Oprah for President?

01/10/2018 10:44 am ET
<em>Oprah Winfrey</em>
Flickr.com, Vaguely Artistic
Oprah Winfrey

An article at The Moderate Voice bemoans the political (“existential”) crisis our nation finds itself in and touches upon the widespread speculation that beloved and respected celebrity Oprah Winfrey might consider running for president in 2020, concluding, “So, would Oprah be a good presidential candidate? Aargh.”

Reacting to this, I commented that while I respect and admire Oprah and while she might make a fine president, I just don’t know enough about her and where she stands on important policy issues to make an informed judgment at this time.

Perhaps more important, I noted that the present occupant of the White House has set such a low bar, has lowered expectations so much, has made voters so desperate for “anyone but Trump” that the electorate may settle on anyone who is but slightly better than — or not quite as bad as — the character presently occupying the Oval Office.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that at least one other person shares my concerns.

In a piece at the Washington Post on Tuesday, Anne Applebaum shares the affection and esteem millions of Americans have for Oprah Winfrey, “She’s a self-made billionaire…She’s a genuine philanthropist, with a real foundation…She unites people…[She] promotes positive emotions…”

But wait, I have omitted parts that put Oprah’s qualifications into additional perspective. The entire quote is:

She’s a self-made billionaire, as opposed to one who inherited much of his money and business. She’s a genuine philanthropist, with a real foundation instead of one under a cloud. She unites people instead of dividing them, promotes positive emotions instead of hatred and fear, seems the perfect antidote to the sour, bigoted occupant of the White House.

But, Applebaum continues, “Nevertheless, the fact that anyone takes ‘Oprah for president’ seriously is yet another illustration of how degraded American democracy has become.”

While I would not be as harsh as Applebaum and could take an Oprah candidacy seriously, I must agree with some of Applebaum’s underlying concerns.

First, that the qualities it takes to get elected do not necessarily reflect the qualities required to be a successful president: “the chutzpah and sheer charisma that it takes to win and the knowledge and sheer experience it takes to shepherd legislation through Congress, negotiate with foreign leaders and build coalitions at home and abroad.”

Second, and, in my opinion most important, that “Trump’s total lack of qualifications shouldn’t lower the bar.” Applebaum points out that in a constitutional democracy such as ours important changes necessarily happen slowly, “[t]he desire for an instant solution, the longing for an outsider to come and ‘fix’ things, is not just undemocratic; it’s also delusional, a form of magical thinking or perverted religious belief.”

Finally, that if an Oprah candidacy should be taken seriously, she should run for the Senate first, “learn what it takes to turn emotions into issues and issues into law…”

Applebaum concludes:

Our presidency is not a monarchy: The president is not just a national symbol, but rather a functioning, active part of the political process. Anyone who aspires to be president should be willing to take the time to understand that process. If they aren’t, then the American public shouldn’t be willing to take them seriously either.

Others have now joined in both praising Oprah Winfrey and in urging caution, reflection, analysis and patience.

Comparing Oprah to Hillary Clinton (is Oprah the “un-Trump” or has it “more to do with her being the un-Clinton”), Frank Bruni at the New York Times says, “Oprah soars. Oprah gives goose bumps. That’s her métier, and where Clinton wants for charisma, Oprah overflows with it. She’s the Niagara Falls of charisma, and as warm to the touch as Clinton can be cold.”

But Bruni also urges prudence, mentioning what “came up among the analyzers”:

Is Oprah too much a replay of Trump, in that she’s another unfathomably famous billionaire with no experience in government? Or do their differences far outnumber their similarities, in that she’s a black woman as earnest about personal improvement as he is convinced of his superhuman perfection?

In “Oprah: Prophet, Priestess … Queen?”, Ross Douthat elevates the Oprah debate to a near-celestial level. Oprah is more than the entrepreneur, the celebrity, the champion of holistic medicine, Douthat says, “Instead, her essential celebrity is much closer to the celebrity of Pope Francis or Billy Graham. She is a preacher, a spiritual guru, a religious teacher, an apostle and a prophetess. Indeed, to the extent that there is a specifically American religion, a faith tradition all our own, Oprah has made herself its pope.”

But even Douthat eventually comes back down to earth, to the realpolitik, questioning the viability and advisability of several “scenarios” and settling on the most plausible scenario as “the one where she decides being a prophetess is better than being a president and declines to run at all.”

Whatever Oprah and the American people decide, the eternal braggadocio declared yesterday that he would beat Oprah if she decided to run against him in 2020.

Should this come to pass, it would truly add insult to our national injury.

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