By now, you’ve surely heard about Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the Golden Globes that has led to serious talk about Oprah making a bid for the White House. Take it seriously. A University of Maryland study concluded that Oprah’s 2008 endorsement of Barack Obama gained him more than 1 million votes in the Democratic primary.
I don’t know if Oprah should run for president. A true American success story, she has done so much in the private sector that it it would be a shame if she gave it up. Revealing incredible business acumen, she didn’t just become the most successful talk show host but the leader of a business empire.
As head of that empire, Oprah has been willing to use her power and influence for good in many ways. She has hired and promoted women, especially, minority women, to the top of her team. Smart business – why not grab talent others overlook – that helped create a new cohort of minority and female business leaders.
Oprah has also leveraged her wealth and power to present African-American women and stories in media from magazines to movies in a far more positive light. Most importantly, she does it in a way that is utterly normal and marketable, rather than forced tokenism. In other words, the way it should be.
At this point, there is a strong case to be made that the black community and America need more African-American business owners than more African-American politicians. Business brings money and influence – assets that make it far easier to exercise and to magnify political power.
The argument for Oprah for President is also clear. She is a great American communicator. Oprah has all the graciousness and dignity that Trump lacks. While Trump has empathy only for himself, Winfrey has deep compassion for others.
Trump slithers in the gutter appealing to dark impulses, but Oprah hearkens to the better angels of our nature. Trump excludes while Oprah includes. Even her strong advocacy for the “me too” movement and minority progress is inclusive and designed to raise people up rather than put others down.
Oprah grew up poor and created a business empire, while Trump inherited millions and prides himself on bilking people and treating others like garbage. Oprah has demonstrated an ability to delegate – she has to in such a large organization – even as she assimilates new information quickly.
Nevertheless, she lacks experience in politics and public policy. Obama had to pick up the economic and foreign policy wreckage of the Bush administration. The next president will face the arguably even greater challenge of restoring political norms and institutions as well as frayed foreign alliances.
We’ll see if Oprah chooses to take the plunge into politics. Her role as a powerful business leader, however, is not one to give up lightly and would be missed if she did.