Why liberals are swooning about a TV celebrity of their very own

Oprah Winfrey.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival, Tamara Luiza/iStock)

Oprah Winfrey gave a tear-jerkingly Obamaesque woke speech at the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday and is "actively thinking" about running for president in 2020. More than a handful of people who are not 60-something O magazine subscribers are actually excited about this. Here is a real-life Democratic congresswoman:

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Sure, you might think, the prospect of an Oprah candidacy raises certain obvious problems. The daytime talk show pioneer and occasional film producer has no political or governing experience. Her accumulated pronouncements on political subjects over the course of some four decades in public life add up to a kind of vague but all-encompassing enthusiasm for being nice and believing in yourself, like President Obama, whom she endorsed early in the 2008 campaign. What does Oprah think about NAFTA, I wonder, or the state of Iranian compliance with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal?

Then there are the usual hang-ups about conflicts of interests that we saw with President Trump and Mitt Romney. How does someone like Oprah who owns a television channel appoint people to regulate communications? Can we really expect a self-made billionaire to address income inequality?

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What Democrats really need, say cooler-headed analysts with presumably wagging fingers, is an experienced, statesmanlike, politically savvy, charismatic centrist, preferably under the age of 70, whose last name is not Clinton. This is mostly true (except for the centrist part, which will have to be played up only behind closed doors and after the election, unless the party wants to make the mistake again of pretending that it can do without a grassroots made up of people who are not suburban millionaires).

The question is whether such a person actually exists.

Only a few months ago, Democrats might have been delusional enough to think that Sen. Al Franken (Minn.), who is charming for roughly the exact segment of the American population that thinks Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! is comedy gold, might fit the bill. Now the choice seems to be between three septuagenarians: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), and Vice President Joe Biden. Only one of these is in any sense a moderate, and Uncle Joe's handsy jet ski-owning uncle routine has not worn well in the era of #MeToo.

Oprah might really be the Democrats' best bet.

Oprah's political amorphousness is, apart from her name recognition, her greatest strength as a potential candidate. It would be equally easy to imagine her railing against wealth and privilege with the moral authority of an insider and effortlessly stage-managing the Democrats' transition into Wall Street's party of choice. Better yet, in keeping with what blue-state liberals seem to want out of their candidates nowadays, she could run generically against the badness of President Trump, pitting her own personal brand of "you get a car" uplift against his mean tweets. It might occasionally get awkward for these two longtime acquaintances (among other things, the 80th birthday party she threw for Maya Angelou was hosted at Mar-a-Lago) pretending to despise one another, as indeed it occasionally did with Hillary Clinton, who had been a guest at Trump's third wedding — but I'm sure the president will find a way to argue that the person he wanted to be his running mate for his ill-fated 2000 campaign is a worthless #failing incompetent.

Oprah, like Trump, is a post-political politician. Politics as the dull business of governing or even the old-fashioned art of electioneering no longer exists in this country. Political life has been subsumed into the never-ending process of digital media consumption and 24/7 live-action role-playing that has also swallowed up everything from sports to family life to religion. Like Trump himself, who managed to be a billionaire largely because he was good at pretending to be one and marketed his act successfully, Oprah was a prophet of the age at which we have now arrived, the great champion of uninhibited emotion, the ethical pursuit of glamour, and consumption as a spiritual exercise. They are two of our foremost professional narcissists, ideally suited to representing a nation of amateur ones.

I do not actually expect Oprah to run for president. This is in part because I think she is wiser than Trump and a much savvier businesswoman.

Maybe the Democrats can ask Jimmy Kimmel instead.

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