Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Oprah for POTUS - lessons or caveats for Democracy

[Here's the set up:]

Oprah for president in 2020? Here’s everything you need to know.

By Elahe Izadi

January 8 2018

It all got brought back up again, at first, because of a joke.

Golden Globes host Seth Meyers stood before Oprah Winfrey, who was set to receive the Cecil B. DeMille award Sunday night and was sitting in the very front of the room. As Meyers opened the awards show, he mentioned his 2011 White House correspondents’ dinner gig, the one where he joked about Donald Trump not being qualified for president.

“Some have said that night convinced him to run. So, if that’s true, I just want to say: Oprah, you will never be president! You do not have what it takes. And Hanks! Where’s Hanks? You will never be vice president. You are too mean and unrelatable. Now we just wait and see.”

Winfrey burst into laughter. But an hour later, she took the stage to deliver an incredibly rousing speech that was both personal and a universal call to action. “I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon,” she said to thunderous applause.

She brought the crowd at the Beverly Hilton to its feet. On social media, chatter built about her presidential prospects.

“It’s up to the people,” her longtime partner, Stedman Graham, told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday. “She would absolutely do it.”

Her best friend, Gayle King, told the outlet: “I thought that speech was incredible. I got goose bumps.”

That night, the Los Angeles Times told Winfrey that “the Internet is saying Oprah for president in 2020. What does Oprah say?”

“I say, I’m just glad I got through the speech!” she answered. “I thought a lot about it. I wanted this to be a meaningful moment.”

But would she consider a 2020 presidential run? “Okaay!” she reportedly responded.

CNN, citing two anonymous individuals, said Winfrey’s confidants have been urging her for months to run for office. Brad Anderson, the Iowa state director for President Barack Obama’s reelection, tweeted, “Call me Oprah. I’ve got some Iowa county chairs who would love to hear from you.”

In the past, Winfrey has definitely shut down the suggestion. She told the Hollywood Reporter in June, “I will never run for public office. That’s a pretty definitive thing.”

There have also been several moments where Winfrey has teased at the possibility. In September, she tweeted out a New York Post column with the headline, “Democrats’ best hope for 2020: Oprah.”

Tagging the author, she wrote, “Thanks for your VOTE of confidence!”

In a March interview, Bloomberg TV’s David Rubenstein asked Winfrey about her 2020 plans. As The Post’s Helena Andrews-Dyer reported:

Have you ever thought that, given the popularity you have — we haven’t broken the glass ceiling yet for women — that you could actually run for president and actually be elected?” asked Rubenstein.

The live audience, predictably, went a little nuts at the mere mention of Winfrey’s name in connection (even hypothetically) to the White House. For her part, Winfrey, who has been in the TV business for nearly 40 years, paused for dramatic effect.

“I never considered the question even a possibility,” she said, before adding, “I just thought, ‘Oh … oh?’”

Without mentioning President Trump’s name, Rubenstein then pointed out that “it’s clear you don’t need government experience to be elected president of the United States.”

“That’s what I thought,” Winfrey said. “I thought, ‘Oh gee, I don’t have the experience, I don’t know enough.’ And now I’m thinking, ‘Oh.’ ”

King, Winfrey’s best friend, tried to clear things up the next day. “It was clearly a joke,” King said on CBS. “I also heard on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ over the years you always have the right to change your mind, but I would bet my first, second born and any unborn children to come, that ain’t never happening.” 

Honestly, the tweets, the comments — they all could have been fun little jokes. But it’s no longer all that far-fetched to think that someone known primarily for their work on TV and with absolutely no governing experience could not only run for president but also win. Connecting an uber-popular name like “Oprah” with “presidential campaign” is naturally going to generate loads of excitement. (Also, let’s not forget the speculation about “The Rock 2020.”)

Then there’s her popularity. A March 2017 Quinnipiac University pollfound Winfrey had a 52 percent favorable rating (and just a 23 percent unfavorable rating). She was most popular with Democrats (72 percent) and independents (51 percent). But that doesn’t mean those polled wanted her to throw her hat into the ring: Just over 1 in 5 said Winfrey should run in 2020, and 69 percent said she shouldn’t.

