A Grain Of Saul: I Love Oprah, But She Shouldn't Be President

Let's stop the #Oprah2020 talk before it starts.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

Oprah Winfrey is a lot of things, but she shouldn't be our next president.

The local journalist-turned-talk show host, media mogul, actress, television producer and everything in between is — simply put — one of the most impressive human beings alive. She grew up poor in a small Mississippi town and became the wealthiest African-American alive and one of the world's greatest philanthropists. But she's not qualified to be president.


Unfortunately, after her moving speech at the Golden Globes, the speculation about Winfrey's run for the highest office in the United States is running wild. Could she beat President Donald Trump? Would she get the same grassroots support because of her celebrity status? Is she the "anti-Trump"

Winfrey, for her part, is doing little to calm the storm. CNN is reporting that the people around her are encouraging her to run. The Washington Post called her speech "presidential candidate-esque." Her longtime partner Stedman Graham told The Los Angeles Times that "it's up to the people" and "she would absolutely do it." #Oprah2020 began trending across social media.

And why not? If Trump, a real estate mogul and reality television star could become president, why not Winfrey? She came from less and, arguably, created much more. She's just as famous. Her brand is just as strong. Trump ran on his business acumen despite inheriting much of his wealth, and Winfrey came from poverty and is now nearly as wealthy. 

Despite some liberals celebrating the idea of her candidacy (including speechwriters for former president Barack Obama), the same things that make her unqualified also made — and make — our current president unqualified: she has complex and far-reaching business entanglements, no experience drafting or passing legislation, no experience in public office, no experience running for public office, and no experience whipping a vote for an important bill in Congress. Even if we think we know her political leanings, she has no voting record to prove she'd put her beliefs into practice.

These were all the things that made Trump unqualified to be elected. Has he convinced you in the last year that those fears were unwarranted? His first year in office has been a chaotic, disorganized mess with few legislative victories besides a tax bill that any Republican president in his situation could have passed. He's whiffed on meetings with world leaders because of his lack of knowledge or experience, refused to divorce himself from his businesses and frequently played a backseat role in pushing to get legislation passed. 

While Oprah may very well be the kind of person who finds success in whatever she puts her mind to, she has few things on her resume that are relevant to overseeing the entirety of the executive branch. She may know how to build a media brand but that doesn't mean she can unpack conflict in the Korean peninsula, negotiate ceasefires in Syria with Vladimir Putin or help calm unrest in Iran. It doesn't mean that she has the expertise many would prefer in their elected leaders on which intricacies of a health care bill will lower premiums or what federal legislation will improve the quality of life for people at a local level or what constitutes an act of war.

And if she does, she'd still be a step behind many experienced politicians and lawmakers who have spent their entire careers honing those skills.

I get the sentiment. Winfrey is a symbol, one that inspires me. A symbol of hope, progress, and inspiration. But being president is more than just being a symbol, as Trump has demonstrated. For many Americans, he was a symbol — a counterpuncher who would take back Washington D.C. from the establishment. But symbolism doesn't always turn into real change when you're the leader of the free world, and much of Trump's hypocrisy has proven that. 

A Winfrey presidency, I fear, would have a similar ineffectiveness. In order to pass laws, you need have experience working with members of Congress. In order to draft effective laws, you need to have experience writing laws that failed (consider how many of President Trump's hastily drafted executive orders, which don't even require a vote, were struck down by the federal courts before they got it right). In order to whip votes, you need to have leverage born from years of working across the aisle.

I've also seen some people point to former President Ronald Reagan, whose career began as an actor. But even Reagan served two full terms as governor of California and ran for president three times before actually being elected. 

If voters out there want an antidote to Trump, they'd be wise to find a shrewd lawmaker with experience on Capitol Hill that shares many of the values Winfrey espouses. Members of Congress like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Chris Murphy, and Sen. Sherrod Brown all fit the bill. 

Of course, if Winfrey were to run, I doubt she'd lose in a Democratic primary race. I'm not even sure it'd be close. Her influence, wealth and reach are too great. Electing her, though, begs the question about what Americans want our presidential elections to be: a popularity contest amongst our most well-known and wealthiest celebrities or a position of power only given to the most experienced and trusted public servants who have spent careers and even lifetimes serving us. 

If we've learned anything in the last year, I hope it's that we need the latter.

You can follow Isaac Saul on Twitter at @Ike_Saul

Cover photo: Shutterstock / Everett Collection


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