Oprah Winfrey should not run for president.
Social media was ablaze with emotional reactions—and justifiably so—to Oprah’s magnificently inspiring Golden Globes speech as she accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award for her contributions to the entertainment industry. Her call to arms for lifting up and empowering the voices of everyday women in America was a perfect crescendo for the evening’s Time’s Up initiative. But as with every rousing speech from a celebrity these days, social-media sentiment soon turned to wishing—nay, demanding—that Winfrey run for president.
It was mildly amusing when people suggested America’s most beloved actor, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, run for president, but then people began to seriously ask him whether or not he would run. Then he told Variety he would “100 percent run for president” with the caveat, “Realistically, as we go into 2018, when you look at my slate as we’re developing and shooting into 2019 and 2020, the slate goes deep into 2021, so it feels like the realistic consideration would be 2024.”
I’d rather see The Rock as a fictional president at the movies than see him having to decide whether or not to push the “button” and start a war with North Korea. I’d also rather see a presidential candidate who doesn’t have to decide which Jumanji sequel they need to reorder before they run for the highest office in the land. I’d like to think a presidential candidate should be compelled to right the course of our nation. To entertain the idea that you can decide to become president after you shuffle a few projects for convenience belies the misogynistic attacks we lobby at politicians like Hillary Clinton and Kirsten Gillibrand for perceived transparent opportunism.
The same goes for Oprah. It’s easy to understand why people want her to run. Donald Trump rode a wave of celebrity into the White House, having been ingrained in the American consciousness as a wealthy businessman and via weekly television appearances on The Apprentice. In the mind of his voters, their Pavlovian connection to Trump superseded his complete lack of experience at running a country. Trump was previously a liberal-leaning public figure and friendly with Hillary Clinton. He now despises her. He was previously pro-choice and now is pro-life. He previously supported assault-weapons bans and now has a hard-on for the Second Amendment. Which isn’t to say that Oprah would suddenly start brandishing guns like Proud Mary, but the very nature of being a politician means changing positions you’ve previously held in order to either win, appease your constituents or get the fucking job done.
When we think of Oprah’s story about surviving sexual abuse as a child and becoming the most powerful black woman in America, it’s not only inspirational—it’s aspirational. Oprah serves as a motivating force for Americans who see in themselves the untapped potential to achieve the same goals. Which is exactly what a celebrity should be. She’s a former talk-show host, an actress, and an entrepreneur. If Oprah weren’t completely mesmerizing and charismatic, she wouldn’t be a damn celebrity. But we’ve managed to have countless politicians throughout American history who aren’t celebrities and should continue to do so, because being a celebrity shouldn’t be a prerequisite for running our country.
I recognize that Oprah doesn’t just reverberate emotionally in Hollywood but in America as a whole, but do you understand why that is? It’s because Oprah doesn’t decide how much you pay in taxes. Oprah doesn’t send drone strikes. Oprah doesn’t have to be friendly with racist, homophobic or misogynist politicians in order to pass legislature.
Furthermore, what do we really know about Oprah’s politics? She supported Barack Obama, understandably as our first black president. She also supported Hillary Clinton, though not as fervently (also understandable). But speeches like Oprah’s tonight are meant to be inspiring by drawing upon our history and juxtaposing it with America’s present. It’s fiercely political without being political at all. It’s a call to arms but also an entreaty for compassion. It may remind you of some of Obama’s more rousing speeches, but if you parse it closer, it will instead remind you of Michelle Obama’s—another black woman who many Americans have called upon to run for office. But those speeches don’t do the heavy political lifting that Barack’s often had to do. When Oprah addresses police brutality, she can speak from her experiences as a black woman in America; when the president speaks about police brutality, they have to also make sure not to piss off police officers as a whole. Being president comes with compromises that we don’t require in our celebrities and public figures, and I’m not sure the Americans who want her to run for president completely comprehend that.
Oprah would probably win. The question is, should she? For one, is it in America’s best interest for another billionaire to run for president? Oprah is a generous queen for sure, but let’s not pretend that her stepping into the White House would magically mean a new Pontiac arrives on the doorstep of every American who voted for her. Many may believe that Trump’s rise to power means that the race for the presidency has been irrevocably changed: The flashiest, the most charismatic, the most-liked candidate will always win. Forgoing the traditional route of a politician, the real way to become president now is to be a celebrity—to energize America with your words, your music, your art, and then sway votes.
This strikes me as a depressingly nihilistic approach to America’s future. Trump, for instance, didn’t win the popular vote and his approval ratings are sinking faster than the chance of anyone beating Three Billboards at the Oscars. One anomaly doesn’t make a pattern. If Oprah were to run and win, perhaps then we’d be in a new dystopian era where only celebrities can win presidential elections. But until then, to assume that Trump has altered the very nature of American politics to the point that it cannot be course-corrected is pessimism I won’t subscribe to.
The conversation about whether or not Oprah should run for president has always left a sour taste in my mouth. Yes, Oprah electrifies America but that is what we expect her to do as an artist. The idea that this vigor must translate into a political career seems as shortsighted as it does selfish. Does Oprah herself even want to run for president?
When I hear Meryl Streep speak of Oprah’s speech, as she told The Washington Post’s Steven Zeitchick, “She launched a rocket tonight. I want her to run for president. I don’t think she had any intention [of declaring]. But now she doesn’t have a choice,” it seems to miss Oprah’s message about inspiring young black girls to realize their full potential in America in order to force a political narrative she hasn’t asked for.
To paraphrase Jessica Williams: Oprah is a black woman and so many things. But she is not yours.