Memo to Oprah and the Democrats... one terrific speech doesn't mean that you're presidential material
As you might have heard, Oprah Winfrey went on stage at the Golden Globes last weekend to receive an honorary gong for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment and proceeded to create the impression she's ready now to make outstanding contributions to the world of politics. Like doing mankind the giant favour of denying Donald Trump a second term.
No question, her speech was a humdinger. "Their time is up," she declared a first time, serving notice not just to men who thought they would always get away with demeaning women, but also, implicitly, to Trump and his entourage. "Their time is up," she said again, popping prosperous bums from seats in the ballroom where the awards were nearing completion. When she said it a third time, everyone was on their feet, tears on their cheeks.
Winfrey is not a person short of achievements. She gave away cars on TV. She founded her own broadcast network (called OWN). She started a book club. She acted. She was a producer on Broadway. She befriended presidents. She's a billionaire. Still, this was quite something. With one address lasting 10 minutes, she forced the entire country to take seriously the proposition that she could be the Democratic nominee in 2020. And that she could beat Trump.
There are examples in American history of single speeches if not creating political careers from scratch, which is what we would be talking about here, then at least catapulting those who delivered them into entirely new orbits of political relevance. But, generally speaking, they have not occurred at celebrity award shows. They have happened at places concerned with politics.
We have the example of Barack Obama in 2004. Then merely a state senator from Illinois (though a candidate at the time for the US Senate), he was invited by that year's Democrat nominee, John Kerry, to take on the coveted job as keynote speaker at the party's national convention in Boston. And he hit it out of the park.
Writing for the New York Times in 2016, journalist Mark Leibovitch recalled being in Boston and the young senator protesting to him that the wild reaction to his speech and the speculation that followed of his running for president four years later would quickly subside. The "flavour of the month, or the flavour of the week, or whatever," is how Obama described himself.
Either he had already mastered the art of false modesty, or he was simply wrong. The Obama train that departed the station because of that one Boston oration never slowed down, but simply gained momentum until he was, indeed, nominated and elected in 2008.
Yet, there is nothing hard and fast here. It is possible to mesmerise delegates at a party convention while harbouring zero interest in one day becoming president, even if your husband has had the job for the previous eight years.
That would be Michelle Obama, who got sizzling grades for her words at Hillary Clinton's convention in Philadelphia in 2016. The first black female president she will never be. So, go Oprah, we are meant to chant.
Who knows what is in Winfrey's mind? Her close pal and broadcaster, Gayle King, said she'd discussed the reaction to the Globes speech with her and she was "intrigued" about possibly running in 2020, but nothing more.
"She loves this country and would like to be of service in some way. But I don't think she's actively considering it at this time," King said.
She would be well advised to remember this. You can give a great speech and not become president. You can give a lousy speech and become president. There is no straight line in these things, especially if the address you are being feted for was delivered to a bunch of actors in Beverly Hills.
History doesn't rule out a President Winfrey, but it advises us to calm down.