I didn’t watch the Golden Globes ceremony on television, but I caught Oprah Winfrey’s acceptance speech on Youtube. It was very powerful; all the more impressive for having been delivered (I assume) without benefit of a teleprompter. So now, there’s a mini-boom for Oprah for president. I hope it fizzles out.
Oprah Winfrey has all the makings of a great politician. She’s smart, articulate, personable, and knows instinctively how to connect with an audience of ordinary Americans. She undoubtedly has decent values and decent political views. I’ve never been a follower, but my impression is that she has made a generally positive contribution to American popular culture. The fabulous success that she has achieved is all the more remarkable and admirable for the fact that she is a black woman. Unsurprisingly, some Democrats see her as the ideal counter-Trump: a non-politician to challenge the supreme non-politician in an age when politicians are widely viewed with disdain.
On the other hand, there is no reason to believe that she has more than a superficial understanding of American government and domestic and foreign policy; it’s never been in her job description to acquire such an understanding. To make her a presidential candidate would in a sense validate Trump. It would say: you really don’t need to know much to be POTUS; you just need name recognition and charisma. Trump’s candidacy and presidency have degraded American politics in many ways, one of which is the elevation of celebrity as a qualification for political office. (This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon of course: Californians twice chose movie stars as their governor, and the politically sophisticated people of Minnesota once went for a professional wrestler. But it has reached a new high with Trump. Reagan at least had been a 2-term governor of California before going to the White House.) There is something fundamentally wrong with our political culture when celebrity substitutes for experience and knowledge as a determinant of whom we are willing to entrust with high responsibility. Among the many reasons for wanting to get rid of Trump is the argument that he never had the qualifications to be president in the first place, and it has showed in his conduct in office. You can’t make that argument with Oprah as your candidate.
I could be proved wrong. Oprah could eventually demonstrate an ability to talk about financial regulation like an Elizabeth Warren, to talk about foreign policy like a Chris Murphy, to talk about economic policy like a… well, I wouldn’t ask for a Paul Krugman, but you get the idea. But for now, you can count me as a Winfrey skeptic.