Oprah is amazing, but maybe we should pause before asking her to run for president
Watching Donald Trump ascend to power and win the presidency was not easy, so it makes sense that there are people out there who think the Democrats might as well run a celeb in 2020. Like, if these are the rules now, let’s make sure the right side wins (or something). During the 2018 Golden Globes, host Seth Meyers called on Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks to share a ticket and run in the next presidential election. Funny joke…but is it a joke? Some sources claim that Winfrey is actually considering it. But what does it really mean if we start giving celebrities the highest political office in America? It’s probably not the best idea, no matter how dark things seem with Trump in office.
Don’t get us wrong: Oprah is ah-mazing. She’s been inspiring people, including us, for literally all of her adult life. But unpopular opinion: There are really good reasons why Oprah should not be encouraged to run for president.
It’s not that she doesn’t have what it takes to run for office. In addition to clearly being brilliant, enterprising, and notoriously insightful, she has a ton of money, so could theoretically support a campaign. And she has the enthusiasm, for sure. According to CNN, behind closed doors, she’s even tossed the idea around. Long-time partner Stedman Graham told a Los Angeles Times reporter on Sunday night, “It’s up to the people. She would absolutely do it.” Last year, when Gayle King asked her on CBS This Morning, Oprah said that she’s not running for anything, but then in an interview Bloomberg, she said that at first she thought she didn’t have any experience but, after watching Trump, she started toying with the idea.
Once upon a time, Trump even thought Oprah would make a good running mate.
It’s nothing but random talk and speculation for 2020 right now, but we totally get why people are rooting for her. We know and adore Oprah. She’s a role model for so many people. She fights the good fight for women, people of color, and everyone whose voice goes unheard, and she always has. She’s empathetic and a great public speaker.
Those are all good qualities for a president to have, but just because someone has them, does it override their need to have anything else in order to be supported in for running for president? President isn’t just a position of power, although it undoubtedly is also that. It is a specific job that — if we’ve learned nothing else last year — should have a specific set of qualifications attached to it.
It’s not like we’re saying Oprah should definitely not be president — we’re just saying that maybe we should pause before fully endorsing someone who hasn’t thoroughly demonstrated that they would do well at that particular job, as opposed to being good at their particular job and being someone we all like a lot.
Running a celebrity in 2020 would be a huge mistake, if only because it would be totally ignoring the underlying issues that allowed a Trump candidacy — let alone presidency — to happen in the first place. Just because a man who’s incapable of empathy with no political experience managed to win doesn’t mean that just anyone who knows how to listen, feel emotions, and think logically should follow the same path. That’s a really low bar our culture has set for someone to hold one of the most powerful offices in the entire world.
Trump repeated over and over again during his campaign that because he had money and knew how to run a multi-million dollar business (which was questionable to begin with), he would know how to run a country. Oprah, too, is a CEO, but running a production company and a charitable foundation are not the same thing.
One only has to look at what a complete mess the Trump administration got themselves into once they were elected. The revolving door of advisors (which were mainly family friends and former business associates) resulted not just in allegations that Trump’s transition team colluded with a foreign power (possibly because they just didn’t understand the importance of protocol) but an even bigger clusterf*ck once they moved into the White House.
The learning curve for Oprah, and any other celebrity, would likely be the same. Instead of throwing celebrities into a job they don’t know how to do and hoping they figure it out, we should encourage celebs, and especially Oprah, to endorse and support candidates who have actual experience in governing. People who have run local campaigns and governments, people who have degrees in economics, political history, and constitutional law. That’s not to downplay any celebrity’s work outside of acting, singing, or selfie taking, but activism and governance are careers that some people have dedicated their entire lives to. Maybe we should focus our attentions there.
There are already some very qualified women in the Senate, which is a pool from which presidential candidates are often picked. Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Amy Klobucher are all women who might be considering a bid for the White House in 2020. But remember, Barack Obama was just a state senator in Illinois, which means there’s likely a ton of untapped candidate potential in state senate houses or even governors’ mansions. Emily’s List has a list of local and state candidates they endorse, as well as governors that you can read up on and start #2020 campaigns for.
While we want to elect pro-choice women into office, it’s not going to be simple. EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement, “If electing a woman to the office of the presidency was easy, we would have already done it. It’s a mistake for any of us to think this is easy and behind us. We still have some obstacles to overcome: We still have a country where 23 states have not seen a woman governor, ever, of any party.”
That’s a huge obstacle, and likely one of the reasons that defaulting to someone like Oprah, who has mass appeal but no experience in governance, feels appealing. She’s gotta be better than we’re working with now, right? Maybe. But it’s most definitely worth the extra effort to empower and vote for women, or any feminist candidate, who knows what they’re doing and already learned from some mistakes in another political capacity. In the real world, governing is a very specific kind of work. We’d trust Oprah with just about anything, but we shouldn’t lower our standards about what it takes to be president just because we’re desperate for anyone we trust at this point. We should expect more than that.
Maybe Oprah has been low-key learning everything about how to run our government, and admittedly, if anyone would successfully navigate that kind of power pivot, it would be her. If that turned out to be the case, we’d throw our support behind her running. Outside of that, maybe we just need a world where Oprah is the best damn Oprah and we’re all thankful for her, and we put our political support behind the many amazing women candidates out there.