Oprah Winfrey may be the celebrity steroid that catapults Democratic presidential hopeful Illinois Sen. Barack Obama to the nomination. It started in 2005 when Oprah gushed over Obama, trading stories on set about their odd names growing up (he was told to become “Barack Smith” or “Joe Obama” while people told her name to change to “Suzie.”)
His good looks, charming smile and idealistic language — the stuff that empty-worded speeches ("What we’ve had is a shortage of hope…”) are made of — have taken hold of some — Oprah included.
She showed her affection this week by announcing a $2,300 (the most one person can donate to a campaign) a ticket fundraiser in his honor on September 8. Celebrities significant influence over the Democratic ticket mainly — due to their continuous publicity and fundraising capabilities — have caused Hillary Clinton and Obama to battle for Hollywood support. With one of the richest and arguably most influential stars in America settling favor on Obama, the battle might be won.
As one reporter put it, Oprah is “the real Obama” girl. In a May interview with Larry King, Oprah formally endorsed Obama, saying “I believe he can win.” She’s never officially endorsed a candidate before and said she is “going out on a limb now” because she never knew anyone well enough in the past to say, “I believe in this person.”
Some wondered where Oprah’s loyalty would lie — as her success as an African-American woman has been a groundbreaking for both gender and race.
“I have great respect for Hillary Clinton. Because I am for Barack doesn’t mean I am against Hillary…” she said.
She may not oppose Hillary but Oprah’s influence over the African American and female segment of the country could capture significant portions of Hillary’s voter base. Republican strategist and author of “The Extreme Makeover of Hillary Clinton” Bay Buchanan said “…without question Hillary is relying on women to put her over on top on Election Day.”
Time magazine reported that after Obama appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2006, “Internet searches on the Illinois senator vaulted 358% the week following…”
A plug from Oprah launched countless best selling books within hours, propelled Dr. Phil McGraw to stardom and inspired nationwide campaigns like Oprah’s Angel Network. Marketers can’t create a commercial to top the promotional benefits of Oprah’s praise. Obama is her latest product and she will easily secure the dollars for a lucrative campaign. He already raised 31 million between April and June,– significantly more than Clinton (though she leads in polls) — astonishing numbers for someone with so little experience.
Oprah says her financial contribution, because the amount is limited, “won’t make any difference to [Obama]”– and she told King that her “value to him, my support of him is probably worth more than any check that I could write.”
In a personal interview with Obama, Oprah said, "I don’t consider myself political and I seldom interview politicians. So when I decided to talk with you [Barack], people around me were like, ‘What’s happened to you?’ I said, ‘I think this is beyond and above politics.’ It feels like something new."
In his 2004 speech at the Democratic National convention, Obama famously said, "There is not a black America and a white America, a Latino America, an Asian America. There’s the United States of America." However, these words don’t match his public image.
He identifies as an African-American though he was raised predominantly by his white mother. Interviews — including Oprah’s (“Do you think you’ll be the first black president?”) always draw race into the conversation. He has said, “There’s no doubt that the day I’m inaugurated the world looks at America differently.”
But in anticipation of making history, Obama’s inexperience and lack of substance, is overlooked. When Time Magazine named Oprah one of the 100 Most Important People of the Century they wrote, “Women, especially, listen to Winfrey because they feel as if she’s a friend.”
But when she says this is “beyond politics” and he muses about “hope,” one wonders in what dream world they reside? Oprah is approaching this election like her television show and people are buying it because Obama sounds like one of the life coaches that sits on the screen and tells you to “be your best self.”
In a recent interview, Obama said, “I do think that the skills I bring to the race — the capacity to talk about issues in ways that bring people together, the ability to maybe inspire people who haven’t been involved in the process to get involved, a certain self-reflective quality in how I approach issues and a willingness to consider other points of view.”
That’s fine for the emotionally driven Oprah crowd, but not for being President of the United States. In a Washington Post article, Obama’s chief media strategist David Axelrod said "It’s going to be the movement of millions of people." The vague terminology that punctuates Obama’s campaign should be America’s clue to jump ship and not ride the Oprah bandwagon.
So Barack Obama — the man with a "common sense, non-ideological, practical-minded, generous agenda for change in this country" — should recognize that America requires more than a sugar coated splash of hope and heartwarming hour of Oprah could begin to tackle.