Oprah as presidential timber

Editor’s Note:  A misconception about newspapers and the journalists who work for them is that they’re all unabashed liberals. In my 30+ years in the business, I met plenty of liberals, but also conservatives who attended NASCAR events and had big gun collections. The defining characteristic of a newspaper journalist is one who can set aside personal beliefs during the time they’re on the job. Today’s first Point/Counterpoint feature by Shinbone staff writers Gaynell Terrell and Nathaniel Helms is a fine illustration that in the newspaper business, we don’t all think alike. — G.R.

Her appeal sets political world on fire

Oprah Winfrey celebrates the opening of the Leadership Academy for Girls, a school for underprivileged girls, founded in 2002. The school was inspired by her own disadvantaged childhood.

By GAYNELL TERRELL

“I’ll be on Morning Joe tomorrow to offer my predictions about Oprah’s second term ‘cabinet.’ Won’t speculate about 2028 because that would be reckless.” — Jeff Greenfield,  journalist

Oprah Winfrey is something that Donald Trump can never be. She’s intelligent.

She’s thoughtful. She’s well-mannered. She’s articulate. She’s empathetic and kind. People are drawn to her because they like her. America is starved for someone like Winfrey who you can bring home to meet your mother – or who won’t embarrass you at the upcoming World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Voters — even Republican voters — are weary of the daily chaos, the insulting tweets, the incessant bragging, the bald-faced lies and constant discourtesies from the Oval Office.

That’s why Winfrey’s speech at the Golden Globes set political imaginations on fire.

Could she run for president, would she? At one point Monday, Oprah’s candidacy was atop the homepage of The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Drudge Report, the Huffington Post and Politico, to mention a few. Democrats are abuzz with talk that she could run under that party banner, but she said in the past that she has voted for as many Republicans as she has Democrats. Could an Independent bid be in the making, an appeal to the 42 percent of American voters who identify themselves as such?

The refreshingly frank Republican strategist Ana Navarro summed it up: “Are we really asking ourselves whether a political neophyte, billionaire, media-savvy TV star can become president? America answered that already,” Navarro said. “I don’t know how much she knows about foreign policy or some domestic policy issues. But hell, it’s not like she’d be running against Churchill. She’d be running against Trump.”

The country spent the last weekend in a full-on snit after a tell-all book about the Trump Administration confirmed what we all knew. Trump is childish, petty, vindictive, mean-spirited and dumb as a stump. The Trump supporter excuse, if you can call it that, is that voters knew all these things about Trump before he was elected.

What we know about Winfrey, on the other, is the polar opposite of Trump. She hates racism, while Trump exploits it. She has empathy for the poor and disabled, while Trump marginalizes these groups. She welcomes multi-culturalism and religious freedom, while Trump fears it.

Winfrey is on the top ten list of most admired women. Trump doesn’t make the top ten list for men, even though he’s the sitting president.

And by God, Winfrey reads. Trump appears to be only semi-literate, drawn to a page only if it has his name on it. When journalist Malcomb Gladwell wrote his best-selling book Outliers on business success, he described “deliberate practice,” or purposeful preparation to be world-class in any field. He referred to people like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett – and Oprah Winfrey.

The dozen-plus Republicans in the primary run-up in 2016 complained bitterly about the celebrity in their midst, and that celebrity alone commanded news media attention away from policy and toward personality. That’s not likely to change if Winfrey jumps into the race, predicted MSNBC analyst Matthew Miller. “Obviously, the media learned the lesson of 2016 and won’t give (disproportionate) attention to a celebrity candidate who has never … OH MY GOD, IT’S OPRAH.”

Trump tried to engage Winfrey in 2016 as a dream running mate in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. Instead, she told Jimmy Kimmel on Jimmy Kimmel Live!  that her response was, “Donald, I’m with her,” as she endorsed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Trump managed to hood-wink voters by constant reassurances that he had a plan for everything and it was going to be the best plan ever. So complaints that Winfrey has no domestic policy agenda fall flat by comparison. We do know she has expressed support for immigration reform and granting undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, called for tighter background checks on guns and has been a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. Winfrey funds education for girls abroad from her personal foundations. And with a net worth of $2.8 billion, she likely has a wealth of financial acuity – although we falsely assumed that for Trump, too.

Politico reminds us she was among the first prominent media figures to question wars in the Middle East in the early 2000s. And she gave an impassioned defense of press freedom at the Golden Globe Awards, saying she now values the press “more than ever.”  Winfrey’s knowledge of world politics may be in doubt, but she’s got statesmanship down.

