Oprah for President? Not So Fast

As were millions of others, I was thrilled by Oprah Winfrey’s speech during the Golden Globe Awards ceremony Sunday evening. I, too, was enthralled by the possibility of her candidacy for president of the United States as a Democratic Parry nominee.

Perhaps it was a reflection, at this moment, of the less than spectacular field of potential candidates. History—the elections of 1992 and 2008—would suggest, however, a nationally obscure politician might emerge sometime in the next two years to captivate our imagination.

That’s the long view of politics. To those traumatized day in-day out by the current White House occupant, Oprah offered a stylish, progressive voice in the here and now. But it was a voice unattached to any body of political positions or government experience to measure her competency for the job as the most powerful leader of the world.

Where, for example, does she stand on the thorny issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? One state or two? Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or as capital of a Palestinian state, as well?

How would she deal with North Korea? To fight militants, does she favor the use of drones to kill those who would harm Americans or American interests? We know she is in favor of women’s rights here in the United States, but how would she approach countries, many considered our allies, especially in the Muslim world, who limit women’s freedom and opportunity?

Politics is the art of compromise (at least it should be if the result is intended to benefit the country). How would Oprah deal with recalcitrant members of her own party who would advocate more progressive actions than she is comfortable initiating? How would she coax Republicans to accept her policies?

One can look to Lech Walesa in Poland and Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (Burma) for examples of renowned figures who could not transform their popularity into effective governing.

Interestingly, in our nation’s recent past over the last half century, five entertainers were elected to national office. Musician John Hall was elected to Congress as a Democrat. The other four were Republicans: former Major League pitcher Jim Budding served as a senator from Kentucky, while actor George Murphy represented California in the Senate, singer Sonny Bono was a congressman and, of course, actor Ronald Reagan was first California’s governor before twice winning the presidency. Maybe there are others who traded in the footlights for the political spotlight, but I cannot think of them at this time.

As a self-made billionaire, Oprah obviously has intelligence and leadership skills. What she lacks is a political organization. Picking the right advisors—rejecting the Paul Manafords of the Democratic world (let’s not be naive and think such people don’t exist)—would be step one to securing the nomination.

Given the ego most politicians possess, other potential contenders could not be expected to let her cakewalk toward the nomination. They would not see their options as merely competing for the vice presidential spot on an Oprah ticket.

Her speech and its seismic vibrations have generated loads of analyses. Here’s one from The New York Times: https://nyti.ms/2EnCaqJ

What should be considered when pondering the tepid reaction of political pros is that, like Donald Trump, Oprah would shake up their comfort zones. Likely, she would not be someone they could easily control. Bernie Sanders showed that Democrats and Independents are eager to break the status quo. How willing she would be to be the avatar of change is a question only Oprah can answer.

As it now stands, she looks like the favorite as minorities and women would likely be in her corner, ready to be galvanized to show up at the polls come primary days. But 2020 is a marathon in time away from January 2018.

Awards season is upon us. It’s way to early to give Oprah or anyone else the prize.

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