Entertainment industry icon and billionaire media mogul Oprah Winfrey brought the house down and set the internet ablaze with speculation about possible presidential aspirations while accepting the Cecille B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement on Sunday’s televised broadcast of the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards. Her powerful speech denounced tyranny and injustice, praised the pursuit of truth, and served as a rallying cry for the #MeToo movement, which in recent weeks has seen some of the industry’s most powerful men fall from grace in light of sexual harassment allegations.
Winfrey is the first African-American woman in history to receive the award, whose illustrious past recipients include some of the most notable names in Hollywood, and her speech was just the kind of tour-de-force that thrust then-Senatorial candidate Barack Obama from Illinois into the national spotlight at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
And we all know how that turned out.
Sure, the Golden Globes aren’t exactly a political convention. (Or are they?) Nevertheless, by Monday morning, Oprah Winfrey had suddenly been catapulted into an intense national conversation about whether she should run to become the first woman to serve as President of the United States. Could Oprah Winfrey end the national nightmare that is Donald Trump?
There is a certain poetic justice to the idea. Trump, who has a long history of racist behavior, played coy with white nationalists, and has a less-than-favorable record with women, lost to a woman on his first go but assumed the White House on a technicality. Imagining him losing re-election to a woman— a black woman— who is just as rich as he is, much more stable, infinitely more genius, and likely uninterested in colluding with Russian oligarchs or Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Detractors and nay-sayers, as they are wont to do, did not miss a beat.
A slew of similar headlines calling for Winfrey to not run for president have appeared across the mediascape, including in Time, The New York Times, and more. An equal number of publications, like Politico and The Los Angeles Times, have stopped short of offering their two cents, but have earnestly posited and weighed the question: should she run?
Answer: Whether you think she should or shouldn’t is irrelevant
The United States is governed by laws, and Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution (spoiler alert: the supreme law of the land), dictates three eligibility requirements for those interested in serving as president.
"No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States."
These requirements have been modified to apply to the vice president and later to establish presidential term limits (worst case scenario is 8 years of Trump, everybody). There are a couple lesser-known related provisions, such as the Emoluments Clause, which requires that those holding high federal office divest from foreign entities and relationships, and the 25th Amendment, which allows for the removal of the President in the event he is not fit for service.
But for all intents and purposes, there are three eligibility requirements to be president. Period.
Oprah Winfrey, being at least 35-years of age, having been born in the state of Mississippi and having resided in the United States for at least the past fourteen years, is eligible to run for president. Anyone who wants to run for president, who fits the qualifications, and doesn’t run afoul of the U.S. Constitution, ought to run for president in accordance with their faith, their family, and their values. After that, it is incumbent upon us, the American electorate, to do our civic duty and make the right choice to ensure that a demagogue or someone fundamentally unfit does not reach the highest levels of government.
Some seem to think the notion of Oprah Winfrey running for president is insane. Those people have clearly been in solitary confinement for the past two years and are not aware that the current occupant of the Oval Office is Donald Trump, a crass, racist, orange-faced reality TV star whose primary qualification is his billions of dollars in assets, which he won’t disclose, and who may have sexually assaulted upward of sixteen women over the years.
The notion of Oprah running for president is not crazy. And on a side note, I’d much rather have an entertainment media mogul billionaire president who is ACTUALLY self-made and who knows the struggle of rising above racial and gender barriers as a poor black woman growing up in the South. Oprah Winfrey is an actual living version of the American dream. She didn’t have rich parents from which she could obtain a loan. She didn’t have an inheritance.
Still, whether you or I think Oprah should or shouldn’t run is irrelevant. If Oprah Winfrey wants to run, she should run.
All the bandwidth spent on posing such an irrelevant question comes at the expense of asking the real questions:
Will we, the American electorate, rise to the occasion and weigh the merits, strengths and weaknesses of candidates seeking elected office with facts?
Will we ensure that every vote is counted and heard, that voter turn-out improves, that interest in civic engagement rises, that people aren’t turned away from their polling locations because of restrictive voter-ID laws, unlawful gerrymandering, voter cross-check, or having their absentee ballots thrown away?
How can we improve the integrity of our elections, which rank last among all western democracies, and are we willing to make some hard choices to do so — like exclusive use of paper ballots and reforming the electoral college system?
Will we will reject interference in our elections by foreign bad actors, including misinformation campaigns, influence peddling, and trolling operations meant to sow discord and division?
Will the American news media learn the lessons of the 2016 presidential election and resist arbitrary false equivalencies that further narratives at the expense of truthful, if less sensational reporting?
It falls on us
The intense debate about Oprah Winfrey’s qualifications, or whether or not she would be a politically expedient choice for Democrats, or whether she should run at all represent a massive collective failure that belongs to all of us and reveals more about the petty partisan divide in this country than it does about her ability to govern.
Oprah is probably not going to run for president. If she did, it’s possible she could win. It’s possible she could not. If #MeToo, Women’s March, and the #resist movements are any indicator, I would reckon that it is more likely than not that we see a woman in the White House in 2020. If that woman is Oprah, I have no doubt she will make a great commander-in-chief, lead with empathy, and a demonstrate dedication toward leaving behind a better world for our children.
Plus...what are the odds she makes Hillary Clinton her running mate?