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Obama’s ‘We the People’ Netflix series aims to teach kids about the promise of America… the promise he failed to keep

Michael McCaffrey
Michael McCaffrey

Michael McCaffrey is a writer and cultural critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work can be read at RT, Counterpunch and at his website mpmacting.com/blog. He is also the host of the popular cinema podcast Looking California and Feeling Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @MPMActingCo

Michael McCaffrey is a writer and cultural critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work can be read at RT, Counterpunch and at his website mpmacting.com/blog. He is also the host of the popular cinema podcast Looking California and Feeling Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @MPMActingCo

Obama’s ‘We the People’ Netflix series aims to teach kids about the promise of America… the promise he failed to keep
While well intentioned, Barack Obama’s ‘We the People’ is so immersed in establishment liberalism that it can’t recognize its own bias. Like Obama himself, the series is more forgettable and phony than it is enlightening.

On the Fourth of July, Barack and Michelle Obama gifted the American public ‘We the People’, their new Netflix series aimed at giving kids a fun and entertaining lesson in civics.

The series is a collection of ten short animated music videos featuring pop stars like H.E.R., Janelle Monae, Adam Lambert and Brandi Carlile, among others, singing about such topics as The Bill of Rights, Taxes, The Three Branches of Government, Immigration and more.

The series is obviously an attempt to update the classic ‘Schoolhouse Rock!’ animated shorts from the 1970s that educated young Gen Xers on much the same topics with informative earworms like ‘I’m Just a Bill’.

The problem with ‘We the People,’ especially in comparison to ‘Schoolhouse Rock!’, is that the songs are a dismal collection of entirely forgettable numbers, and the animation is more high-end but much less effective. 

With eye-rollingly banal lyrics like “little homie you better pay your taxes” from Cordae in episode three, ‘Taxes’, the entire series feels less like a useful educational tool for kids than a useful way for pop celebrities to signal their political virtue.

Speaking of signaling non-existent virtue, the fact that Barack Obama – the man, remember, who used the Espionage Act twice as much as all his predecessors combined in order to stifle the press during his presidency – has produced a series that unreservedly cheers the constitutional protection of freedom of the press is, to say the least, shameless.

And when the lyric “the government works for you and me” was sung in episode two, I rolled my eyes so hard I nearly gave myself a seizure, considering Obama not only supported bail-outs of Wall Street at the expense of Main Street, but also protected bankers from prosecution. He also used extra-judicial means to assassinate American citizens, and left the hard-working people of Flint, Michigan drink poisoned water and be used as military target practice. Obama’s administration, like all the ones before and after, worked for Wall Street, the military-intelligence-industrial complex and big moneyed interests, not little old you and me.

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‘We the People’ is so thoroughly steeped in devout, Obama-esque establishment liberalism, both politically and culturally, that it’s rendered entirely blind to its own relentless bias. 
For instance, in episode five ‘The First Amendment,’ Brandi Carlile sings the lyric, “There’s only one wall built with wisdom, it’s the wall between church and state!”.

Similarly, in the second episode ‘The Bill of Rights’, Adam Lambert sings positively about the entire Bill of Rights, but reserves a caveat solely for the Second Amendment when he notes “the right to bear arms, which were much different back in my day.” 

I’m noticing a pattern here in who this show is targeting, and it ain’t gun advocates and those wanting a secure border. 

Then there’s episode four, ‘The Three Branches of Government,’ featuring the insidious Lin-Manuel Miranda. This episode represents the executive branch, with a black woman as president who belts out the refrain “checks and balances.” Poor old Joe Biden better check his balance, or the Obamas and Kamala Harris will be more than happy to push him down a flight of stairs.

Episode eight, ‘The Courts,’ highlights all the court decisions that affect us as it follows a schoolgirl through her daily routine. The episode ends with the young girl kissing her girlfriend at a protest rally, which is a bit rich considering Obama’s long-time resistance regarding gay marriage, and also unnecessarily explicit for a show aimed at seven-year-olds.

My least favorite episode, and that is saying something, is the final one, which features a poem by Amanda Gorman, the young poet who became a star at Biden’s inauguration. This episode, ‘The Miracle of Morning,’ is about recovering from recent difficulties (morning as mourning – get it?) and while it’s obviously about recovery from the pandemic, it also seems like it’s referencing recovering from the liberal trauma of four years of Donald Trump. 

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Gorman is, like the insipid Lin Manuel-Miranda, one of those media creations that we’re all supposed to think is brilliant, but who in reality is an absolute artistic charlatan. 

Her poetry, both at the inauguration and on ‘We the People’, is such C-level establishment pablum, so devoid of insight or incite that it makes readers gouge out their eyes so as not to see, and listeners to seek silence by throwing themselves into the sea. (Anyone who has had to suffer through her imbecilic and pedantically performative poetry will understand that joke.) 

Obviously, I’m not a fan of the series but I’m not the target audience, so I ran it by the few kids I know to get their reaction. The six-year-old was overcome with indifference upon viewing a singular episode and exited without comment. The 13-year-old bailed halfway through the series with “peace out, this is dumb,” and the erudite and politically sophisticated 17-year-old found some of it annoying but none of it bad, and thought it useful for elementary school kids since the episodes were short and comparable to ‘Schoolhouse Rock!’ My friend who works with kids in schools liked it too, and said she’d recommend it to teachers to use in classrooms. 

So maybe I’m just too jaded to appreciate ‘We the People,’ but for me it was similar to Obama’s presidency in that it was vacuous, vapid and entirely self-serving. In other words, like Obama, ‘We the People’ vacillated between being consistently disappointing and entirely forgettable. 

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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