Huffpost Homepage
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Beverly Davis Headshot

IOWA: Oprah Spins Magic for Obama

Posted: Updated:

The following piece was produced by HuffPost's OffTheBus.

Des Moines, Iowa---Using the same warm homespun Southern girl-speak and inspiration mixed with spiritual references that has made her the queen of daytime television, Oprah Winfrey, delivered a one-two knock out in the first political speech of her life as she invited the crowd of 18,400 to "Dream American Anew Again" and "think seriously about who we are and who we could be."

Michele Obama, dressed in a chic grey dress with a fashionable big belt at her waist and mid-calf suede black boots - any one of these items would surely rank as features on Oprah's 'Favorite Things' show - introduced the First Lady of Television, "who empowers us all" to earsplitting cheers and applause by the voters who braved freezing drizzle pelting their faces and slippery dangerous streets in12 degree temperatures with a wind chill dipping the temperature down to zero. It was an ugly, cold day but it didn't take Oprah long to "Fire up" the audience.

She took on the pundits, Hillary Clinton, and the other older Beltway experienced competitors with a light touch and soaring political rhetoric causing more than a few in the audience to scream, "Oprah for Vice President!"

Oprah immediately took on the political pundits questioning her and set the record straight:

"So much has been said about my jumping into the arena of politics, and what it does or does not bring to the table of politics. I really don't know. I'm going to leave it all up to the pundits."
Mockingly, she spoke in an affected news broadcaster-like voice: "The pundits who all say, "Will this be the same as the Book Club? Will this be like the Favorite Thing Show?"

"I don't know about all of that. Despite all the talk and the speculation of the hype, I understand the difference between the book club and refrigerators - that was a nice refrigerator [she laughs] - I understand the difference between that and this critical moment in our nation's history. And so, I bathed, yes I did, and I got dressed, to come out here for I suspect, the same reason you did, because I care about this country."

She diffused the argument by other candidates and the pundits that she was going to tell the crowds in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina how to vote instead, telling them why she is supporting Obama:

"I am not here to tell you what to think. I am here to ask you to think, seriously. I want you to think seriously about a man who knows who we are and he knows who we can be. I'm not here for partisan beliefs. Over the years, I've voted for as many Republicans as I have Democrats, so this isn't about partisanship for me. This is very very personal. I am here for my personal conviction about Barack Obama and what I know he can do about America."

"You know, I've never done this before and it feels like I'm out of my terrain. Backstage, someone asked if I was nervous. You damn right I'm nervous!" Oprah said in her typical self-deprecating humor that had the crowd eating out of her hand in a nanosecond.

In answer to the other Democratic presidential contenders' claims that Obama isn't experienced enough, Oprah said:

"What we need is a new way of doing business in Washington DC and in the world. You know, I am so tired...tired of politics as usual."

"That's why you seldom see politicians on my show, 'cuz I only have an hour [laughter] to penetrate what I call that political veil, that political rhetoric. But when you listen to Barack Obama, when you really hear him, you witness a very rare thing. You witness a politician who has ear for eloquence and a tongue dipped in the unvarnished truth." [Applause]

"Experience in the hallways on government isn't as important to me as the pathway of life. So I challenge you to see through those people who try to convince you that experience with politics as usual in Washington is more valuable than 'wisdom' won from years of serving people outside the walls of Washington DC."

Oprah's statements on rhetoric and politics-as-usual was surely aimed at Hillary Clinton:

"We, the people, can see through all that rhetoric. We recognize that the amount of time that you spent in Washington means nothing unless you are accountable for the judgments you made with the time you had."[Applause]

"I've never done this before but if we continue to do the same things over and over again, I know you get the same results [Applause]. I believe that it's time for us all to dream America anew again by supporting Barack Obama." [Applause]

"We need a president with clarity and conviction who knows how to consult his own conscious and proceed with moral authority. We need Barack Obama." [Applause]

She ticked off a number of Obama's accomplishments as a community organizer, Illinois State Senator, and U.S. Senator. In an attempt to move Iowans to caucus for Obama rather than choose a safer bet - as they did in 2004 - Oprah said:

"This is not time for any of us to shrink away from a new bold path for our country. We can all look around us, and as you look around you, you can be sure that we just don't want to reinvent the same reality that we are now experiencing. We have to stand strong and united for the potential, the potential within us and the potential that lies before us."

