Hollywood awards shows aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Peel away the attractive celebrity performers or even the trendy liberal politics, and they are really about enriching a relatively small group of rich, usually white, usually male executives only too happy to goose the TV ratings and movie box office for their products by handing out dubious honors. But in the entertainment industry’s most embarrassing year of sexual misconduct and harassment, something unexpected emerged from Sunday’s night’s telecast of the Golden Globes: a dazzling, perhaps even revelatory performance by a potential candidate for president in two years.
To suggest Oprah Winfrey stole the three-hour prime time show is a bit like offering that Stephen “Sloppy Steve” Bannon has become a persona non grata to the “very stable genius” working those TV-heavy “executive time” hours in the Oval Office. If image-concious Hollywood has developed a disease, Winfrey is surely the cure. Her pitch-perfect acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award, a lifetime achievement honor, was not only uplifting for the women who have survived the casting couch, it put a night of Hollywood self-flagellation and her own recognition in historic context with a nod not only to Rosa Parks and Sidney Poitier (a past DeMille winner and a personal Winfrey hero) but to a lesser known civil rights hero, Recy Taylor who was abducted and raped by six white men in Alabama in 1944 and died 10 days before Winfrey’s speech, the perpetrators never prosecuted.
“She lived as we all have lived,” Winfrey said, “too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.”
This is not a candidate endorsement. Winfrey has said in the past she’s not inclined to run in 2020. Others around here have suggested she can be persuaded. As appealing as it might be to envision a TV star vs. TV star match-up at the ballot box — and the sheer irony if President Donald Trump is dispatched by a candidate so similar to him (made popular by TV) and yet so polar opposite (in just about every other way) — the real lesson is not that Oprah is Oprah. It’s no surprise that she has a gift for empathy and compassion. The take-away is that whoever the Democratic Party nominates in 2020 to run against Trump needs to be just like her in all the ways that count.
Where is she on abortion? Where is she on environmental protection, nuclear proliferation, the Middle East? Where is she, for heaven’s sake, on the Export-Import Bank? Who knows? Who cares? What got Trump elected in 2016 was not his position on specific issues — aside, perhaps, than some vague awareness that he distrusted foreigners, wanted to put “America First” on trade deals and promised to goose the economy. It was his connection to blue-collar workers in swing states who believed the country had forgotten them. America likes to elect leaders who care about them and their daily struggles raising a family, finding good-paying work, buying a home, educating their kids.
It’s not just the economy, stupid, it’s the human connection, the trust in people and not government. Like it or not, we don’t live in an age where experience in federal, state or local office is greatly prized by swing voters. But a self-made woman who overcame adversity to achieve stupendous personal success and and from whom one constantly hears about the wonder and glory of the human experience? A lot of voters could not relate to Hillary Clinton and her resume, but they can to someone like Oprah Winfrey who is not only smart and savvy but eminently relatable.