I Can’t Believe I Have to Explain Why Oprah Shouldn’t Be President
Welcome to Evesplaining, politics writer Eve Peyser's column about why everyone else is wrong and she's right.
After she delivered an inspirational Golden Globes speech, the idea of Oprah Winfrey running for president in 2020 immediately began to gain traction. "Nothing but respect for OUR future president," NBC wrote in a now-deleted tweet. "You could close your eyes and imagine that speech being given in Iowa," pundit king Chris Cillizza said on CNN.
“She launched a rocket tonight. I want her to run for president,” Meryl Streep told the Washington Post. "Call me @oprah. I've got some Iowa county chairs who would love to hear from you," Obama's 2012 Iowa campaign manager tweeted. Even conservatives John Podhoretz and Bill Kristol have voiced support for an Oprah presidency, proof that 2018 isn't shaping up to be any more sane than 2017 or 2016.
I'm not going to deny the power of Oprah's speech, which was undoubtedly the highlight of a sometimes awkward Golden Globes. "We all know the press is under siege these days," said the billionaire media mogul in one particularly rousing bit. "But we also know it’s the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice, to tyrants and victims, and secrets and lies."
And I'm not going to criticize Winfrey's politics, which seem fairly progressive. What's more, she's done more than most celebrities to actually effect change: In the 90s, for instance, she helped lobby for the National Child Protection Act, which created a database of known abusers and became known as the "Oprah bill."
But can we let celebrities just be celebrities? Or to put it a little more pointedly, have we learned nothing from Donald Trump?
Weirdly enough, in 1999, Trump himself suggested that if he ran for president, Oprah would be his first choice for running mate. "Americans respect and admire Oprah for her intelligence and caring. She has provided inspiration for millions of women to improve their lives, go back to school, learn to read, and take responsibility for themselves," Trump wrote in his book.
Trump isn't wrong about Oprah, but being an "inspiration" doesn't mean someone should run for president. Trump himself was "inspiring" to many Americans who voted for him despite all his obviously disqualifying traits. We don't need any more "inspirational" politicians, we need people who have actual experience governing.
Oprah, unlike Trump, is actually a self-made billionaire. She doesn't traffic in openly racist rhetoric and hasn't been accused of sexual assault, either. She'd be a step up from Trump for a lot of reasons. But like him, she has no political experience, and no obvious platform beyond her (incredible) personal appeal.
Here's what we know about Oprah's political views: She's seemingly pro-Israel. She believes in the American dream in a sort of Obama-esque way. She endorsed Obama for president in 2008 and Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016. She donated $10 million to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Where does she stand on healthcare? Weed legalization? Foreign policy? Housing?
Importantly, even though the media has spent the last 12 hours spinning its collective wheels about an Oprah campaign, the candidate herself is actually not a candidate, at least not yet. As recently as June, Oprah has said, "I will never run for public office," but since the Golden Globes she might have had a change of heart. On Monday morning, CNN reported that according to two sources close to Oprah, she is now "actively thinking" about running for president.
If Oprah wants to run for political office, she should go for it—but not the presidency. She should start small, which for her would mean a cabinet post in a Democratic administration or a governorship. We don't have any idea about how she would fare in that sort of job; maybe she'd be amazing at it, but maybe she's more suited to her current incredibly powerful job. If you have enough hubris to want to run for presidency with zero political experience, it's a good indicator that being president probably isn't the right gig for you. And if Trump's presidency has taught us anything, it's this: Don't trust a billionaire to do the job of a politician.
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