Commentary Magazine


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Oprah for President

Newsweek reveals the history of Oprah Winfrey and the Trinity United Church of Christ, a story that demonstrates the talk show host’s superior judgment relative to the man she endorsed for president.

In the early 1980′s, Oprah, like Obama, was an ambitious Chicago professional “eager to bond with the movers and shakers in her new hometown’s black community.” She joined Trinity in 1984. But she didn’t last long. Winfrey was a member of the Church for just two years, then began attending services “off and on into the early to the mid-1990s. But then she stopped.” Newsweek reports that it was Wright’s sermonizing which dissuaded her.

That Oprah is a savvy operator isn’t news: she has made herself into one of the most successful and powerful women in the world. What it more importantly tells us is that at least one prominent Church member had a problem with Wright as early as the mid-1980′s, right at around the time Obama’s relationship with Wright was forming. What did Winfrey see in Wright that so disturbed her but that Obama somehow missed or wasn’t bothered by?

“According to two sources, Winfrey was never comfortable with the tone of Wright’s more incendiary sermons, which she knew had the power to damage her standing as America’s favorite daytime talk-show host,” Newsweek reports. This explanation makes Winfrey’s discomfort with Wright sound purely cynical, motivated by a brutal calculation that determined an affiliation with the preacher wasn’t worth the potential cost to her image as a daytime diva.

Maybe so. Yet from my (admittedly limited) knowledge of Oprah, there isn’t much in common with her feel-good, non-sectarian, multicultural positivism and the angry, racist, conspiratorial rantings of Wright. Yes, it was in her interest to dissociate herself from Wright. But, judging by her own stated philosophy, they have very different views of the world. Indeed, Winfrey’s self-transformation into the most popular woman in America (especially with the sort of middle-class, white housewives Obama is having so much trouble attracting) puts a rather large dent into the Jeremiah Wright History of the United States.

Given his thin legislative record, Barack Obama is running on his reputed judgment and personal story. Oprah Winfrey has a personal story to match (not to mention peerless skill in private-sector management, something Obama lacks entirely). Plus, she abandoned Jeremiah Wright long before it was fashionable. If there’s a case for Obama, I don’t see why there isn’t one for Oprah as well. Oprah for President!