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Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Celebrity President


Reality check: Oprah Winfrey is not a qualified 2020 candidate

At this year’s Golden Globe awards, Oprah Winfrey received the Cecil B. DeMille Award, an honorary Golden Globe bestowed annually by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.” She is the first African American woman — and only the fourth African American in the award’s 66-year history — to receive this award.

Winfrey gave an acceptance speech that quickly went viral; in it, she recounted watching Sidney Poitier become the first African American to win the Best Actor Academy Award in 1964 and touched briefly on her mother’s struggles as a domestic worker. But the crux of her speech — the part that brought the audience to its feet and many to tears — was her rousing oratory against sexual harassment and abuse and her call to arms for “leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.” She told the shamefully little-known story of Recy Taylor and reminded watchers that Rosa Parks was an NAACP investigator and an activist who led a nationwide crusade against the sexual assault of black women before she was the lady on the bus.

In Winfrey’s words: “We all have lived too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. […] I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon!”

Her speech was bold and stirring, suited to the social and political moment, a manifesto for the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp.

More than a few Americans thought it sounded presidential.

More than a few Americans need to think again.

One of the more persistent myths of American politics is that there’s really not that much to elected office — a lot of shaking hands and giving speeches. This is the side of politics that voters see, and we’ve come to believe that the part we can see is the only part that exists. Most if not all of us have forgotten that politics is — or should be — primarily about policy. This means that politicians need to understand law, policy, political theory and governance first and charm the vox populi second. If you cannot explain, in detail, the limitations of counterinsurgency doctrine in Afghanistan, or the ramifications of expanding drone programs to the CIA or make a coherent fiscal argument about health care policy, you have no business being commander-in-chief.

Responding to the presidency of a crass, racist reality-television star with the candidacy of a big-hearted, loveable daytime-television star is a half-hearted response to the problem of woefully unqualified celebrity candidates. It’s perfectly possible to like someone — to find them thoughtful, kind, well-intentioned — while recognizing that they would not make a good president.

All lack of political experience aside, there are other reasons to be concerned about the possibility of President Winfrey. She has a long history of enabling and promoting all manner of cranks, hucksters and quacks. Her promotion of anti-vax proponents and The Secret are troublesome for an electorate that already struggles with even the most rudimentary fact-checking and is easily taken in by even the most improbable of fish stories. (See, for example, the fact that 40 percent of Americans believe “somewhat” or “completely” in conspiracy theories about chemtrails, or the 2013 Public Policy Polling survey that found 15 percent of respondents believe that secret mind-control signals are added to broadcast television.)

The Editorial Board begs the electorate to get its head on straight and find a real candidate for 2020.


Written by: The Editorial Board


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