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.




  1. Alan Sachs January 9, 2018 at 5:29 pm

    As Richard Neustadt, the pre-eminent Presidential scholar, observed, the presidency is no place for amateurs.

  2. Bill Anscher January 9, 2018 at 6:04 pm

    Oprah might have one attribute that “trumps” all others – the ability to win and win big. Hard to say at this stage but Democrats must defeat Trump in 2020 and if Oprah represents the best chance of doing that, she will get my vote.

  3. Jeffrey Herrmann January 9, 2018 at 7:05 pm

    She has many admirable qualities, but in addition to lacking political experience, she has a long history of promoting quack healers, junk science espousers, anti-vaxers and other charlatans. We don’t need that kind of scientific and medical ignorance in the White House.
    The Democrats have got to find a better candidate to oppose Hair Twittler, or Mike Pence, or whoever the Repugnican candidate is in 2020.

    • tonygreco January 9, 2018 at 9:27 pm

      I must admit that I was only vaguely aware of the history you mention. (I did know that she had somehow been associated with Dr. Oz, who has sometimes embraced dubious medical causes.) Your comment prompted me to do a bit of internet research, which turned up this and a couple of similar links. This history not only suggests a troubling naiveté; it would also make it harder for her to criticize Trump for science denialism.

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