For most of her time as a daytime talk show host, Winfrey avoided bringing politicians on for interviews.

“I didn’t want to delve into the world of politics because I felt I lost control,” she said on the “Making Oprah” podcast. “I can’t get them to actually respond because a skilled politician knows how to give the answer they want.” She ended up breaking with that stance in 2000, when she gave equal time to both major party candidates: Al Gore and George W. Bush. (Bush’s approval ratings jumped that week.)

Then, in 2004, she heard Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention. Thoroughly impressed, she brought the senator onto her show in 2006. When he ran for president in 2008, she publicly endorsed him. Winfrey — who commanded a viewership of tens of millions of loyal women — for the first time publicly put her formidable stamp of approval on a candidate.

“It came from such a pure instinctive place,” she said on the podcast. “I didn’t even think about it in terms of business or viewership.”

Since then, Winfrey endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016.

But would she challenge Trump? He had glowing things to say about her political prospects back in 1999. When asked whether he’d ever consider a female running mate, Trump responded: “Well, I would consider, and as Chris [Matthews] can tell you, I threw out the name of a friend of mine, who I think the world of. She’s great. And some people thought it was an incredible idea, some people didn’t, but — Oprah. I said, ‘Oprah Winfrey,’ who’s really great. And I think we would be a very formidable team.”

Then there’s the time Winfrey interviewed Trump about his presidential hopes — in 1988.

“I just probably wouldn’t do it, Oprah, but I do get tired of seeing what’s happening with this country,” he said. “And if it got so bad, I would never want to rule it out totally.”

We all see how that turned out.


Oprah could run. Oprah could win. Is America going insane or coming to its senses?

By Dan Zak and Monica Hesse

January 8 2018

Oprah Winfrey delivered a rallying cry to women and hope for "a new day" when receiving the Cecile B. DeMille Award at the 2018 Golden Globes. (Erin Patrick O'Connor/The Washington Post)

America woke up Monday with a crazy idea in its addled brain: Oprah Winfrey could be the next president of the United States.

The notion has tugged at the imagination for as long as Winfrey has been famous, but her barnstorming speech at the Golden Globes on Sunday electrified much of the 56 percent of the populace that disapproves of her fellow television personality, President Trump. The possibility of a Winfrey campaign, on Monday at least, seemed capable of uniting both ends of the political spectrum.

“I want her to run for president,” Meryl Streep told The Washington Post just after the Globes ceremony. “I don’t think she had any intention [of declaring]. But now she doesn’t have a choice.”

“Oprah. #ImWithHer,” tweeted Bill Kristol, scion of neoconservatism and the original promoter of Sarah Palin, whose tongue-in-cheek declaration gave way to an objective case for her candidacy: “Understands Middle America better than Elizabeth Warren,” he tweeted. “Less touchy-feely than Joe Biden, more pleasant than Andrew Cuomo, more charismatic than John Hickenlooper.”

The question lingering under this surprising groundswell: Are we now at a point where we believe celebrity is a prerequisite for winning (let alone governing)? Jokes about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson being so widely likable that he, too, could run for president have recently morphed into something like actual candidate buzz; the wrestler-turned-actor recently said he’s “seriously considering” a run.

“Arguably Donald Trump is the most famous man in the world,” said GOP strategist Rick Wilson, a never-Trump Republican. Under the new rules of political engagement, “maybe you can only beat a celebrity with another celebrity.”

Her chances of winning? “One hundred percent,” said another Republican strategist who has worked on presidential campaigns and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speculate brazenly. “If she runs for the Democratic nomination, I think it’s over.”

Have we lost our minds? Or are we coming to our senses? All Winfrey did was give an acceptance speech for a lifetime-achievement award. A good speech, yes — “For too long, women have not been heard or believed, if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men” — but just a speech. Still, America seems starved for her brand of optimism after nearly a year of Trump’s dark moods and barbed insults.

