Ever since Oprah Winfrey spoke at the 2018 Golden Globes, the general populace has been abuzz over a potential presidential run. And why not? The last election has proven that, unlike any other job, experience is somehow not a requirement to hold the highest public office in the United States. So yes, there is an argument to be made regarding whether or not she should run.
However, let us go over Oprah’s qualifications: she has no governmental, political, diplomatic, or military experience. Oprah’s most relevant accomplishments are her philanthropic work, particularly with regards to education.
According to Inside Philanthropy, Oprah’s Angel Network established 60 schools and donated $3.5 million in scholarships between 1998 and 2010. Its successor, Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation, “had given away approximately $400 million to educational causes by 2012.” Though these are promising statistics, Oprah has yet to demonstrate substantive knowledge on issues such as the student loan debt crisis or rural poverty.
Nevertheless, as we all know, Oprah would not be the first celebrity to run for office. That title, in fact, does not belong to Trump either, as long before the Trump candidacy, there was another celebrity-turned politician: Arnold Schwarzenegger, former governor of California. However, the component that distinguishes Schwarzenegger from Trump and Oprah is experience.
According to Ballotpedia, Schwarzenegger, appointed by President George H.W. Bush, served on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports from 1990 to 1993. He later served under Governor Pete Wilson on the California governor’s own Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Schwarzenegger used these opportunities to promote school fitness programs nationwide and he ultimately spearheaded the creation of the After School Education and Safety Program Act of 2002.
Though his track record is admittedly not stellar in comparison to lifelong politicians, Schwarzenegger still trumped Oprah in this area. With regards to our current president’s lack of political experience, it is my opinion that Trump should and is being held to the same standard. His administration has shown why the president needs to be knowledgeable in the political sphere.
His approval ratings both before and after the election speak for themselves. NBC News reported that 61 percent of Americans were concerned with Trump’s lack of political credentials prior to the election. This could have been one of the factors that led to Trump not winning the popular vote. Perception has not changed much, as 56 percent of Americans currently believe that Trump is unfit for high office, according to Quinnipiac University.
The same standard applies to Oprah. “A majority of voters across several polls don’t think Winfrey should run for the White House,” POLITICO reported. “Even among Democratic voters, more say she shouldn’t run for president than should.”
A recent poll conducted by POLITICO and Morning Consult found that Oprah was leading Trump by only two percent among registered voters, with 22 percent undecided. In spite of Oprah’s media presence, she still performed lacklusterly against a president who has a 45 percent approval rating—one of the lowest in history.
Members of the RM community say that a candidate’s brand is irrelevant. “You essentially need to be well-rounded and well-informed,” RMBC technical engineer Eric Rodney said. “Qualifications matter, not stardom.”
Some are more willing to give Oprah—and celebrity candidates in general—a chance. Senior Annie Schauer said, “Experience doesn’t matter as long as they do the right thing.”
However, even if Oprah had thoughtful policy solutions, they would never receive any news coverage. Having Oprah as an electoral candidate would simply give the media an excuse to focus on the “horse race” aspect of politics.
This was a trend we already saw with the 2016 election: Harvard University researchers found that coverage of the election was “extremely light on policy”. The mainstream press only covered candidates’ policy position ten percent of the time during the 2016 presidential race. Leadership experience was only covered three percent of the time. This happened when only one television personality was running; imagine what would happen in a race between two of them.
Americans do not need Oprah, Mark Zuckerberg, the Rock, or any other celebrity to run and turn politics into a form of entertainment. Elections need to be about policy, not public persona. If the next American presidential election devolves into a battle between celebrity TV hosts, it would make a mockery out of our system of government.