YES, SHE CAN! But, no, she shouldn’t.
More than an international icon, Oprah Winfrey is damn near a miracle. Born in 1950s rural Mississippi to a single, teenage mother, Winfrey survived poverty, racism, an itinerant childhood, teenage pregnancy, the death of her premature child, and physical and sexual abuse to become one of the most savvy and revered self-made billionaires on the planet.
None of this means she should be president of the United States.
Yes, Winfrey gave an electrifying speech Sunday after accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement at the Golden Globes. Some heard a rousing moment catapulted by the #MeToo movement; others are convinced this was tantamount to a candidate’s announcement.
Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, tweeted, “Oprah: Sounder on economics than Bernie Sanders, understands Middle America better than Elizabeth Warren, less touchy-feely than Joe Biden, more pleasant than Andrew Cuomo, more charismatic than John Hickenlooper. #ImWithHer.” Meryl Streep told The Washington Post, “She launched a rocket tonight. I want her to run for president. I don’t think she had any intention [of declaring]. But now she doesn’t have a choice.”
Of course she has a choice. She’s Oprah. Get a grip, America.
When asked last year about her political ambitions on “CBS This Morning,” Winfrey said, “There will be no running for office of any kind for me.” On Tuesday, Gayle King, that show’s coanchor and Winfrey’s BFF, said Winfrey is “intrigued by the idea. She loves this country and would like to be of service in some way, but I don’t think that she’s actively considering it.”
That’s not stopping speculation about Winfrey, who delivered the kind of soaring oratory we once expected from our president.
And speaking of President Obama, some see parallels between his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, which all but announced his presidential aspirations, and Winfrey’s passionate opus. Yet a great speech does not a president make. If the past year has shown us anything — and it’s shown us far more than we ever could have imagined — being an effective leader must be determined by more than a famous name who can rally a politically aligned crowd.
I am not comparing Winfrey and President Trump. She is intelligent and empathetic. Personally and through her foundation, she has donated hundreds of millions to causes ranging from college scholarships and the National African American Museum of History and Culture to the International Brain Research Foundation. And Winfrey built her career without a $1 million head start. She’s everything Trump thinks he is.
Winfrey would be a better president than Trump, but that’s not saying much. And it’s not the same thing as endorsing Winfrey for president.
Celebrities have always been sought for political careers. It’s a bipartisan affliction — Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is reportedly trying to convince J.D. Vance, “Hillbilly Elegy” author and Trump America whisperer, to run for the Senate in Ohio. On the Democratic side, some are encouraging San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, an outspoken Trump critic, to move from the basketball court to the political arena.
None of this speaks well of American politics, where name recognition is becoming more important than actual political experience. We’re already struggling with the dire results of that misadventure. Nor is it a great sign that Democrats are more excited about Winfrey than any of the lawmakers also mentioned as possible 2020 contenders. The party is at sea; Winfrey won’t bail them out.
Democrats need focus, not distractions. Winfrey might be intrigued by the chatter, but believe her when she says she’s not interested in running. Besides, why would she want to be president? She’s already Oprah.Renée Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.