It Was A Great Speech, But….
Most years, the Golden Globes are considered newsworthy only to Academy Awards junkies like me who just want SOME indication of who’s going to win. Beyond that, the Globes only tend to get attention if someone is clearly inebriated or a winner is in the bathroom or Ricky Gervais says something completely inappropriate. Or all three, sometimes from the same source. This year, the Globes took on an added newsworthy dimension: we may have seen the launching of a Presidential campaign.
In accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement, Oprah Winfrey delivered a stirring and emotional speech that brought the room to its feet. It touched on freedom of the press, progress in race relations and the changing roles of women and men in the #MeToo movement. It was a clarion call for hope in times as dark as the all-black clothing worn to the event. In short, it was (and please don’t let anything else I’m about to write undercut this statement) a magnificent speech.
The unexpected (or possibly expected) side effect of the speech was that by the time most people (not my parents) went to bed Sunday night, there was already talk of an Oprah Winfrey Presidential candidacy for 2020. It was certainly a hot topic on social media on Monday morning, to the chagrin of some who felt that such talk drew attention away from the power of the speech. I disagree on both fronts. The speech did not add any new ideas but rather gave words to what so many people are thinking and feeling right now. No sidebar conversations can change that. And no, it should not be the launching point toward a President Winfrey.
There is no doubt that the speech sounded very Presidential in its tone and texture. And after a year of Twitter tantrums and barely coherently ramblings, we’ve almost forgotten what a Presidential speech sounds like. So it’s understandable that the speech felt like manna from Heaven. But it doesn’t change the fact that the U.S. has tried the whole Celebrity As President thing and desperately needs to get away from it.
Now I can hear you saying, “Hey Joe, Oprah Winfrey would make a much better president than Donald Trump.” And I wholeheartedly agree. However, as I write this, I’m looking past my computer screen at a very attractive table lamp that would make a better president than Donald Trump. So that bar’s not set particularly high. Yes, Oprah Winfrey is more self-possessed, driven, intelligent, compassionate and self-aware than Trump. But again, I’m looking at the table lamp. (It really is very attractive. You ought to see this thing.)
About a year and a half ago, I wrote an article on what happens when celebrities get into politics. While celebrities are not immune to criticism, their experience in no way prepares them for the rough-and-tumble of the political world. The storm of invective that heads their way is enough to pierce whatever firewall the sycophants and bobos around them have constructed. As the nation has seen with Trump, and as Minnesotans once saw with Jesse Ventura, it’s enough to reduce someone to a childish larval state. And yes, it’s hard to imagine Oprah reaching that kind of state, but let’s consider a few things.
The current view of Donald Trump has not always been the prevailing opinion. When The Apprentice premiered, I will freely admit I was a fan of the show. And the ratings indicated I was not alone. On that show, Trump came off as down to earth, unaffected and, by God I’ll have to admit it, likable. He might have been stern, but he seemed like the kind of guy you might want to work for. The first indication there was trouble came when Carolyn Kepcher, a Trump executive who helped him decide which contestants would be eliminated, was fired for having the nerve to become popular on a show that starred Donald Trump. If you couple that with the scene at the White House Correspondents Dinner a few years later, when Trump responded to a birther zinger from President Obama by sitting grumpy and stone-faced, as if someone told him his prostate exam was to start in ten minutes, you get a pretty clear picture of what we were in for with a Trump Presidency: a brittle existence in which criticism is not tolerated and the Chief Executive must be the star at all times.
Now again, it’s very difficult to imagine Oprah Winfrey acting as childishly as Trump. But there have been a few bothersome signs. Let’s not forget that it took Oprah a while to warm up to David Letterman, largely because Dave had the temerity to poke fun at her. (And let’s be honest, on a scale of 1 to Regis Philbin, Oprah got off pretty light with the joshing from Dave.) A small thing, yes, but disturbing as an indicator. And let’s please remember that Oprah has also given us Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and James Frey. Her judgment of people is not, shall we say, infallible. I will admit these are small things. But small things become big things when the spotlight grows commensurately.
But on top of all that, and there’s no easy way to say this, we shouldn’t want Oprah Winfrey to be our President. It would simply perpetuate this oddball fascination Americans have with electing “outsiders” to run our government. It’s literally the only vocation I can think of in which stating you aren’t interested in the job and aren’t qualified to have it is considered a PLUS. Imagine interviewing for a pizza delivery job and telling the manager, “No, I’ve never driven a car in my life. In fact, I don’t even know the layout of this neighborhood.” You really think the manager would respond with, “I like the way you think!” Putting people who aren’t qualified in charge of your government is like a factory putting a worker in charge of a machine without training them or giving them instructions in how to use it. Except in this case, a mistake wouldn’t cut off the worker’s fingers. It would cut off everyone else’s.
I would like to think the American public is learning its lesson about attempting to supposedly “drain the swamp”. NOTHING has been done to solve the muddle in Washington. It’s simply resulted in an administration that is incompetent where it’s not corrupt. There’s no reason to believe that putting ANOTHER celebrity in office would fix that. With the decades-long slide toward candidates that must be, first and foremost, good on television (the thing I liked most about Bernie Sanders’ campaign was his willingness to appear disheveled) it was only a matter of time before we just skipped the politician part and went right to choosing TV stars as our elected representatives. Watching two unqualified celebrities duke it out for the Presidency would be something out of Paddy Chayefsky’s worst nightmare.
So you’ll have to pardon me if I’m not getting on the Oprah Winfrey bandwagon. It was a terrific speech, one that gave us hope that, despite everything that’s happened, there’s still a better tomorrow out there. All I’m asking is that we recognize it as a great speech and leave it there.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go explain to my cousin Leroy that Martin Sheen was never actually the President of the United States.
JOE DAVIS is the main character in a series of mystery novels by Randall J. Funk. Mr. Davis and Mr. Funk are delighted by the shocking similarities in their opinions and writing styles.