Do we really need another politically inexperienced billionaire in the White House?
Even if it’s Oprah?
That’s the big question looming over media superstar Oprah Winfrey after the electrifying and inspirational speech that she delivered at Hollywood’s Golden Globe awards.
Her remarks in accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement award did not include direct references to politics or President Donald Trump. She didn’t have to. The room was filled with women stars dressed in black evening gowns and allied men wearing “Time’s Up” pins, symbols of the new collective of women actors, writers and other executives to fight sexual misconduct in the industry.
Oprah’s heartfelt stories and podium-pounding climax sparked cheers and applause that reminded me of rising Illinois State Sen. Barack Obama delivering the room-shaking 2004 National Democratic Convention speech that launched his path to the White House.
Small wonder, then, that her speech ignited a national tweetstorm on social networks touting Ms. O as the anti-Trump long sought by Democrats.
And why not? Even Trump likes Oprah. Or at least he used to. A Trump-Oprah ticket would be “very formidable,” said Trump in a 1999 interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. Ivanka Trump was slammed predictably by some on Twitter after she tweeted praise for Oprah’s “empowering and inspiring speech,” despite what many heard as an anti-Trump message.
That’s an understandable reaction, considering Winfrey’s past endorsements of Obama and Hillary Clinton. What really excites many Democrats is the possibility of an Oprah candidacy.
And if you try to judge her presidential prospects by conventional standards, such as “What’s her foreign policy?” or “Has she got an economic development plan?,” you miss the point. As Trump’s thoroughly unconventional campaign against the obviously more knowledgeable Hillary Clinton showed us, the details of policy are a snooze compared to the passion of your persuasion on the speaking stump.
But color me skeptical. The excitement surrounding Oprah says more about the appetite that many of us Americans have, after a year of the Trump presidency, for a knowledgeable, compassionate, charismatic, principled and inspiring voice of reason —in a manner that doesn’t handle English so awkwardly that it sounds like her second language.
Must we turn to the world of show business to find those qualities? Or should both parties turn back with renewed gusto to the idea of developing their own talent from the ranks of rising political hopefuls who have a little something called experience in politics and governing?
Among the reasons why she should not run is the inevitable backlash. As soon as you declare your partisanship as a popular public figure, you’re bound to lose about lose about 40 percent of the public.
And that’s not limited to your opposition party. Oprah’s speech sparked a Twitter debate between the left’s many factions who questioned whether she was far left and anti-establishment enough to energize the Democratic base — as if Trump’s trashing of Republican norms have not already exposed the hazards and folly of extremism in party ranks.
But as appealing as a battle of the media titans might seem for 2020, it could also put us closer to the nightmare envisioned by Neil Postman in his 1984 classic “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.”
While many of us feared the “Big Brother” vision of George Orwell’s “1984,” Postman wrote that we should be even more concerned about the deceptively appealing vision of Aldous Hurley’s “Brave New World.” While Orwell feared those who would ban books, Postman wrote, Huxley feared that “there would be no reason to ban a book for there would be no one who wanted to read one.”
At least, Oprah, who was just rising to national fame with her Chicago-based talk show when Postman’s book came out, decided to use her powers for literary good. “Oprah’s Book Club” defied conventions by using the power of television to encourage more reading of fine literature.
I love Oprah so much that I don’t think she should run for president. She’s too good for that. There are other rising talents people in the Democratic Party who can do the job of being president of the United States. Their fellow Democrats need to help them rise up and develop their White House potential and, as Oprah advises, develop their “best self.”
Clarence Page is a member of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.