Wednesday, January 10, 2018


I heard Oprah Winfrey's speech at the big Golden Globes event--or at least a recording of it. It was a powerful and moving speech, and one that seemed to summarize the sentiment of the entire gathering as well as something of the spirit of the times. She was met with wild cheers and a standing ovation, none of which I begrudge her. But Oprah for President? I demur.

I demur with some hesitation because there is good reason to believe that she could actually win a race for the presidency in 2020. To start with, she would be a vast improvement on the current occupant of the White House: she has charm and intelligence, clearly a good business head and great organization skills, and a heart that is firmly in the right place. Her humanitarian instincts offer a refreshing contrast to the callous self-interest and materialism of the Donald Trump clan and its disreputable band of cynical enablers. And there's little doubt that for these reasons and many others she would attract enormous popular support. She is likable. Then, too, she is a woman--and I believe that we absolutely need a woman president after centuries in which male dominance has failed to bring us to a place where peace and justice reign. And, not least, as a proud and prominent African American citizen, she makes a statement to the country and the world about our rejection of the despicable racism that currently infects our politics and our culture.

But President Winfrey? Have we not had our fill of celebrities in the Oval Office? Do we really need, once again, to reduce the race for our highest office to a popularity contest, in which the person with the greatest public visibility and the most appealing charisma wins?

That's one problem. The other, for me, has to do with the core belief on which her speech was based: the notion that the highest purpose in life is to "speak your truth." On one hand, I believe this is related to a core tenet of my own, an adage to which I have attached great importance as a writer and one of the criteria on which I have based my work and thinking as a "critic": tell me who you are. It's what I try to do in everything I write and everything I look for in the work of  others. In this sense, I applaud Oprah's injunction. Connection--especially the heart connection--is the greatest human attribute.

But a president has to do more than speak his or her truth. I have enough European skepticism left in my blood to sniff out the sentimentality in that construction. Yes, a president needs vision, and vision comes from the heart and soul as much as from the mind. For a president, though, it's about more than self-expression. (This is something Trump does, regrettably, rather well. It is, in fact, the essence of his personality). A president must be able to embrace the vision of a country; and not only embrace it, must have the intellectual and political skills needed to realize it. That Oprah excels at speaking her truth is testified by the millions who feel that heart connection with her. She's the undisputed queen of the feel-good culture. What a president is called upon to do may frequently reflect hard necessity in the name of national interest or international peace. In these hard decisions, there is inevitably more involved than the recognition and expression of "my truth."

So, please, Oprah, continue to do what you do so well. Continue to speak to the heart of America and act as compassionate therapist-in-chief. But don't use your power to seduce an easily gullible voting public into confusing heart with politics and policy. Endorse, yes, when you want to speak your truth. But do not run for office.You might win.

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