This Oprah-for-president thing is fun, right? It doesn’t seem particularly far-fetched, either, does it? I mean the woman gives away cars, for God’s sake! She’s thoughtful, passionate, and has a nuanced understanding of religion. Also, she’s rich, charming, and famous — all things that voters historically like. What more could we possibly want?
Unless, of course, we want political experience. There is that. It’s something we’ve typically prioritized in leaders of the free world.
Until 2016, that is — when the executive branch’s tectonic plates tumbled right off the edge of the map and a man with no political or military history rode the success of a television-show-based-on-a-catchphrase straight to the White House. Trump was crude, brash, ugly in word choice and worldview, and had countless ties to unsavory people. He also had absolutely nothing that would indicate he’d be qualified to manage a nation. He wasn’t even particularly adept at managing employees within his own company.
And yet, we voted for him. We being Americans. Distance yourself from that statement all you want, but the United States of America — taken as a whole and functioning under the rules of our democracy — elected Donald Trump to the highest office in the land.
So does political experience truly matter to us? Does it really?
This question of experience mattering is actually bifurcated:
- Does experience matter to voters during a presidential election?
- Does experience matter in that, once elected, it helps the president better understand and grasp the office they hold?
Both questions are valid. The answer to the first seems to be a clear “no.” At least not to Republican and conservative voters in 2016. Democratic and liberal voters tend to hold experience in higher regard, historically speaking. But would they make an exception if Oprah Winfrey, talk show host and entrepreneur, ran against Donald Trump, reality show host and sitting president? Oh, most definitely.
The second question is trickier. Let’s do a quick case study on our least experienced president ever:
- He’s attacked enemies via Twitter over crowd size, electorate size, nuclear button size, etc.
- He’s attacked the media virtually non stop for anything less than flattering coverage.
- He’s attacked his own constantly revolving cast of cabinet members and advisors.
- He attacked the citizens of the United States in Puerto Rico.
- He’s attacked American athletes for kneeling before football games.
- He’s attacked his long-since-defeated opponent, over and over and over.
- He’s attacked… well, just about everyone. (Except for white supremacists.)
Score one for U.S. Presidents “having some modicum of prior political experience, thereby proving their temperament,” amirite?
Of course this is a failed argument. Trump isn’t the way he is because he never held office. Though it might be said that we the people would have noticed his behavior sooner if it wasn’t being neatly packaged for us by a TV studio. If he’d been a state governor, senator, or even city council member, we’d have some track record to judge him by. His flaws are more evident now that he doesn’t have anyone scoring his soundbites with dramatic music before cutting to commercial. The same would hold for Oprah, to at least some degree.
Because though we love Oprah, she’s not perfect. She’s got blind spots just like any other potential candidate and will have to answer to scrutiny. She’s a persistent fan of snake oil salesmen, for example. She repeatedly gave a platform to the anti-science movement (particularly when it’s helped other famous people promote their #brands). She values pop psych and self-help over focusing on the failed structures that keep upward mobility rates low. She’s as down on taxes as most rich people, buys into the prosperity gospel, and is prone to wild boasts about her extreme wealth.
So while she absolutely exudes grace and human warmth and kindness, we can probably all chill on the “Oprah is everything” tip. She’s a person and a long, grueling presidential campaign could reveal her clay feet.