There are moments in time that reveal the nature of a society. Usually a war, or a major disaster is involved. Yet, when Oprah. Winfrey gave a powerful speech, a campaign for the White House might have launched. You can go read the speech here. The speech looked like a campaign rally, we were told by CNN the next day. Full disclosure, I did not watch the show. I usually ignore award season no matter which is the award in question.
Her speech promptly launched a lot of speculation. #Oprah2020 became a thing on social media. Many in the well heeled entertainment establishment quickly endorsed the idea. A few in the political class did as well. However, to the credit of most Democrats, they were not too impressed with the idea. They were in shooting it down mode almost immediately.
Paul Waldman wrote in the Washington Post:
That’s not to say Oprah didn’t give a great speech, because she did, and speech-making is indeed part of running for and serving as president. Oprah has spent a career talking on television and connecting with audiences, and she’s very good at it. On the other hand, I could argue that she should be disqualified simply on the basis of her promotion of “The Secret,” a multimedia juggernaut that claimed that the entire universe and every moment of human experience are governed by “the law of attraction.” This is the idea that if you wish really hard for something — say, washboard abs or a new Birkin bag — it will, through the magical power created by your thoughts, find its way to you. With Oprah’s help, and because America produces an endless supply of gullible nincompoops, “The Secret” was a gigantic hit.
This was a masterful take down of the mere concept. And other media followed throughout the day. There is a clear feeling that there was at least some concern. Democrats are trying to figure this out: Is Winfrey viable? If we are to be honest with ourselves, she would be far from the first entertainer to consider politics. Vox was the most honest. They did point out that her candidacy is as fanciful as Trump was in 2015. However, unlike Trump, Winfrey has yet to hit the trail.
This speaks about us as a nation. Wealth is attractive, so is celebrity status. We want it, and worship it. This is one reason her candidacy should not be discounted out of hand. It has become a cultural phenomenon that should worry us, and may speak to cultural decline. There is far more to this though. It speaks to the paranoid nature of American politics, and a deep sense of distrust for expertise of any sort.
In an age where Americans have deep distrust for both political parties, and profesional politicians, her potential run should surprise no one. She is a self-made billionaire. She embodies what many Americans have been promised in the American mythos. She represents that success in the American Dream that most will never achieve. In her case, she overcame odds that are hard to fathom. She has become a symbol, a friendly face. She is somebody who is as much a brand as a person.
If you can tell me what her politics are, you are doing far better than I am. She trends, maybe, towards the Neoliberal politics of the political spectrum. She is a fan of the charter school system. This brand of politics places private sector solutions above any big government. Charters betray public education which should be part of any modern political quiver that is not conservative. With this very scat evidence, she may very well be far more conservative, with a small c than people realize.
We know that Winfrey supported Harvey Weinstein, until she did not. His was one of those open secrets that none wanted to challenge in Hollywood. Weinstein is gone from the scene. But this is also a cultural phenomena embodied by the #metoo movement. It is easy to embrace this after the fact. It takes guts to do it before it breaks. Then there is the South African School for Girls scandal. There were many irregularities in that South African school. Ultimately it hurt her brand. In short, Winfrey has embraced a lot of strangeness in her career.
In that sense she fits in this anti-intellectual moment that we live in.
I am scratching the surface. If she gets into the race in any serious manner, her moments with Dr. Oz will come out. The scrutiny should be brutal. However, major American media did not do that with Donald Trump. The networks are probably salivating at the prospect of an Oprah\Trump general election. Perhaps they will not do that with her either.
Until she disappears to the wilds of Iowa, and it should happen soon, this is navel grazing. But if she does, there will be hard questions. Democratic leaders are against, nominally, charter schools, Rahm Emmanuel notwithstanding. So will she take upon the cause of public education? What are her views on foreign affairs? Could we get her to tell the people what she thinks of the inward turn from the rest of the world? If she disappears to Iowa, those questions will come. So should questions on the Agriculture bill, and Mexico dumping American corn. Iowa is a large agriculture producer. Corn is king in Iowa. Incidentally, some of these questions should be asked of the president as well.
The Democratic Party Establishment
Why do they find themselves in that place? It is not a question of experience that should trouble us. Yes, it is relevant, but it is hardly the point. Why is it that some in the party elite are even considering Oprah Winfrey? While the majority, to be fair, is having a deja-vu moment to 2015? It is not her turn. Democrats in the running are already doing the work. This ranges from junkets to Martha’s Vineyard and the Hampton’s, to yes, trips to Iowa. This is according to the New York Times.
“They used to start coming to talk to you two years before the election. Now, it’s six months after the last presidential election,” said the Wall Street billionaire Marc Lasry, a major political donor who has met recently with several Democrats mentioned as prospective presidential candidates.
“It’s gotten ridiculous,” Mr. Lasry said. “Everybody believes they can be the person who will stack up great against Trump. I tell them all that it’s way too early, and that they need a clearer message about what they want to do, not just about opposing Trump.”
They are preparing for the most expensive race in recent memory. In case you are keeping score, 2016 was the most expensive, surpassing 2012 and 2008. Donors are having a problem with what the Democratic establishment stands for. We all know they see their party as the heart of the resistance. Donors like certainty. They want to make sure Democrats will not turn populist on them.
This is the environment under which Winfrey is whispered. She could run without having to go to the donor class. In that sense, the disruption will continue. Her potential run could already have a negative effect. Why you saw the response you witnessed from different corners of the party and it’s base.
(There was also a less muted response calling her the B word, due to her skin color and gender, as well. This came from some Trump supporters, who also fear her.)
Keep your eyes peeled. If Winfrey is spotted at somebody’s farm, talking turkey over some barbecue, and coffee…then perhaps she is serious. Some Democrats are already doing that. They started last year. The age of the eternal campaign is here, and that was not a consequence of Trump. None will win a primary without braving the winter in early primary states. That included Trump, who did the Iowa circuit, starting as early 2015. Winfrey will not be given a pass just because she is a celeb.