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What Kind of Country Wants Oprah vs. The Donald for President? (Forbes.com) January 9, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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As social media blows up over the possibility of Oprah Winfrey running for president in 2020, the words of 1950s presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson come to mind:  “In America anyone can be president.  That’s one of the risks you take.”

Anyone indeed.  Now we face the specter of a billionaire businessman and media star who had never held or run for political office against a billionaire businesswoman and media star who has never held or run for political office.  And people are excited about this.  Of course Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has said he’s interested in running also, so we cannot be certain how this might sort out.

The serious question this poses is what kind of country we have become that such a presidential field seems desirable to voters.  For one thing, we are becoming a country that uses politics and elective office to make statements more than actually govern.  We have no idea what kind of policies Oprah stands for and, even after a year of Trump’s presidency, his policy approach is at best scattered.  Apparently people prefer to “say something” with their vote rather than “do something” about policy and governing.  We have long seen this in California where we adopt ballot propositions that make a statement—such as Proposition 13 about high property taxes—but are deeply flawed as a tool of governing.

A related problem is that we are making the presidency into all bully pulpit and no real leadership, all hat and no cattle as they say in Texas.  When President Theodore Roosevelt spoke of the president having a bully pulpit, he meant a platform from which leadership could be projected and work could get done.  Now, with Trump’s Twitter account and Oprah’s television shows, we want all platform and no agenda.  We want to elect the candidate with the biggest megaphone, not with the most extensive political experience or ideas.  We are becoming, as theologian Elton Trueblood put it, “a cut-flower civilization” with no real roots or beliefs.  We want media stars who speak in sound bites and solve problems in one-hour TV episodes:  “Look, up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s Superman!”  Indeed, Norman Mailer described media-friendly John F. Kennedy’s appeal in an article titled, “Superman Comes to the Supermarket.”  But at least Kennedy had some real political experience and ideas.  Surely we have learned by now that a great speech, like Oprah’s at the Golden Globes, does not make a great president.

I would add that we seem to be a country that is more interested in instant gratification from our leaders than actual deliberation.  The greatest deliberative body in the world, the US Senate, doesn’t really deliberate anymore.  Bills are introduced by one party and they are only brought to a vote when that party has enough votes to pass it.  Much of what passes for action in Washington now is by way of executive orders or agency regulations, not deliberation.  As Franklin Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address as president during the Great Depression, “The American people want action, and action now.”  Well that’s what presidents and Congress are still offering us—partisan action, not bipartisan deliberation.

We must remember that citizens have duties in the electoral process as well as the candidates.  We read that the great populist wave in America is frustrated that the politicians and elites don’t get it.  Well, the citizens need to get it also.  They need to get that elections and governing are about more than just expressing frustration and making statements.  They are about deciding the policy direction the country will follow.  We need to see the pendulum swing from elite-bashing to serious and mature judgments about the kind of candidates, experience and bipartisanship that would actually make America work again.

Maybe author Cormac McCarthy was right that this is “no country for old men.”  But the old ideas from the founders about how government works are not all bad.  They have endured longer than any other government in history in large part because they are good ideas that actually work.  Maybe we should try them.

 

To view the column at Forbes.com:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2018/01/09/what-kind-of-country-wants-oprah-versus-the-donald-for-president/#941a33b70777

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