Not forgetting to mention Obama's most popular position on Iraq for most Democrats, Oprah said, "And long before it was the popular thing to do, he stood with clarity and conviction against this war in Iraq." [Applause]

Restating Obama's promise to unite the country - along with her own brand of spiritual guidance - Oprah quieted the unusually rowdy and pumped-up Midwestern crowd, most standing on their feet with, still wearing heavy winter coats and boots:

"I'm worried, and this is what I know for sure, in order for humanity to evolve and that's really the reason why we're here on the planet of earth, we have to learn to treasure our uniqueness and also, treasure each other's diversity. We have too many divisions here in our United States. We have the left and the right and the red states and the blue states. We need a president who can bring us all together, who can overcome racial divides, our religious divides, and divisions between those who have and those who need a chance to have. Barack Obama is that man."

Hoping to persuade the crowd that Obama was the candidate who could change the way the world perceives the United States after the disastrous war in Iraq, Oprah said:

"These are dangerous times. I know you know it. We're all watching American Idol tryin' to forget about it. These are dangerous times. You can feel it. You can sense it in the air. We are facing a lot of explosive issues, complicated situations that are easily muddied. We need a leader who shows us how to hope again and faith again in America as a force for peace. [Applause]

"In my conversations with friends, we talk about how we get worried about America. Yes, I'm worried and it's not just the threat of terrorism or enemies beyond our borders, it's our estrangement from the rest of the world and the dangerous imbalance that creates. It's a dangerous imbalance when we fail to realize that all human hearts are the same. Tragedy and
loss and suffering and war and indifference destroy humanity, not just Americans. We need a president that cares about our relationship with our friends and our enemies."

Wrapping up her speech, Oprah dealt one final blow to those who think Obama is making his presidential bid took soon and took the crowd to a new height of frenzy:

"There are those who say that Barack Obama should wait his turn. There are those who say he should take a gradual approach to presidential leadership. But none of us is God. We don't know what the future holds, so we must respond to the pressures and the fortunes of history when the moment strikes and Iowa, I believe that moment is now." [applause]

"You all know I love books and I know you remember the great book by Ernest Gaines who wrote The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and there was a great film made from that book, it starred Cecilie Tyson - some of you might be too young to know about it - but that movie made a huge impression on me.

"But I do remember when Jane Pittman would encounter young people throughout that film and she would ask: Are you the one? Are you the one? And I remember her standing in the doorway, her body bowed, frail, old and holding the baby in her arms and saying, "Are you the one, Jimmy? Are you the one?"

"I believe in 08, I have found the answer. It is the same question that nation is asking, 'Are you the one? Are you the one?' And I'm here to tell you, Iowa, He's the one. Barack Obama."

Obama walked onto the stage, relaxed, smiling, and waving to the giant crowd, surely one of the biggest of this campaign season. He basically gave the same stump speech mixed in with a lot more humor and seemed to be enjoying the three 'O's' sharing the stage with him. He rallied the crowd and they responded in kind.

Obama spoke to what seemed to be an adoring crowd; 600 of whom received tickets because they were precinct captains and co-captains, volunteers, or had attended the four-hour caucus training to caucus for him.

11,000 received tickets were handed out at his Des Moines campaign headquarters and another 12,000 secured their tickets online. All had to give their names, address, phone numbers, and emails. That's a big score when you are looking for that final five hundred supporters.

About a third of the crowd included men.

Albert Ngoytz, an IT professional in West Des Moines said, "I switched my party so I caucus vote for him. I'll switch back after the caucuses, but he's got my vote for president."

Valesea Gaylord, a precinct caucus captain from Glenwood, Iowa, brought her mother, Connie Butterworth, to the event despite driving on icy roads for two hours. "I'm a supporter and I'm here to listen to Barack, but of course, I like Oprah, too."

Terry Fraizer, a doctorial student at the State University of Iowa, said, "I'm uncommitted and I came here to hear Barack. I don't watch Oprah. Barack is definitely inspiring and motivating."

From a professional view, Oprah did everything a warm-up act should have done for Obama: dispel the questions of readiness and experience, give credibility to the candidate's major policy issues, buoy his supporters, and give a big nudge to those still sitting on the fence. Oh, and she add a lot of glamour to the last four weeks of this campaign.

This was Oprah's first political speech but it certainly won't be her last.