By MARSHA MERCER
Not since an obscure senator took the stage at the 2004 Democratic National Convention has a single speech caused such a Democratic swoon. Until Oprah.
Back then, a fervent Barack Obama stirred hearts when he said: “I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that in no other country on earth is my story even possible.”
In her moving, nine-minute speech at the Golden Globes last Sunday night, Oprah Winfrey stirred hearts when she put her own humble childhood in the story of the nation’s fitful progress toward racial and women’s equality.
“So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon!” she thundered. The tour de force brought soaring hopes and a down-to-earth challenge from the incumbent.
“I’ll beat Oprah,” President Donald Trump said, adding, “I know Oprah; I don’t think she’s going to run.”
We should all hope she doesn’t run – and not because we want a second Trump term. As appealing as Winfrey is, the last thing America needs is another unqualified and untested celebrity in the Oval Office.
Experience still matters, as Trump’s struggles have shown. You wouldn’t let someone with no veterinary training or experience operate on your dog – simply because you admired her attitude. Surely experience in governing should carry as much weight.
At 63, Winfrey has reached the pinnacle of success. Forbes estimates her worth at $3 billion. She has earned $300 million since 2015 just from lending her presence to Weight Watchers. Millions read her magazine and the books she recommends.
She’s the third-most-admired woman on the planet, behind Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, according to the latest Gallup poll. For the record, among men Trump comes in second, behind Barack Obama and ahead of the Pope and Billy Graham.
But what are Winfrey’s public policy positions? She says she’s apolitical and has voted for Republicans as well as Democrats. Smart for business.
She favors tougher gun control measures, LGBT and abortion rights and protecting young adults under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Her lack of government experience means no record on which to judge her. It also means she has no firsthand knowledge of how to get things done in Washington. How much would her policies recycle Obama’s?
Make no mistake, if Oprah says 2020 is a go, she’d jump to the front of the Democratic line -- mainly because there is no line, just hopefuls milling around.
Fans have been after her to run for president for years, but Trump’s election got Winfrey actively thinking about it.
“I never considered the question even a possibility. I thought, `Oh gee, I don’t have the experience, I don’t know enough. Now I’m thinking, `oh!’” Winfrey said in an interview last March.
When Obama won the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, beating supposed frontrunner Hillary Clinton, he was 47 and had no major, or even minor, accomplishments in Washington. That inexperience would haunt his presidency.
But during the campaign he had something Clinton lacked. Oprah endorsed her old friend.
“Because I know him personally,” she told Larry King. “I haven’t done it in the past because I haven’t felt that anybody, I didn’t know anybody well enough to be able to say, `I believe in this person.’”
She added in gracious, Oprah fashion: “I have not one negative thing to say about Hillary Clinton.”
We’ll see if Winfrey can withstand the siren song of becoming the first female president and whether she’ll put herself through the wringer of her first political campaign against an incumbent president who enjoys bullying and tweeting personal insults and lies.
News reports already have questioned Oprah’s CEO skills, her long-time fondness for junk science and whether she looked the other way about sexual harassment in Hollywood. Soul singer Seal asked if Oprah was an enabler of disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein’s despicable behavior. All this in less than a week.
Winfrey’s inspiring personal story makes real the American dream. We can hope generations of young people – girls and boys – see her as a role model.
But the White House is not a prize America awards its most famous or because we admire someone’s style or business success. That’s a lesson we should have learned by now.
©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.