“As I have always said, any women who is able to serve should think about how they want to do so — whether it’s women like Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, or, yes, Oprah,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, the organization dedicated to supporting pro-choice female candidates.

GOP consultant Ana Navarro was more direct. “Are we really asking ourselves whether a political neophyte, billionaire, media-savvy TV star can become president? America answered that already,” she 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.

Excitement about the idea rocketed ahead of prudence and circumspection. Two of Winfrey’s friends said she’s “actively thinking” about 2020, CNN reported Monday morning, but asked backstage at the Golden Globes, Winfrey said she had no plans to run. Democratic Party officials in Iowa are “actively putting out feelers” for Winfrey, reported the National Journal’s Hanna Trudo.

Tweeted Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier (Calif.): “Run, Oprah, run! An army of women would fight for you.”

Republican strategist Fred Davis didn’t see Winfrey’s speech live, but his inbox and text messages started going haywire soon after: You have to see Oprah, you have to see Oprah. You think Obama was a good speaker? See Oprah.

“If she truly wanted to run for president, she’d have a major head start,” said Arnold Schwarzenegger, who leveraged film stardom to win the California governorship as a Republican, noting Winfrey’s inspirational qualities, name recognition and “unbelievable communication skills.”

“This Oprah boomlet is a pretty good window into how bereft of leadership the Democratic party is at this point,”
tweeted Josh Holmes, former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “They’re just dying for someone who doesn’t sound like a leftist schmuck.”

Since everyone’s frothing over her undeclared candidacy, let’s game it out. Winfrey emerges from her Montecito, Calif., mansion, declares she’s in the game — and what happens then?

“Running for president is a whole different thing,” said Cornell Belcher, a Democratic strategist and former Obama pollster. “It’s not Hollywood. It’s an ugly, nasty, grueling slog through all of these multiple states. It’s going to unglamorous places and showing up at fish fries. To successfully run, you need several things: money, infrastructure and a niche. That said, I think in this current environment — and I cannot believe I am saying this — but if Oprah would throw her hat in the ring, she would be the front-runner.”

A decade ago, John McCain’s most effective attack ad against Barack Obama was called “Celebrity,” which equated the then-senator with Paris Hilton: super-famous, but a cipher, and unqualified for the nation’s highest office.

But after Donald Trump’s candidacy squashed any notion of procedure, credentials or decorum? Sure. Sure, why not elect the woman who introduced the world to Suze Orman and Rachael Ray, who spoke confessionally about yo-yo dieting and the shape of her poop, who always operated from a place of positivity and empowerment?

Check under your chairs, America. The Democratic nominee for president is giving everyone a car!

Celebrity used to be a detriment. Celebrity is now a way to do an end run around a deficient primary season.

The typical state’s primary turnout is in­cred­ibly low, said Joe Trippi, who was chairman of former Vermont governor Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign. “Something like 7 percent of the voting population made Barack Obama the nominee. When you only have 5, 6, 7 percent of the population voting — we’re not even talking 10 percent — that’s all you need.”

It’s difficult for, say, three governors and a senator to scrap for those percentage points. It’s less difficult, in the social-media age, for someone with established name recognition.

Belcher, the Obama pollster, theorizes that Oprah would probably be a top contender for the first Democratic contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. She would “definitely” win South Carolina. Which would lead to a sweep of Georgia, Mississippi and a string of Southern states.

Which would lead to —

What are we even talking about?

Does America really want this? Are we comfortable with the woman who told us to “live your best life” ordering drone strikes that accidentally slaughter wedding parties? Do we want to hear about Oprah’s tax plan? Do we think Oprah has a tax plan? (How little taxes has she been paying?)

The presidency, in many ways, degrades its holder in the eyes of the public. Having Oprah as a presidential candidate would mean losing her as the beatific personification of the American Dream.

