On Sunday Oprah Winfrey, the noted talk show host, philanthropist, and actress, gave a speech that resonated with those watching the Golden Globes. So good was the speech that it had actresses and actors in tears, and it earned her a standing ovation. The speech was to do with the #MeToo movement, and addressing the culture of sexual harassment and assault present within Hollywood and the wider world.
Within moments of her speech, articles were written calling for Oprah to run for the presidency against Donald Trump in 2020. It is a movement that has gained a lot of credibility, with late night TV hosts such as Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert actively voicing their support for such a motion.
The appeal of Oprah Winfrey is obvious. She is a highly educated, incredibly smart, passionate and caring person. Nevertheless, questions must be raised, just as they were with the current President of the United States, as to whether or not she really is qualified to run for office.
During her long career, Ms Winfrey has very rarely given her views on specific issues, be they single payer healthcare, immigration or even gun control. Apart from endorsing Barack Obama in 2008 and again in 2012, she has remained largely apolitical. This is by no means a bad thing, but it does make it harder to gauge where she would sit on some of the key issues currently facing the United States. And this is a problem.
Before he ran for President, Donald Trump appeared a reasonable man though with questionable taste in rhetoric on occasion. He was, however, a donor of the Democrat party and a fan of Hilary Clinton’s. Then came his own presidential run and the storm that followed. The chances of Oprah embracing the far right are slim to non-existent but what is there to say that, in order to pull votes, she does not swing toward the as damaging far left?
Furthermore, with all the criticism that was thrown at the Republicans for supporting a TV personality for President, one would think that the Democrats would realise just how hypocritical they appear, by now appearing to endorse a run by Oprah Winfrey. However, it seems that instead of supporting the candidates that they already have, such as Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, the Democratic party, or parts of it anyway, would rather put their own star up for the highest office in the land.
It appears that this is being done to try and draw in a far wider base for support, much like Trump appealed to traditional conservatives as well as the far right. However, this attempt could well do more to harm the Democrats than benefit them. Ms Winfrey is a powerful figure and, in an age where dissatisfaction with the elites is at an all-time high, would it really do the Democrats any good to employ a candidate who could easily be counted amongst them? Does it not appear short sighted, and potentially disingenuous, to put someone forward for the same reasons that the opposition were criticised?
Finally, the demand for Ms Winfrey to run for President in 2020, and let it be noted that she hasn’t even confirmed whether she will indeed run, seems to come from the enduring appeal that celebrity within the USA has. Politicians the world over are denigrated and mistrusted, seen as out for themselves and the shadowy elite, rather than for the people. People like Ms Winfrey, who have made a career out of appearing to care for the common person, do not have this baggage.
Indeed, a recent poll put her ten to twenty percentage points above Trump in a hypothetical leadership race. It would appear that, in a desire to break from the traditional and the boring, more and more within the American electorate wish to see different faces in their top positions. They do not want career politicians, who they cannot identify with, but rather those who they feel some connection with, those who are popular and ‘in touch’ with them.
Whilst this is a noble concept, it risks reducing the office of President, the most powerful office in the US, to nothing more than a popularity contest. As Trump has shown, winning popularity means nothing if you cannot do the job or have a basic understanding of it. Though Ms Winfrey is smart, capable, and well spoken, there is nothing to say she could handle the strains of job better than either Trump or Obama.
Oprah 2020 came about because Ms Winfrey gave a roaring speech that said things that needed to be said about an industry and culture that has long been toxic and immoral. However, whether Ms Winfrey can make a good President, or should even run, does not depend on her ability to make good speeches. It depends on whether she is willing to put the hours in to come with good policy for all.
The cult of celebrity is not a good enough reason for someone to be President, and Trump has shown that. Caution is needed now more than ever, before a decision is made which could make America worse rather than better.