Commentary Magazine


Oprah Windbag

The web of “spiritual” gobbledygook around the Oprah Winfrey phenomenon is as thick and tacky as the fake eye-lashes she cried off her face during Barack Obama’s speech last Thursday. But if you do decide to “Live Your Best Life” and venture into the misty realms of Oprah’s “Angel Network,” you’ll find on her web page a dropdown menu under “Spirit,” and the last option there–after “Know Yourself,” “Inspiration,” “Emotional Health,” and “Body Image”–is “Martha Beck.” Beck is one of the luminaries in Oprah’s pantheon of guru saints, and if I were her I’d be severing all ties with Oprah today.

Beck wrote a book entitled Expecting Adam about how she and her husband, both Harvard-educated success stories, decided to ignore all advice to the contrary and keep their unborn son Adam after doctors diagnosed him with Down’s Syndrome. Beck appeared on an installment of Oprah’s show called “Lifestyle Makeovers: How Well Do You Cope?” Here is a sampling of what she had to impart to Oprah and her audience:

I thought my son would make me a slave with his needs and his special problems, but instead he has set me free. . . It blew my whole world apart. My first reaction was, if I keep this baby it will ruin my life. And my second reaction was-I’m keepin’ this baby. . . He was born on Mothers Day, and I was absolutely terrified. It took me about a year to stop grieving – I was grieving the loss of an expectation. . . It was a tragedy for the person I was at the time. For the person I am now – it was the best thing that ever happened to me. . . The world teaches that if we’re not quite good enough, we have to worry about measuring-up. When Adam came, I knew he was never going to measure up. So I was able to completely embrace him and adore him exactly as he was . . . From the moment he was born, he was completely devoted to getting the most joyful experience out of every day. And he taught me how to do that . . . I felt connected to Adam’s spirit long before he was born. What I didn’t know is that he would teach me to connect with my own spirit.

You get the point. Martha Beck offered to Oprah’s audience her personal experience regarding the ultimate joy she derived from keeping her Down’s Syndrome child. This was an inspirational appearance – the message being, unmistakably: special needs children are blessings and compliments, not impediments to a rich life.

Now, Oprah has called Beck, “one of the smartest women I know,” and if she believes in a fraction of what she celebrates about Beck’s story and really wants to “start a kindness chain” as she professes on her website then she should explain to Beck, and her own audience, why she’s refusing to have Sarah Palin on her show. What greater living exemplar of all the sentiments expressed above than Sarah Palin – a woman whose unconditional love for her Down’s Syndrome child could serve as a the most effective public object lesson  imaginable. Oprah should explain to Beck, and her trusting audience, why on Dec 4, 2007, she put out a casting call for “10 to 11 year olds with DS [Down Syndrome] and good speaking skills” to “say a line for [her] Martin Luther King episode,” but after crying her eyelashes off on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” she is refusing to have on her show a mother who embodies the spirit of love and acceptance professed by Dr. King. She needs to tell Martha Beck: “Yeah, I know about your son, and I know about my whole pledge to change lives for the better and all that, but you see, the thing is I signed on to support Barack Obama, and I have to stay true to his message of hope, change, and the American promise.”