“Not everyone’s a good candidate,” Belcher said. “I’m not saying she’s bad; I don’t think we even know that. But she’s never had to take a punch. She’s never been in that space where people who earn a living by finding dirt on you are now finding dirt on her.”

Would conservatives and the Trump White House seize on the more suspicious chapters of her career, like her promotion of controversial TV Doctors Phil and Oz, or her endorsement of the 2006 self-help book “The Secret,” which convinced millions of people that they could be rich by just wishing hard enough for it? As soon as she finished her speech, Twitter lit up with photos of Winfrey cozying up to disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who allegedly abused women for decades.

Winfrey would be risking her stable and lucrative brand, burnished worldwide over the course of 35 years in entertainment, journalism and philanthropy.

“If you look at what happened to Trump’s brand, it’s been diminished,” said Rick Tyler, former spokesman for Ted Cruz and Newt Gingrich. “His hotels, his golf courses are the highest quality, and his name used to be associated with that kind of quality, but I don’t think most Americans think of him that way anymore. I don’t know if she wants to diminish her brand that way. I don’t know why she would want to.”

America just wants a good show,
as Trump’s ascendancy proved, and perhaps there would be no greater bout — not Ali vs. Frazier, not the 1980 Olympic hockey team vs. the Soviets — than Oprah vs. Trump in 2020. But could the media handle it? Could the fractious American public survive it?

“I’m not sure the country needs, or is ready for, the battle of these cults,” said John Weaver, who was chief strategist to John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio, during the 2016 campaign. “The rules are out the window, God knows, but historically what we’ve seen is the next president is always far different than the president who precedes that person. Obviously, Oprah is different temperamentally, thank God, than Trump, but she’d certainly come from the celebrity space. The first group of people who would try to knock her down would be her Democratic competitors.”

Then again, workaday Democrats and never-Trump Republicans would probably enjoy watching the meltdown that her candidacy would bring to the current inhabitant of the Oval Office. If she declared, Trump would immediately incur a psychological wound, if not a political one, said Steve Schmidt, senior adviser to McCain in 2008.

“Oprah is, in fact, a self-made billionaire; Trump pretends to be one,” Schmidt said. “Oprah is an enormous TV star, by orders of magnitude bigger than anything Trump accomplished in that space. And lastly she’s a powerful, smart, beloved African American woman, and Trump seems to have a reflective response towards African Americans and women who he views as threats or are critical of him.”

Winfrey has already demonstrated her power to move people to action. In 1999, Trump himself mentioned Winfrey as a potential running mate, and the Minnesota Reform Party created a website to draft Winfrey.

Trump “would like someone like her, if not her, on the ticket,” Roger Stone said then of Winfrey.

Her endorsement of Obama delivered an instrumental 1 million votes during the 2008 Democratic primaries, helping him outpace Hillary Clinton, according to a study from Northwestern University on celebrity endorsements in politics. And Obama’s presidency would be, in some ways, a spiritual ancestor to any Oprah candidacy.

“Obama was the first to break the mold in 2008,” Trippi said, noting how that long-shot candidate managed to skirt attack ads and party expectations to win the nomination.

“Trump in 2016 was just following that and overrunning his party,” Trippi added. “And guess what? Now you’re in 2020. It’s Oprah Winfrey. It’s Oprah Winfrey, or it’s Kanye West.”


Get a grip, people. Oprah should not run for president.

By Paul Waldman

January 8 2018

Last night at the Golden Globe awards, Oprah Winfrey received a lifetime achievement award and gave a very moving speech, which immediately led all kinds of people to proclaim that she should run for president. NBC even tweeted, “Nothing but respect for OUR future president” with a GIF of Oprah. CNN reports that she is “actively thinking” about a potential run, according to friends of hers.

This is not the first time this suggestion has been made, nor is Oprah the first celebrity who has inspired that kind of talk (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has said he’s “seriously considering” running). But let’s all take a breath. If you watched her Golden Globes speech and said “She should run,” then the 2016 election and the first year of the Trump presidency have addled your brain.

