tbo: Tampa Bay Online.
Saturday, Jul 21, 2018
  • Home
Perspective

Perspective: Oprah, don’t do it

PARIS — I miss a lot of must-see TV on this side of the Atlantic. But by the time I’d dropped off my daughter at school Monday morning, it was impossible not to notice how many people in my social media feeds felt something politically significant had transpired during the Golden Globes awards ceremony on Sunday night. Apparently, Oprah Winfrey had all but declared her candidacy for president of the United States.

Ms. Winfrey — dressed all in black in solidarity with the #MeToo movement and accepting the Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement — delivered a smart and movingly optimistic speech touching on topics from racial injustice and gender inequality to the importance of a free press in a democratic society.

It was a beautiful performance by an inspiring woman — the first black one to receive the honor — who is, unlike our current president, a self-made billionaire. And it punctuated a week that had been defined by cathartic, almost orgiastic schadenfreude over Michael Wolff’s gossipy takedown of Donald Trump and the latter’s depressingly undignified response to it.

Seth Meyers, the host for the ceremony, teed up the Twitterati for talk of an Oprah run during his opening monologue: "In 2011, I told some jokes about our current president at the White House Correspondents Dinner, jokes about how he was unqualified to be president. And some have said that night convinced him to run. And if that’s true, I would just like to say, ‘Oprah, you will never be president.’?"

Influential media figures were intoxicated by the notion. "Our president is giving her state of the union," Roxane Gay tweeted.

"Switched back to the Golden Globes to watch Oprah get her award," Joy Reid wrote. "Never let it be said that I don’t respect the president of the United States."

Even Bill Kristol, newly woke, couldn’t resist joining in: "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."

Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, doesn’t think the idea is far-fetched. "I slept on it and came to the conclusion that the Oprah thing isn’t that crazy," he wrote on Twitter. Neither does Stedman Graham, her longtime partner, who told a reporter, "She would absolutely do it."

I am not immune to Oprah’s charms, but President Winfrey is a terrible idea. It also underscores the extent to which Trumpism — the kowtowing to celebrity and ratings, the repudiation of experience and expertise — has infected our civic life. The ideal post-Trump politician will, at the very least, be a deeply serious figure with a strong record of public service behind her. It would be a devastating, self-inflicted wound for the Democrats to settle for even benevolent mimicry of Mr. Trump’s hallucinatory circus act.

Indeed, the magical thinking fueling the idea of Oprah in 2020 is a worrisome sign about the state of the Democratic Party. That Ms. Winfrey could probably beat those considered likely front-runners — Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand — is testament to how demoralized and devoid of fresh political talent the post-Obama party has become.

In a way, the conversation on the left (and the anti-Trump right) around Ms. Winfrey is more troubling than the emotional immaturity and anti-intellectualism pulsing out of the red states that elected Mr. Trump. Those voters have long defined themselves in opposition to the intellectual seriousness Democrats purport to personify.

If liberals no longer pride themselves on being the adults in the room, the bulwark against the whims of the mob, our national descent into chaos will be complete. The Oprah bandwagon betrays the extent to which social causes and identities — and the tribal feelings they inspire — have come to eclipse anything resembling philosophical worldviews. American politics has become just another team sport, and if suiting up a heavy hitter like Ms. Winfrey is what it takes to get the championship ring, so be it.

The idea that the presidency should become just another prize for celebrities — even the ones with whose politics we imagine we agree — is dangerous in the extreme. If the first year of the Trump administration has made anything clear, it’s that experience, knowledge, education and political wisdom matter tremendously. Governing is something else entirely from campaigning. And perhaps, most important, celebrities do not make excellent heads of state. The presidency is not a reality show, or for that matter, a talk show.

To her credit, last year Ms. Winfrey told CBS, "There will be no running for office of any kind for me." But when the conservative columnist and Trump critic John Podhoretz published an essay in the New York Post in September headlined "Democrats’ Best Hope for 2020: Oprah," she retweeted it.

"If any figure in the United States bears watching over the next couple of years as our political culture continues the radical transformation that led to the election of Donald Trump, it’s Oprah," Mr. Podhoretz wrote: "I believe she’s uniquely positioned, should she wish to commit herself, to seek the Democratic nomination for president and challenge Trump in 2020."

Let us hope, for the sake of our nation, that she does not want it.

Thomas Chatterton Williams (@thomaschattwill), a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, is at work on a book about racial identity.

© 2018 New York Times

Weather Center
Comments