidates as messiahs or create fictional political characters based on fantasies.
I know that because I lived it. As a teenager in Far Rockaway, I interned for then-Congressman and Reverend Floyd Flake for three summers from 1987-89. Flake was an African-American Democrat and generally a liberal, but only a fool would fail to recognize what he had already accomplished in his home neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens years before he ever ran for office.
Flake built a massive church, a school, and even high-quality church-subsidized housing for his poorer members in the decade between he took over as pastor of the Allen A.M.E. Church in 1976 and his first run for Congress in 1986. There are many more examples of his successes before and during his tenure in Washington, D.C., but suffice it to say Flake had accomplished infinitely more than Barack Obama had by the time Obama ran for president. In fact, Obama’s empty record as a “community organizer” was only surpassed in nothingness by his record as an Illinois state senator where he barely distinguished himself but did become famous for his many abstentions or “present” votes.
Floyd Flake is not alone, there are plenty of other African American elected officials who have a long list of accomplishments to their names. The problem is, the Democratic National Committee and Hollywood aren’t sure they’re “acceptable enough” faces and voices to win over the public.
The result is that both the Democrats and Hollywood promote too many fairy tale images for their own good. Yes, candidates must first and foremost be persuasive. But it helps if they have something more to them than an attractive face and some good speaking skills. The damage the Obama messiah complex has done to the Democrats is excessive. It will be very hard to replicate that kind of phony image building in any other candidate in the future. Just ask Hillary Clinton.
Lest you think this is all about race, it isn’t. The Democrats are doing the same messiah-with-no-clothes job on Texas U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke right now and Hollywood did the same thing 20 years ago with a cleaned up “better” version of Bill Clinton with Martin Sheen’s character in “The West Wing.”
By contrast we now have Donald Trump in the real White House. Love him or hate him, President Trump is indeed real and not a creation of Hollywood or the Russians or anyone else. He presents the public with his true self, many warts and all, every day. And surprise… enough of the public likes it that he won the election and has about the same approval ratings Obama had, (if not better), at this point in his presidency.
Whether we’re talking about attracting voters or just TV viewers, a little more authenticity is always the better way to go. If President Trump is still a little too authentic for you, then at least demand something better than the messiahs and unicorns the Democrats and the TV networks are offering right now.
Jake Novak has been a TV news producer and editorial columnist for more than 25 years, with expertise in political, economic, religious, and cultural issues. He has produced shows at CNBC, CNN, FOX, and several local stations across the country. Novak is a graduate of the Yeshivah of Flatbush, has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University, and a master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny and watch out for future columns on 5TJT.com.