Can one performance make a president?
This week, in a made-for-America moment, Hollywood created a script that provided therapy for a nation driven by division and mired in disillusion. Only this time, unlike a year ago, the nation cheered not for an “apprentice” but for a bona fide, real world “star.”
At a time when most Americans find the present hard to swallow and the future difficult to fathom, Oprah Winfrey went beyond her favored “color purple” to paint a picture resplendent in red, white and blue.
In less than 10 minutes before a cheering crowd, Winfrey, raised by a housekeeper trapped in poverty, raised the bar for all of us by delivering a message to the “world of now” that salved the conscience and nourished the soul.
Delivered with character, conviction and hard-learned goodness, Oprah chose her Golden Globes tribute as an opportunity to talk to us, every one of us. She invoked gender and bias and politics before transcending all three in favor of a far simpler takeaway: We are better than this. We’ve just got to be better than this.
Her timing couldn’t have been more appropriate, or her message more needed.
Washington is paralyzed with partisan pattering. The media is consumed with Russian-fueled collusion and Bannon-borne delusion. Freezing temperatures are numbing half the nation, while North Korea is minting nukes at a rate that’s stunning the entire planet.
So could Oprah’s missive to America become another spontaneous moment of ascension akin to the classics (a la William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech, or Mario Cuomo’s “Tale of Two Cities” declaration, or Barack Obama’s “One America” stunner in 2004)?
More importantly, should Oprah Winfrey now be considered a serious contender for president?
Prior to her Golden Globes speech heard ’round the globe, Oprah’s life story presents ample evidence that she may have enough of the “right stuff” to help right the country. Up from the bootstraps, armed with courage and vigor, Oprah survived the loss of a child, and loss of her innocence when sexually molested by relatives. She persevered in the dog-eat-dog world of media to become America’s all-time premier talk show host and personality.
A billionaire several times over, and the leading black philanthropist of all time, Oprah has devoted herself to helping others through literacy, self-improvement and spirituality. Her campaign slogan kind of writes itself: “This Time We’re Going with One of Our Best. Oprah Winfrey for President.”
If Oprah takes the plunge, will she sink or swim?
Here’s what we know:
She’s an outsider to the political derbies that have elevated and (at times) desecrated the more conventional names that populate Washington insider wish lists. Former Vice President Joe Biden: grand, but a bit too grand in age. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont: been there, done that. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts: too liberal. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California: too soon. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York: too threatening to party elders. Starbucks’ Howard Schultz: too soft. The Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban: a little too hard.
In Oprah, Democrats have a self-made American success story that appeals to the underdog in every one of us. More importantly, as the traditional political players play to empty houses, Oprah could pack the house as she’s done for more than 33 years on the nation’s greatest stage: television.
She would satisfy the public’s thirst for something new and something better, and would align with the emerging new power center in American politics: moms, minorities and millennials.
Finally, when it’s time to persuade in prime time, you’d have to believe her performances could prove Oscar-worthy and Reaganesque.
Of course, we don’t yet know where Oprah stands. On national defense, the minimum wage, jobs, Social Security, health care, immigration, foreign policy, sanctuary cities, free college education, the Second Amendment, the 14th Amendment, you name it.
Further, we are still in the 2020 presidential preseason, where the road to the promised land is full of unscripted churns and turns.
Of course there is a rich irony in all of this. Because if Oprah runs and ultimately wins, she’ll have one person to thank for paving the way — President Donald Trump.
Rest assured, he’d take credit for it. All of it.
Adam Goodman is a national Republican media consultant based in St. Petersburg and the first Edward R. Murrow Fellow at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.