Adam Graham

Graham: Oprah running for president not the answer


It was the Golden Globes speech heard ’round the world.

On Sunday night, Oprah Winfrey delivered a whopper of a speech while accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award for career achievement at the glitzy Hollywood awards show. In it, Winfrey championed the media, celebrated her fellow women and created an Oprah Moment the likes of which haven’t been seen or heard since her famous “You get a car! You get a car!” giveaway in 2004.

It was punchy. It was powerful. But was it presidential?

We are at a strange time in our culture. Years ago, Oprah would have had her Golden Globes moment and that would have been enough. But now, since Donald Trump has altered the playing field (or lowered the bar, to put it more accurately) for what it takes to qualify for the highest office in the land, Oprah’s Golden Globes speech had the world talking this week about whether the Oval Office is hers for the taking come 2020.

Pundits opined. Polls were taken. Even Trump himself weighed in on the matter. Are we on the verge of a presidential smackdown between Trump and Oprah in two years?

Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to that.

Look, Oprah’s great. Her speech confirmed that, not that it was ever in doubt. If anything, we have been Oprah deficient in our everyday lives since she left her daily talk show in 2011 to concentrate on her OWN Network and her global philanthropic efforts. She is a godsend, an angel among us, and we are absolutely better off having Oprah in our lives.

That doesn’t mean she should be our next president.

If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that the job of president is an incredibly difficult position that takes nuance, grace, and most of all, experience to pull off. There is no doubt Oprah is in possession of the first two attributes. The third? That’s a different story.

The president of the United States is the most powerful job in the world for a reason. It’s not just for anyone. It is, or at least it should be, the culmination of decades of hard work and striving to reach that office. It needs to be earned. When it’s not, well, we’re experiencing what happens when it’s not, and it ain’t pretty.

Oprah Winfrey is an inspirational figure, a dynamic speaker and an astute businesswoman. But she’s never held any sort of public office. That’s a problem. Climbing to the top of the television world is not the same as the daily grind of policymaking, of playing politics, the ins and outs of the job of a politician. That needs to count for something. You don’t — or at least you shouldn’t be able to — start at the top.

Will Ferrell’s a great guy, but we shouldn’t make him shortstop on the Detroit Tigers because it sounds like a fun idea. If he wants to play for the Tigers, he needs to work his way up through the minors. And president of the United States should be a tougher position to earn than shortstop for the Tigers.

You need to do the work. Bruno Mars didn’t become Bruno Mars overnight; he’d been doing Elvis impersonations for tourists in Hawaii since he was 4 years old. Everyone wants a shortcut, but you’ve got to pay your dues. Not doing so is how we end up with YouTube celebrities posting videos of suicide victims in Japan. Seasoned entertainers would have known that was a bad idea. But Logan Paul didn’t do the work.

If Oprah wants to get involved in politics, maybe she can start by becoming a city council member in Chicago, her adopted home. If that works out, she can run for mayor of the Windy City. After that, perhaps she can give president a try. Until then, the job of president shouldn’t be in her sights.

Lost in all this talk is that Oprah herself hasn’t said she’s making a move for president. For her part, she was just accepting a Golden Globe, and then the train left the station. People want her to run because of her immense popularity, and her presumed ability to beat Trump in the next election cycle. But it’s not Oprah’s job to save us.

The Trump era has changed how we view the presidency. But the lesson from Trump shouldn’t be that we need a better, more likeable celebrity to be president, but maybe that we need to cool it with celebrity presidents for a while. Experiments are valuable; this one failed.

Trump’s election has been a wake-up call to politicians, though. Americans are sick of the back-office deals, the party line, basically everything about politics. The reason they’re turning to celebrities is because the old way of doing thing is not working. There needs to be a change.

Surely there’s a better answer than rotating in celebrities — that goes for Tom Hanks and the Rock, as well. The qualities that make them so beloved, mixed with the proper qualifications for the office, sure would be nice. While we’re waiting for that candidate to come along, we’ll take a few of those free cars.

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