Oprah Winfrey gave a wonderful speech at the Golden Globes when she became the first black woman to receive the Cecil B. DeMille award — so wonderful that pundits have begun to speculate about her running for president of the United States. According to some anonymously cited friends, Winfrey has expressed interest in running, and on paper she is certainly set to be a contender: She is a successful leader of a media empire; she is popular, with a wide-ranging appeal that spans decades. She certainly knows how to campaign for others, how to lobby a politician, to raise funds, to do so many of the unseen things that can lead to office.
But to be the person in front with the power to direct the country and in some ways the world? No. She is not remotely qualified to hold one of the most powerful political offices in the world. Not yet.
While past leaders with no direct military experience have managed to learn on the job, we are seeing how that strategy can backfire, as tweets threatening nuclear war fly from the person with the power to launch nuclear missiles. The cult of personality that elected him could have dire consequences for the world. So why replicate that error in judgment?
President Trump has never held political office before, and his policies have yielded less than spectacular results. Every time Trump sends an inflammatory tweet, there’s a live lesson on why being president is not an entry-level position. Lost in the maze of headlines about this administration’s scandals and internal strife is the sad reality that real people are being harmed by inexperience and incompetence. Much of Puerto Rico is still without power, with terrible consequences for Puerto Ricans and a critical negative impact on medical care on the mainland as well; there is no actual date in sight for when life there may get back to some semblance of normal. Catchy slogans and a brash attitude make for great TV, not great governance.
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Winfrey is a savvy business executive, with a talent for finding and promoting media personalities. The quality of those personalities is somewhat dubious given the scandals that have arisen around Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Jenny McCarthy. However successful she has been at choosing people who can sell a product does not mean she is equipped to select a qualified cabinet. Can she negotiate a deal? I am sure she can. That does not necessarily mean she is equipped to navigate complicated global issues around resources or poverty or terrorism. Not at the level of power the U.S. president commands.
Yes, other celebs have transitioned from media to politics. Could Winfrey do the same? Absolutely. Local office would be the place to start, whether that be city council, mayor, state senate — any office where she could learn how to govern, just as many personality-driven politicians have before her. By the time Ronald Reagan was elected to the presidency, he had been a union president for two terms and governor of California for eight years. Jesse Ventura started his political career as a mayor before going on to be governor. President Obama was a constitutional law scholar and community organizer, and he served in the Illinois state senate for seven years and as a junior senator in Congress for three years.
Although the Constitution only requires presidents to be natural-born citizens age 35 and up, it never hurts to expand on criteria established more than 200 years ago. After all, the Founding Fathers could never have envisioned the existence of television, much less the power it has over American citizens. The criteria for having access to nuclear weapons should not be, “I liked this person on TV,” whether you were watching “The Apprentice” or “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” It should be, “This person is qualified, prepared and wise enough not to treat a potential disaster as a game.” With that in mind, we might have a chance at being led by politicians who are accountable to their constituents and who have some idea of what it means to be responsible for the lives of billions.
You want someone who can win in 2020? Great. How about supporting the candidates who will know what to do after they win? As a candidate for the presidency in 2020, Winfrey is not prepared, but that does not mean there are no women who are ready. Whether your politics lead you to back candidates like Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.; or any of the other women who hold public office, your options include qualified, experienced women who understand policy. Support women running for office, but let’s support them running for the offices they are qualified for -- we have seen what happens when someone’s idea of a charismatic, untested celebrity takes the White House.
Mikki Kendall is a writer based in Chicago.
The Washington Post