Monday, 29 November 2021

President Oprah Winfrey: the pros and cons

Oprah Winfrey

The prospect of an Oprah Winfrey presidential run in 2020 took a giant step forward this week when she gave an electrifying Golden Globe Awards speech that left many hailing her as the antidote to President Trump.

“Is America going insane or coming to its senses?” The Washington Post asks.

The actor, producer and chief executive of the OWN cable channel may have told Bloomberg that she has no plans to run, but CNN says Winfrey is “actively thinking” about it, citing two unnamed friends. The Los Angeles Times claims Stedman Graham, Winfrey’s long-time partner, told the newspaper: “It’s up to the people… She would absolutely do it.”

So what are the pros and cons of a Winfrey candidacy?


Winfrey’s identity “as a liberal African-American woman – who pointedly defended the press in her speech – would have symbolic power against an incumbent who has admitted groping women, repeatedly stoked racial divisions and frequently attacked the ‘fake news’ media”, says The Guardian’s David Smith.

Winfrey “is articulate, has had a career defined more by its successes than its failures, and spoke more frankly on Sunday night about the darkness that has shaped our history – racism, patriarchy – than most politicians”, adds Slate’s Osita Nwanevu.

She also has more political experience than one might first imagine, too, argues Politico’s Bill Scher, saying: “The Oprah Winfrey Foundation runs circles around the Trump Foundation, and has given her some actual experience in education and housing policy. Winfrey has built 60 schools in 13 countries.”

Winfrey also has something that the current president doesn’t: a signature piece of legislation. The so-called Oprah Bill, otherwise known as the National Child Protection Act, created a national database of convicted child abusers. It was signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1993 following two years of lobbying by Winfrey.


Those opposed to the prospect of a Winfrey presidency highlight her political inexperience.

“You can’t criticise Trump for having no relevant experience or evident understanding of public policy, then say that the solution for Democrats is just to throw up their hands and find their own celebrity to promote,” says The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman.

And while Oprah may be much more than a TV celebrity, Waldman still isn’t convinced.

“Democrats have underappreciated the importance of charisma in presidential politics,” he adds. “But the answer to those electoral failures isn’t to stop caring about substance. It’s to find candidates who are both charismatic and serious.”

It’s unclear whether Oprah could command the support of the Democrats: some, including former Obama senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer, think the idea has merit, while others want more details.

“What is Oprah’s position on trade with China? Chain migration? Arming Syrian rebels? Financing infrastructure projects?” asks Howard Kurtz of Fox News. “It’s one thing to be a hugely successful talk show host and a pal of Barack Obama, and another to take on the world’s problems in a hyperpolarised atmosphere.”

One veteran Democratic strategist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told CNN: “I will tell you what I think about Oprah’s chance of being the Democratic nominee in 2020 when you tell me where Oprah is on single payer [healthcare] and what her plan is to pay for it; what her immigration reform proposal looks like and what kind of border security it includes; and which elements of the Trump tax plan she’d roll back and which ones she would leave in place.”

In 2020, Democratic politicians are likely to argue that Trump proved you can’t run the government like a business, adds Bill Scher, and that “you can’t negotiate legislation or international agreements like you negotiate a real-estate deal, and you can’t create jobs with your Twitter account”.

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