With the writer’s strike in play, the nation has been badly missing its nightly dose of John Stewart, especially when it comes to those clips showing a series of one pundit after another banally repeating the same talking points with overwrought intensity. What has particularly been driving me crazy these past few days is hearing over and over again one pundit after another saying they don’t think Oprah Winfrey will have that much impact on the presidential campaign and that she might be getting in over her head.
What the pundits don’t get about Oprah is that she is like MoveOn.org and Ross Perot: She is an available high capacity vehicle for the people’s political energy in a time when the political process is completely clogged up by corruption and our government is utterly dysfunctional. It’s not about Oprah’s impact. And she doesn’t have to pass any “gotcha” question test. All Oprah has to do is offer the people a compellingly powerful platform they recognize as also having more integrity than they find in the charade that has become our election process.
When a rushing river runs up against a dam, it tests the banks to find the path of least resistance. This is the situation in which we, the American people, find ourselves as we approach the 2008 election. We desperately need a means of securing political leadership that represents our interests, and yet, our candidates dependency on corporate cash and the corruption of the political process that has ensued block our way forward in pursuing this goal. Accordingly, we are swelling at the edges of the political discourse, looking for a new way through, a new way to engage in politics that will make us feel like we are at least dealing with a human being, instead of a corporation.
Wait, I know what you will say: Oprah is, herself, a corporation. Also: Obama is just as compromised by corporate cash as any candidate out there. Hey, I’m not denying either of these facts. I don’t even endorse Obama. I’m not trying to paint either Oprah or Obama as heroes in a time of need; rather, I’m saying they are a sign that our political energies have been completely obstructed in our so-called democracy.
These synchronized pundits blow-harding the corporate tune are attempting a pre-emptive assault on Oprah’s ability to impact the election in hopes of shutting down the mobilization of our political energy even before it gets rolling. It’s dangerous for the elite rich who run our country when the people discover that a trusted talk-show host is willing to become a partner in their political interests. It’s really dangerous for the elite rich when the trusted talk-show host begins to understand how good it is for her career to partner with the people’s political interests in the political arena.
Again, I’m not saying Oprah/Obama is the answer; I’m only saying the people are desperate for something that seems more genuine and yet has the clout to make a difference. That’s why Oprah is Good. Oprah is more genuine than Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama put together. Her relationship with millions of Americans, her connections with leaders in every aspect of our culture, and her phenomenal business success give her tremendous clout. Best of all, this combination of genuineness and clout comes “outside the box.”
On one hand, Oprah’s involvement in the presidential campaign may prove no more exciting than the YouTube debates have been. On the other hand, there is always that potential of some new innovation in the conduct of American political discourse that might suddenly give the people back some of the political leverage they have lost over the last four decades.
The reason pundits are bad is that they make money out of doing something that is inherently bad for us. It is bad to speculate about what will happen in the political process, just as it is bad to take opinion polls during a campaign. Such polls and such speculation serve no legitimate purpose. They only offer asinine commentary. Ultimately, they are intended to persuade people to vote and speak based on a calculation, not of what is best for our country, but of what we think the odds of winning are.
These pundits would try to justify this type of odds calculation as merely realistic pragmatism, but in fact it amounts to turning our back on democracy and surrendering our integrity to be on a winning team in a competition we ourselves have rendered meaningless. Why does it matter what we think Oprah’s impact will be? Shouldn’t we just listen to her and see how we feel afterwards?
These damn pundits deliberately get in the way of our attempts to innovate at a time when our access to the political process is already blocked by corporate campaign finance. They are bad, bad, bad. Oprah has a relationship with millions of Americans that offers intelligence, sincerity, and sophistication, which, however moderate or profitable it may be, is light-years beyond what our political process offers today in terms of concern for advancing our humanity. For this, I say she is good, good, good.
I don’t know if I will vote for Obama, but by creating the opportunity for the political discourse of his campaign to become more innovative I think he is distinguishing himself from his rivals. As for Oprah, her involvement reveals our cable television pundits for what they really are: yapping lap dogs on the leash of corporate America.
Hank Edson is an author, activist and attorney based in San Francisco. His blog is “MP3-My Politics and Progressive Perspective.”