Is it over? The Great Oprah Scare of 2020?
I could not tell this week whether I was watching America losing its mind more completely or beginning to claw back its sanity. Maybe a little of both.
It began Sunday night when Oprah Winfrey, accepting a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes, thundered out a rousing acceptance speech. No less a presidential expert than former White House counsel John Dean wrote that Winfrey "knew exactly what she was doing." Which was? "Testing her standing as presidential timber. Clearly, she's got it."
Thus was born Oprah 2020. As of this writing, the prediction markets, where people bet actual money on stuff like this, ranked Winfrey second behind President Trump among 2020 likely winners. (This is a useless metric this far away from an election, but it shows you how quickly faddish ideas can take hold.)
Political expert Meryl Streep said, although Oprah may not have planned to launch a run, "now she doesn't have a choice." That's too bad. I'm pro-choice.
The most excited famous person I cyber-encountered was vampire novelist Anne Rice who, after a few days, tweet-fessed: "I know I'm a stuck record. Oprah, Oprah, Oprah. But I haven't been this excited about (a possible) presidential candidate since Robert Kennedy. The Dems have an historic opportunity now with Oprah. And this country needs her. Everything is right about it."
Winfrey could have shut this whole idea down in 10 seconds (as she has in times bygone), but she didn't. Her proxies, including longtime Connecticut journalist Gayle King, engaged in verbal dove-releases of murky messages; "very intrigued" but not "actively considering." Try that at home. Try to be very intrigued by the idea of buying new sofa but not actively considering it.
This is a terrible idea. Therefore, cable news networks adored it. How could they not? In 2016, CNN made $100 million more than what it would make in a normal election year, and CNN's experience was not anomalous
A Winfrey run. A Winfrey-Trump clash. Do you have any idea what that's worth to mass media? Do numbers even go that high?
Discount TV news. They make more money from bad and unserious ideas than they do from solid and serious ones, so they just can't help themselves.
Gratifyingly, many average people — the ones I met on social media — seemed to know better. Even if they love Oprah, they seemed to understand that the presidency, our most important government job, should not be anyone's first government job. That truth is no longer an abstraction. We see it every day.
Now comes the hard part. I do not consider Winfrey to be an entirely serious person. She has a serious side. She's a wonderful philanthropist and an apostle for education. She can orchestra a substantive conversation.
But for much of her career she has preferred not to. She has spent an enormous amount of time conducting weepy interviews with celebrities and touting an endless array of anti-aging nostrums, surgery-free face-lifts and estrogen replacements. When the latter topic was discussed, noted medical expert Suzanne Somers was onstage explaining how she injects estrogen into her own vagina. The doctors who wanted to raise warnings had to sit in the audience and wait to be called on.
Winfrey has also given uncritical platforms to anti-vaxxers, psychics and people who talk to the dead. One of her greatest passions has been "The Secret," a cosmic philosophy that teaches, among other things, that we invite disease with our thoughts and can banish it the same way.
The New York Times in 2006 and Newsweek in 2009 talked to doctors about what happens when people demanded a cutting edge treatment they'd seen on "Oprah." A lot of them expressed anger or concern about procedures that cause more harm than good.
Celebrity culture is not a good place to go looking for serious answers. These are not fully serious people. An unserious man is our president. We should be planning a restoration of reason for the happy day he is unseated.
We are parched. I know. We are thirsty. But that's when you have to be careful, because any watering hole looks good.
Colin McEnroe appears from 1 to 2 p.m. weekdays on WNPR-FM (90.5). He can be reached at Colin@wnpr.org.