That’s not to say Oprah didn’t give a great speech, because she did, and speech-making is indeed part of running for and serving as president. Oprah has spent a career talking on television and connecting with audiences, and she’s very good at it. On the other hand, I could argue that she should be disqualified simply on the basis of her promotion of “The Secret,” a multimedia juggernaut that claimed that the entire universe and every moment of human experience are governed by “the law of attraction.” This is the idea that if you wish really hard for something — say, washboard abs or a new Birkin bag — it will, through the magical power created by your thoughts, find its way to you. With Oprah’s help, and because America produces an endless supply of gullible nincompoops, “The Secret” was a gigantic hit.

[The empirical evidence seems to support the charge that "America produces an endless supply of gullible nincompoops..."]

Politics has never been immune to other brands of magical thinking, and there are few more powerful ideas among voters than the notion that there’s really nothing to being an officeholder, whether it’s a member of Congress or the president. An election never goes by without a healthy number of candidates claiming that they’re the best person for the job because they have no relevant experience and know nothing about it. “I’m a businessman, not a politician,” they declare, to the nods of their future constituents. If you needed a new roof put on your house and somebody came to you saying, “I’m a computer programmer, not a roofer,” going on to explain that the roofing business is a mess and all you need is some outside-the-box thinking to make your roof better than ever, you’d be a fool to hire him. Yet somehow the same logic doesn’t seem to apply when people think about whom they should elect.

Look, I get it. Democrats have been traumatized by recent events, and one of the responses is to throw up their hands and say, “Fine then. If all voters care about is whether somebody puts on a good show, we’ll just come up with a celebrity of our own.” They look to the recent past and see a bunch of serious, experienced public servants with a deep understanding of policy who would have made fine presidents but who lost in part because they failed to light up the TV screen: Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, Hillary Clinton. Adlai Stevenson, a two-time Democratic loser, purportedly responded to a voter who told him that he had the support of every thinking person in America by saying that was all fine and good but he needed a majority. The story may be apocryphal, but it contains an important truth.

It’s true that Democrats have underappreciated the importance of charisma in presidential politics. 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, who would be able both to win and to do the job once they took office.

Guess what: Democrats have done this before! Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were fantastically compelling candidates who could also talk your ear off about policy. They knew how to work the political system, and they also knew how to sell. And it isn’t as though Democrats are going to have any shortage of choices in 2020. There will likely be at least a dozen people running, and if you’re a Democrat you’re probably going to like at least some of them.

[Republicans have had two celebrity presidents - Ronald Reagan, actor, and Trump... whatever he is.]

It’s tempting to see all this attention paid to Oprah and say, “Hey, at least she’d be better than Trump.” That’s indisputably true, but it’s also beside the point. The question for Democrats is who would win and who would be the best president of all the available options. Neither I nor anyone else really knows how she would respond to the challenges of that most challenging job. Being president isn’t like hosting a talk show or running a media brand. Oprah’s success in her field is no more indicative of her potential to be a good president than Trump’s success in real estate was. You can’t criticize 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.

["Better than Trump" is a VERY LOW bar for qualification.]

It’s a free country, and Oprah can run if she wants. If she does, she’ll have the chance to make her best argument for why she should be president. But if she runs, the idea of a Trump-Oprah throwdown will make the news media positively vibrate with glee. There’s a strong possibility that, just as Trump did in the 2016 primaries, she could suck up every ounce of media attention, limiting the ability of the more experienced and serious candidates to make their case to primary voters.

Obama’s route to the presidency started with a great speech, too. But over the ensuing years, he proved he was worthy of the outsize expectations that had been placed upon him. It’s possible Oprah could prove herself worthy of the attention being put on the idea of her running for president. But she certainly hasn’t done it yet, and we should all be extremely skeptical unless and until she shows us why, beyond just being rich and famous, she’d actually make a good president.

[Democracy is a popularity contest. Government requires competence. Hence, selecting a government democratically is no guarantee that a competent government is elected. Or a competent President. Within Democracy lies the seed of populism.]

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