today in black history

April 24, 2024

The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) was incorporated on this date in 1927 with 27 member colleges.

Oprah, Take a Pass, Please

POSTED: January 10, 2018, 1:00 pm

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Oprah Winfrey’s well-received speech at the Golden Globe awards show has thrust her into the conversation as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2020. Her name is now being cast as the party’s possible answer to Donald Trump and have some Democrats giddy over the possibility. My hope is that Winfrey will politely acknowledge the interest and then decline.

There is no doubt that Oprah Winfrey is an American icon who has made her mark in the entertainment and business fields. Her rise to fame has been remarkable and meteoric. I got a glimpse of the early days of her journalism career when I was in college and she was a reporter and program co-host for a local television outlet in Baltimore. While no one could have predicted her later fame and fortune, even in 1977 it was clear Winfrey had the personality, charm and skills to go far. Her later success after moving on to Chicago and toppling then daytime TV king Phil Donahue did not surprise me. Oprah had a presence on the screen that made it clear she possessed the magical “it” that separated her from the rest of the field. Today, her media empire is a testament to the seeds she planted long ago and the incredible drive she possesses. Her success cannot be denied.

Still, for me, that does not make her a credible presidential candidate. Is she qualified to run? Well, based on the constitution and résumé of the current occupant of the Oval Office, absolutely. Is that minimal baseline for qualification sufficient to validate her as a presidential candidate? I don’t believe so. Oprah Winfrey is qualified to run and legally entitled to run for president but that does not mean she should run or is best suited to serve. That might sound contradictory, but it’s not. Many individuals due to their success, see themselves as presidential material. What’s more, in this celebrity obsessed society, fortune, fame and even controversy seems to catapult individuals to the front of the line for a possible turn in the White House. If anything, 2016 should have taught us the dangers of ignoring the skills mismatch in many people who seek to lead the nation.

We are desperate for a leader of stature and competence who can meet our idealistic expectations as a president. Yet, desperation often leads to bad choices and in our angst over #45 many are rushing to find the ultimate challenger, and clinging to any morsel of hope – like a speech – that will bolster our confidence that change will occur. Powerful words uttered in a time of uncertainty can be a soothing balm. I was on the convention floor in Atlanta in 1988 when Rev. Jesse Jackson gave his memorable speech, bringing delegates to the Democratic National Convention to tears as he delivered a homily on the historic injustices of our nation and his belief in the possibility of a better America. His speech is all the more noteworthy given that a future president, Bill Clinton, then governor of Arkansas, delivered one of the worst nominating speeches in political history at that same convention. Years later, in 2004, I was standing just rows in front of the podium in Boston when a young Barack Obama delivered a speech at the Democratic National Conventions that would inject him into the nation’s political bloodstream. Speeches can tap the consciousness of those seeking an answer, and it is no wonder why Winfrey’s speech at the Golden Globe ceremony has evoked such strong emotions.

I caution restraint and resistance to such an emotional reaction. Our nation is teetering, dangling on the precipice of a constitutional crisis. As tempting as it might be to anoint a heroine in this moment, what we really need is time to seriously consider what we really desire in a leader of the still somewhat ‘free world.’ Who are the individuals that we believe have the skill-set, knowledge base, temperament and courage to lead us out of the abyss? For me, this is not a partisan question. It’s a leadership question. Public policy can be complex and the diversity of America makes finding suitable solutions that much more of a challenge if the true intent is to create a better and more just nation. We can pretend that any success is transferable to policymaking but that’s a gamble that has found us on the losing end of the bet.

“We can pretend that any success is transferable to policymaking but that’s a gamble that has found us on the losing end of the bet.”

Oprah Winfrey has a legacy that is unrivaled in our nation. Still, I am not convinced that she is the viable candidate for 2020 that so many desperately seek. I admit that my perspective is jaded by the last experience when Hollywood invaded the Oval Office in the 1980’s and in my opinion our nation suffered, and classism and racism deepened. Now, in no way do I believe Winfrey would advance a Reagan-like agenda, but I do fear that the absence of experience in the policy realm creates a void that facilitates political mischief. My lack of enthusiasm for Oprah Winfrey as a candidate should not be taken as disrespecting her achievements. I would feel the same way toward Bob Johnson, another Black pioneer in media and entertainment, if his name were being mentioned as a possible candidate. What we really need is the certainty, political deftness, fearlessness and decisiveness of a leader hell bent on improving life for the tens of millions of Americans who have been left behind.

There is still time to find such a candidate. She or he is out there. We don’t need a coronation; we need a rigorous debate at a time when both major parties need to be introspective, ‘minor’ parties need to define their agendas and be heard, and American voters need to be clear in their expectations of the person they seek to give the keys to the White House.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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