It’s cynical to say Winfrey would be like any other billionaire in the Oval Office, exploiting the position for personal gains – like Trump has done. Trump is evil and corrupt. We don’t know how Winfrey would adjust to the dog-eat-dog world of politics, campaigning or raising funds, but I’ll wager it would be with more class and dignity,  and a lot less hate.

No doubt Americans voted for celebrity and the illusion of business success in 2016; and Trump is the result. But it may take one celebrity to topple another in the current political and cultural climate and Winfrey certainly has the celebrity. It’s a tantalizing thought. Among the many responses to the notion of President Winfrey on Monday was this:

“I thought Oprah’s speech was riveting, insanely articulate, motivating and empowering. It made me tear up at the end. Would I vote for President Oprah? I don’t know, but she certainly has the smarts, curiosity, a conscience, a mega work ethic and a vast social network/sounding board that could help her step into that role. She aces public speaking, champions the press and would probably ace diplomacy and consensus building.”

I hope she runs. As Trump once asked America, what do you have to lose?

* * *

Queen for a day

Oprah Winfrey during her speech at this week’s Golden Globes.

By NATHANIEL HELMS

On Sunday morning, many people were bemoaning the state of the nation with Donald Trump at the helm. Many are weary of the self-absorbed reputed billionaire who bought the presidency with his supporters’ money so he could further enrich himself and his friends.

By Sunday evening, many of his detractors were captivated by Oprah Winfrey, a billionaire television personality. Oprah made herself Queen of Daytime Television with her combination of practical folksiness, constant reassurance, generous gift-giving and drippy disdain for inattentive men. Women love her. Oprah’s platinum performance at the Golden Globe Awards after jumping on the #MeToo movement like a flea on a big dog was a stroke of political genius.

Implicit in her speech was a question that her prospective male constituency dare ask: “Have you quit beating your wife?” Men know there’s no escape from the dire implication of any answer. Women haven’t been in the catbird’s seat for a long time and perhaps a new era for women is emerging. That is a good thing.

Empowering another billionaire to buy the store — even if she is a popular woman — is not.

Word on the street Monday morning was that Oprah is privately discussing a run for the presidency in 2020, presumably by using her own money to buy her way into the political arena so she can lean on her rich friends to pay her freight while she tries to grab the brass ring.

It is unlikely she only took a page from Trump’s playbook. It appears she stole the whole thing, wrapped it in black lace to provoke tears of joy and rage, and hooked a crowd of wounded women as sure as Trump emptied the trailer parks so he could pick residents’ pockets.

So, how is Oprah so different from Trump? What assurances exist that the strong-willed Oprah will be any more tolerant and yielding to those she opposes than Trump is? For that matter, what assurances are in place the American people aren’t exchanging a Manhattan real estate plunderer for a Hollywood maven who sometimes is as provocative in her own way as the Mango Muffin? Yelling “Elect Oprah President” now will ensure she is defeated by his cabal of miscreants before she starts.

While penning this missive it was brought up by a very bright lady that Oprah is black as well as a woman. Therefore, her argument went, she will be viciously attacked by so-called New Right men for pulling the race card every time her expressive face flashes with an observation about the state of gender and race relations in America. When not defending herself from those wounds, she will have to find a balance point that doesn’t infuriate the many men in the country who are both suspicious and unenthusiastic about change that gives women any advantage they feel they don’t have.

Conversely, at least during the honeymoon, Ms. President will be immune to liberal media criticism should she introduce a program that smacks of racial or gender-oriented favoritism. The traditional checks and balances put in place to protect against such outrages are currently out of service while the nation destroys its once-revered institutions.

Rather than addressing a volatile subject that is always in need of answers, the male-dominated, racist, misogynistic element in American society, and its politicians, will use every occasion to stir up racial and gender disharmony to deflect change. Instead of being admired for spreading oil on troubled water, President Winfrey will be accused of again igniting the explosive fumes of intolerance.

If public dissatisfaction with her reign grows, it is almost a sure bet the purveyors of racial disharmony and gender repression will attempt to subvert the forward march of beneficent government for their own end. How much longer can the nation survive the vicious, no-holds-barred activism encouraged by President Trump? Why will Oprah be any different?

Instead of fawning over a beloved black woman with billions of dollars, perhaps it is time to hunt for a candidate with a vision that can be attained with everyone’s participation, not just the factions who agree with the candidate of the moment.

The next election is almost three years from now. It is two years before campaign season and light years away from the current state of politics in America. There is plenty of time before committing to any candidate. Now is the time to let all cream rise to the top.

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