We don’t know whether the idea of Oprah Winfrey for president, inspired by Winfrey’s eloquent speech Sunday at the Golden Globe Awards, will prove an ephemeral excitation or a movement with staying power. But we find it depressing.
We mean no disrespect to Winfrey, who strikes us as much better informed and more intellectually curious and presumably less reckless or dishonest than the incumbent president. But it’s bizarre that Americans who are appalled by Trump’s oafish and ignorant conduct of the nation’s highest office would gravitate to another television star untested in politics.
That’s what many of them did Sunday evening. Twitter throbbed with speculation that Winfrey’s speech accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award was the beginning of a presidential run. Winfrey’s friends didn’t discourage the idea.
“It's up to the people,” Winfrey’s longtime partner, Stedman Graham, told the Los Angeles Times. “She would absolutely do it.” The speculation snowballed on Monday, to the extent that a White House spokesman felt obliged to tell reporters that “we welcome the challenge, whether it be Oprah Winfrey or anybody else.”
Again, this may just be a passing, Golden-Globes-inspired moment of Twitter hype. But it is also a reminder that when the last out-of-the-blue celebrity candidate entered a presidential race, the media shrugged him off as a joke.
Winfrey is a skilled interviewer, a talented actress, a successful businesswoman and an inspiring orator. In her speech Sunday, she compellingly wove together recognition of victims of sexual assault — not just in Hollywood — with a tribute to racial diversity and a defense of a free press that “is under siege these days.” A Washington Post reporter wrote: “Close your eyes and picture this speech being delivered in Des Moines. It’s not difficult.”
Maybe not, but there is more to being president than the ability to deliver a stirring speech. Also, as the first year of the Trump presidency demonstrated, there are colossal risks in electing a political neophyte to the most demanding public office in the world. Just because the Republicans were foolish enough to travel down this dangerous road — in the process sacrificing many of their party’s best qualities and most valuable principles in a desperate, craven hunt for votes — doesn’t mean the Democrats should follow suit.
Winfrey might possess a more stable temperament than Trump — who doesn’t? — and her political positions would undoubtedly be more in line with those of liberals, Democrats and The Times editorial page, but she would face the same steep learning curve in dealing with foreign and domestic issues. What is there to suggest that she is any better prepared than Trump was to work productively with Congress or tackle international trade negotiations, the North Korean nuclear threat or the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict?
It’s a measure of the trauma inflicted on the country by Trump’s election that some people honestly believe that the way to unseat a celebrity president is to nominate another celebrity. Back in September, John Podhoretz wrote in the New York Post: “If you need to set a thief to catch a thief, you need a star — a grand, outsized, fearless star whom Trump can neither intimidate nor outshine — to catch a star.” Podhoretz called Winfrey the mirror image of Trump — “America’s generous aunt” to “America’s crazy uncle.”
But the United States doesn’t need another TV star running the country — even a talented and accomplished star such as Oprah Winfrey. What it needs is someone who has prepared for the job, who has made tough decisions, who is familiar with the issues, who has a history of public service. Not all senators or governors make good presidents, to be sure, but they’re a better bet, by and large, than the typical movie star or businessman. Here’s the kind of resume that more closely approximates what we tend to look for in a candidate (and forgive us if it sounds familiar): former U.S. senator, former secretary of state.