Like many of my friends, and a whole stinking lot of the world who watched Oprah Winfrey’s acceptance speech at last night’s 75th Golden Globes extravaganza, I felt moved by her words. Feel free to watch if you haven’t yet (somehow):
But as a political scientist, as a teacher of government, and as a citizen, I find the calls for Oprah to run for president in 2020 to be exactly the wrong solution to what ails us.
Don’t get me wrong; I think Oprah has done more than most women in promoting strong voices, open hearts, and true connection. I wish she’d drop her relationship with Weight Watchers, which I feel pretty strongly promotes pathologizing the body in a way that is more than just unhealthy, but is actively harmful. But nobody’s perfect, including Oprah, and she’s done a whole, WHOLE lot of good in her life and in her career.
Oprah is not Donald Trump, but neither Oprah Winfrey nor Donald Trump has any experience whatsoever dealing with the sort of large-scale distribution of responsibility and critical services that the United States government oversees. No matter how you feel about the size or scope of the federal government, we can all agree (I think?) that we’d like to have — to name just three quick examples — clean water, safe food, and competent diplomacy that avoids nuclear winter (and the near-extinction of our species; if the use of nuclear weapons doesn’t terrify you to your bones, please listen to Fresh Air‘s interview with Daniel Ellsberg for a quick injection of horrifying reality).
As a country, we have got to get past this notion that celebrity equals executive competence. You might love Oprah as much as you hate Trump; people who love Trump probably hate Oprah in equal measure, too. Feelings about a person willing to live in the public eye isn’t qualifying in a race to be the head of the federal government and the face of our country. Period.
If we want to be intellectually consistent and fair, we must stop talking about Oprah (or Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, or Kidd Rock, or fill-in-the-blank-with-your-fav-celebrity) as a viable candidate for office and start looking at the hard-working, thankless people who are actually Doing the Work of running governments at all levels.
Oprah may inspire us all to be the best version of ourselves, but that’s not what we need in a president (it would be a nice start, but that alone is not enough). Let’s let Oprah be Oprah, and turn to our system of progressive government work / responsibility to bring us viable, competent, steady leaders for our government.