Tuesday, January 9, 2018
O? HELL NO
Last Sunday night media mogul and former TV host Oprah Winfrey gave a speech during the Golden Globe Awards that many people saw as the beginning of a presidential campaign for her in 2020. Although she had previously shot down such ideas, the speech was popular, uplifting and just political enough ("...a new day is on the horizon..") to excite some Democrats at the prospect of finding their answer to Trump. And while I do think a president Oprah would be preferable to Trump, I still think it would be a mistake for the country to veer wildly from one unexperienced celebrity president to another.
Ok, let's look at some of undeniably positive aspects of Winfrey's career: unlike Trump, she really is a self made billionaire. She pulled herself up from humble beginnings (she once admitted that she even smoked crack cocaine at one point in her life) and went from being just another TV talk show host to being a massively successful media icon. On the way she's given millions of dollars to charity and encouraged literacy. And how ever you may feel about her old show, it's obvious that she found a way to speak intimately to her viewers.
But there are cracks in her empire: on her show she promoted the work of one Dr. Oz, an outright scam artist who peddles one fake weight loss cure after another. She has given sympathetic interviews to Jenny Mcarthy, allowing her to spread her despicable anti vaccination ideas. She heavily promoted the "self help" book The Secret, which absurdly posits that money and better health can come to you if you just think real hard (and pay for the book, of course). And while it's hard to argue with the phenomenal popularity of her talk show, on my few viewings of it I found it bland, celebrity driven dreck. The thing that bothered me the most was the way that Winfrey herself looked directly into the camera periodically and told the audience what they were about to see and how they should feel about it, leaving no room for any kind of independent thought. In this regard, her technique is similar to right wing media mogul Rush Limbaugh, and his army of so called "ditto heads", people who proudly echo his words without even considering them. And also like Limbaugh, she often takes complicated issues and dumbs them down for the audience, aiming for the lowest common denominator. And the devotion of her fans can be scary; just look at the almost crazed reactions her studio audiences have when she takes the stage! Her influence is sometimes more cult like than fan like (on the show 30 Rock, the character Liz Lemon one described her religious beliefs as "I do whatever Oprah tells me to do."). As an atheist who would like to live in a world without anybody blindly worshipping anyone or anything, I find all all this troubling to say the least.
Along with all that, the main reason I don't want Winfrey to run is that I want to end the absurd notion that the government should be run by someone who has never held any kind of political or military office. Donald Trump has given us a year of insanity and incompetence, even those who may agree with politics must admit that his bullying tweets and string of hirings and firings of cabinet members and advisors shows a man who knew little about how the presidency works before taking office. Would Winfrey really be any different? Like Trump, she's known for being the head of a corporation in which she can pick and choose who she hires and fires, and where she can shape company policy independently. This is completely different from a president who must deal with members of congress picked by the voters, as Trump found out in his failed attempt to repeal Obamacare. Being president means making compromises and working together with congressional leaders that often disagree with you; there's nothing in her professional history to show that she knows how to do that.
What I'm saying is that America should let the Trump presidency serve as a cautionary example, an aberration, and certainly not a new way to win the presidency. Just because one celebrity somehow managed to fail upwards into the White House doesn't mean that the door should be open to President Winfrey, or Dwayne Johnson or whomever. Come on Democrats, just because the Republicans lost their minds doesn't mean you have to also!