A Democratic television celebrity to take on the Republican one? Is that really a good idea?
We mean no disrespect to Winfrey, who strikes us as much better informed and more intellectually curious and presumably less reckless or dishonest than the incumbent president. But it’s bizarre that Americans who are appalled by Trump’s oafish and ignorant conduct of the nation’s highest office would gravitate to another television star untested in politics.
That’s what many of them did Sunday evening. Twitter throbbed with speculation that Winfrey’s speech accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award was the beginning of a presidential run. Winfrey’s friends didn’t discourage the idea.
“It's up to the people,” Winfrey’s longtime partner, Stedman Graham, told the Los Angeles Times. “She would absolutely do it.” The speculation snowballed on Monday, to the extent that a White House spokesman felt obliged to tell reporters that “we welcome the challenge, whether it be Oprah Winfrey or anybody else.”
Again, this may just be a passing, Golden-Globes-inspired moment of Twitter hype. But it is also a reminder that when the last out-of-the-blue celebrity candidate entered a presidential race, the media shrugged him off as a joke.
Winfrey is a skilled interviewer, a talented actress, a successful businesswoman and an inspiring orator. In her speech Sunday, she compellingly wove together recognition of victims of sexual assault — not just in Hollywood — with a tribute to racial diversity and a defense of a free press that “is under siege these days.” A Washington Post reporter wrote: “Close your eyes and picture this speech being delivered in Des Moines. It’s not difficult.”
Maybe not, but there is more to being president than the ability to deliver a stirring speech. Also, as the Trump presidency has demonstrated, there are colossal risks in electing a political neophyte to the most demanding public office in the world. Just because the Republicans were foolish enough to travel down this dangerous road in a desperate, craven hunt for votes doesn’t mean the Democrats should follow suit.
Winfrey might possess a more stable temperament than Trump — who doesn’t? — but she would face the same steep learning curve in dealing with foreign and domestic issues. What is there to suggest that she is any better prepared than Trump was to work productively with Congress or tackle international trade negotiations, the North Korean nuclear threat or the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict?
It’s a measure of the trauma inflicted on the country by Trump’s election that some people honestly believe that the way to unseat a celebrity president is to nominate another celebrity. Back in September, John Podhoretz wrote in the New York Post: “If you need to set a thief to catch a thief, you need a star — a grand, outsized, fearless star whom Trump can neither intimidate nor outshine — to catch a star.” Podhoretz was talking about Winfrey.
But the United States doesn’t need another TV star running the country. What it needs is someone who has prepared for the job, made tough decisions, is familiar with the issues, and has a history of public service. Not all senators or governors make good presidents, to be sure, but they’re a better bet, by and large, than the typical movie star or business owner. Here’s the kind of resume that more closely approximates what we tend to look for in a candidate (and forgive us if it sounds familiar): former U.S. senator, former secretary of state.
It would be better for the party, and country, if voters thought they could put their trust in potential presidents who shared their views and their passions, but also had experience in government. We still cling to the hope that elections for the president haven’t been permanently transformed into an episode of “Celebrity Apprentice.”