The danger of an Oprah presidency: Instead of being chief of state, POTUS becomes a celebrity figurehead
By Marc Jampole
No one can really answer the question, “Would you vote for Oprah for president?” out of the context of who the other choices are. In a primary against almost any other Democrat, I would vote for the opponent—maybe I’d vote for Oprah over Corey Booker or Heidi Heitkamp, because they’re so conservative. Maybe. But I would certainly vote for Oprah over just about any Republican Maybe I’d vote for John Kasich, Jon Huntsman or Nikki Haley instead of Oprah. Maybe.
Do I think Oprah is qualified to serve as Commander in Chief?
Sure, she’s a personable entertainer and a shrewd businesswoman, truly a self-made billionaire. Her politics seem to fit in with Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s: a centrist looking left who will repair the damage of almost 35 years of Reaganism and move us along towards a socialist democracy, but at a snail’s pace and while ignoring the needs of labor unions. She seems to believe in science and respect expertise. She is as sincerely compassionate as the current generation of Republicans are mean-spirited. I am certain that if elected Oprah would surround herself with left-leaning centrists distinguished in their respective fields or bright political minds. She would be a feel-good president, much like all our presidents were between Carter and the current occupant of the Oval Office. With a solid Democratic majority in both houses she could have a historic presidency, on par with the accomplishments of Roosevelt and Johnson. But that’s what I predicted about the impending Hillary Clinton presidency, back before anyone knew that the Russians were attempting to fix the results.
But that doesn’t mean that Oprah should run. She’s just not qualified. She’s never run a government bureaucracy. She’s never shepherded legislation to passage. She’s never juggled electoral concerns with governmental realities. She’s never voted for or against something that affects the lives—and sometimes deaths—of thousands, or millions.
Moreover, what the United States doesn’t need right now is to solidify the idea that a celebrity is qualified to be president, or that to be president of the United States, you must be a celebrity. The mainstream news media would like nothing better than to continue a reality TV approach to covering politics. It’s much easier than getting knowledgeable and asking intelligent questions about real issues. But if we keep electing people with no government experience who have primarily been entertainers or athletes, we’ll end up with a titular presidency, a front person who spouts off the words of others, with the real power up for grabs in the back rooms of the White House. Okay, we’ve sometimes had that situation before, but a celebrity presidency institutionalizes the ceremonial approach to the office, with the real power lying elsewhere, hidden away from public scrutiny.
I’m not saying Oprah will act like a reality show participant as president. She’ll certainly know how to comport herself with dignitaries, foreign leaders, the news media, Congress and the public. There will be no displays of ignorant rudeness, like riding in a golf cart while everyone else walks or pushing past the head of another country to get into the center of a photo. I’m quite certain that while she will tweet and give Facebook updates with great frequency, a President Oprah would not resort to feuding, insulting, exaggerating, bullying, bragging and the other reality TV techniques that Trumpty-Dumpty employs.
But hers would still be another celebrity presidency. And that has to be bad for the country, no matter what her administration might accomplish.
At various times, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were labeled rock stars, a derogatory phrase meant to imply that they were no better than celebrities. Opponents denigrated Ronald Reagan as an actor. But all these individuals had been involved in government before running for president. All had won elections before. That’s what Oprah needs to do, maybe even serve in a cabinet post. At the age of 63, it’s a little late to get started, but even if she served one term as a senator or governor, it would transform her from celebrity to elected official. It worked for Nelson Rockefeller and Jack Kennedy. It worked for George Murphy, Al Franken and Ronald Reagan. It worked for Sonny Bono. Okay, maybe not for Sonny.
Now that we’ve had our fantasy about possibly electing one of the most likeable people in American to follow one of the most despised, the Democratic Party has to get back to sifting through likely candidates who have electoral and governmental experience. There are any number of qualified Democrats out there: Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bill DeBlasio, Sherrod Brown, Chris Murphy, Amy Klobuchar, Gavin Newsom, Tammy Baldwin, Chuck Schumer, even (holding my nose and frowning) Andrew Cuomo. But not Oprah, please. (also not Bernie, Joe Biden or Hillary.)