In fairness, this piece could be titled “The Case Against The Case Against Oprah,” as it isn’t about why Oprah Winfrey should run for president so much as it is about why she shouldn’t be ruled out. And its intent is not to make the case for an Oprah Winfrey presidency…it is to make the case for an Oprah Winfrey candidacy.
Oprah is a phenomenon. There can be no denying that. She went from crushing poverty to unimaginable wealth. She is a woman and a person of color who has tread where very few ever have. She has been successful at virtually every effort she has undertaken. She has amassed tremendous global respect, and has largely avoided scandal and controversy — something not many of her peers could claim.
Few can argue with that. Even those who oppose her candidacy. What the “no, not Oprah” crowd argues isn’t about her success. They argue she lacks the type of experience we need right now. They argue she should start somewhere else, perhaps Congress or the United States Senate.
They may have a good point. At face value, it certainly seems reasonable to want your President to have had political experience, legislative expertise and a working knowledge of “the system.” Though it also seems reasonable to ask, especially as Democrats, if Richard Nixon and George W. Bush were particularly good at being president based on their years in politics prior to occupying the White House.
It bothers people when the issue of gender and misogyny is brought up, but I’ll raise it anyway. I’m hard pressed to think of many male CEOs who have entertained the idea of running for President who were discounted because their experience was merely being successful CEOs. But Oprah is being discounted by some for that very reason.
When Hillary Clinton ran and lost, particularly in 2016, many who opposed her said it had nothing to do with gender. “I want a woman to be president, just not THAT woman.” Now we are hearing the same thing about Oprah. Hillary had decades of experience, but she wasn’t the right woman. Oprah has different experience, but she isn’t the right woman.
Let’s pull a little on that thread — despite her experience in business, media, publishing, news, entertainment, management, the arts and philanthropy, Oprah Winfrey lacks the requisite experience. That experience is, apparently, holding elective office. If we are to limit our field of candidates to those with elective experience — the pool shrinks substantially. We’ve got 100 senators and 50 governors (not counting territorial governors). We won’t count the 435 members of the House of Representatives for purposes of this exercise. So we have 150 men and women who hold sufficiently high office to be considered for the presidency. Of those 150, there are 22 senators and six governors who are women. As it is widely assumed Oprah is a Democrat, and would therefore run as such were she to run, let’s pare it down to just Democrats. There are 17 democratic women in the US Senate and two serving as governors. That is a mighty small pool from which to find a woman who isn’t “THAT woman.”
There have even been some who have suggested that there ought to be age restrictions as well — the baby boomers have had their time, so no one over the age of 52. That would narrow the pool of eligible women to run for president to…Gina Raimondo, Governor of Rhode Island.
In fact, in the entire history of the United States, 52 women have served as United States Senator. To put that in perspective, there are 78 men in the United States Senate today (and that is an all-time record low for the men).
To put it in further perspective, there have been more than three times as many men in the Senate named John (177) then their have been women in the Senate at all (again, 52).
We have had 44 presidents. All of them men. And there have been no real experiential litmus tests placed on them. But now that another very established, intelligent, capable, smart and admired woman is mentioned, the question is raised again.
Women have succeeded in every field in which they’ve had the opportunity. Women are great doctors, bankers, lawyers, parents, bus drivers, chefs, CEOs, firefighters, painters, cops, soldiers, entertainers, therapists, carpenters, pilots, janitors, teachers, dentists, athletes, politicians, pharmacists, accountants….the list is as long as is the list of professions, save for one singular job.
Maybe we ought to find ways to encourage women to run rather than to discourage them. In the 21st century, 70 people of some note have run for the presidential nomination of a major party. Five of them have been women. (Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina, Michelle Bachmann, Carol Moseley-Braun, and Elizabeth Dole.) We can and must do better.
The other argument I have heard is that Oprah shouldn’t run because Donald Trump is evidence that inexperience at governing and celebrity makes for a toxic combination.
Donald Trump isn’t an awful President because he was a TV personality or lacked governing experience. He’s an awful president because he’s Donald Trump.
Our takeaway from his presidency should not be “let’s never again elect TV personalities” but rather “let’s never again elect Donald Trump.” Richard Nixon was a racist, anti-Semitic, dishonest and corrupt president. The nation didn’t say, “by God, that is it. Let’s never again elect a governor as president.”
Donald Trump isn’t Oprah Winfrey, and Oprah Winfrey isn’t Donald Trump.
Oprah Winfrey seems to have little at all in common with Donald Trump ideologically, temperamentally, intellectually or in terms of capacity to learn, grow, show compassion or just about anything else.
The things they have in common are limited to this: both are wealthy, both have had television careers, and both are carbon-based life forms. The similarities end there.
So don’t tell Oprah not to run. Encourage her to stand up and be heard and make her case. Let’s hear about her story and what she learned in all aspects of her life — from crushing poverty to unfathomable wealth. Let’s ask her how she thinks we can fix our health care system, repair our roads and bridges, upgrade our schools and airports. Let’s ask her about her views on the role of government, her approach to war and peace, the type of people she’d choose for a cabinet. Her views on the minimum wage, taxes, climate change, opioids, tuition costs and pay inequity.
There are literally thousands of things we ought to ask her, but to not think about running shouldn’t be one of them.