Wow, it looks like “a new day is on the horizon!” If Democrats decide to fight fire with fire, that is.
When Oprah Winfrey delivered that line at the climax of her thunderous Golden Globes speech, my reaction was the same as everyone else’s: Is it my imagination, or does that sound like a well-crafted slogan for a presidential campaign?
I quickly told myself nah, no way, she wouldn’t. But then her longtime partner, Stedman Graham, told the Los Angeles Times she just might. “It’s up to the people,” he said. “She would absolutely do it.”
CNN later quoted two unidentified friends of Winfrey as saying that for several months she has been “actively thinking” about running. Step back for a moment and consider where we’ve come: If I’d told you five years ago that the 2020 presidential race would be Oprah versus The Donald, you’d have insisted I seek professional help. But today, who can rule it out?
President Donald Trump’s biggest accomplishment may have been to make the political waters safe for celebrities with 100-percent name recognition and zero government experience. At this point, who’s to say that Winfrey couldn’t run? Or that she couldn’t win?
I admit to having mixed feelings about the prospect. On the one hand, Trump’s abysmal performance in office proves, as if it needed proving, that experience is a good thing for a president to have. On the other, for the sake of the nation and the world, somebody has to beat Trump in 2020 – and it’s not as if the Democratic Party has a lineup of potential candidates that begin to match Winfrey in charisma and star quality. I’m assuming she’d run as a Democrat, since that’s where her worldview and sensibilities best fit.
If you wonder why anyone is taking the Oprah-for-president idea seriously, go back and listen to that speech. I think of myself as pretty hard-bitten and jaded, but I found it inspirational – even thrilling.
Winfrey’s delivery wasn’t the soft, enfolding, personal empathy of “Oprah on the couch.” It was “Oprah on a soapbox” – bold and full of vigor. When she raised her volume and used repetition to declare the end of the era when powerful men could abuse women with impunity – “But their time is up. Their time is up. Their time is up.” – I thought it sounded almost like a campaign speech. When she ramped the energy and emotion even higher with her “new day is on the horizon” proclamation, I no longer had any doubt that I was hearing political oratory of a very high order. And I confess that I had a lump in my throat.
We know a bit about Winfrey’s politics. Her major impact to date was her May 2007 endorsement of candidate Barack Obama – at a time when Hillary Clinton was the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination. Winfrey made her first campaign appearances on Obama’s behalf in December of that year, and it is logical to assume that her support won him votes in the primaries, though it is not possible to know how many.
She endorsed Clinton in 2016. Trump had said at one point that he would love to have Winfrey as his running mate, but she said on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” that if he actually asked, her response would be, “Donald, I’m with her” – echoing a Clinton campaign slogan.
Some Democrats – and a few “Never Trump” Republicans, such as Weekly Standard editor-at-large Bill Kristol – reacted to the Golden Globes speech by using the Twitter #imwithher hashtag to tout Winfrey as a candidate.
Response from the Hollywood luminaries who witnessed the speech firsthand inside the Beverly Hilton ballroom was little short of rapturous. For Americans traumatized by the Trump presidency, Winfrey’s address hit all the right notes. It offered hope – a commodity that has been in desperately short supply.
Back to reality. One big question is why Winfrey would even consider a presidential run. It would require nearly three years of grinding hard work – and in the end she might win, which would mean four more years of oppressive labor and crushing responsibility. The life of a billionaire media mogul is much more pleasant than the life of a president.
And the most important question of all: Could she actually be a good president? After Trump, we have to be skeptical of all political novices. But we should also be mindful that many people have underestimated Winfrey during the course of her long career. All have regretted it.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.