During the opening of the 2018 Golden Globe Awards programme, host Seth Meyers toyed with the idea of a possible Oprah Winfrey presidential campaign. When Winfrey took the stage later that night, the speech she gave was no joke.
There are reports emerging in the US that she is actively entertaining the notion.
For years the queen of US talk shows, she has produced and acted in movies and now runs a cable TV channel.
Her speech at the Globes sounded an awful lot like a presidential candidate on the campaign stump – polished and effective.
Here are a few reasons why.
« In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee, watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards. She opened the envelope and said five words that literally made history: ‘The winner is Sidney Poitier.‘«
Authenticity has become a buzzword in American politics of late, ever since Donald Trump skewered a field of polished politicians on his way to the White House in 2016. Winfrey opened her speech on Sunday night by recalling what it was like when she was a child, watching the first black person win a major Academy Award.
The « humble roots » narrative is a staple for many an accomplished politician, a way of grounding candidates to ordinary Americans despite their rise to the nation’s elite. By reminding viewers of her childhood spent on « linoleum floors » – in Wisconsin, a rust-belt swing state, no less – Winfrey hits the mark.
Statement of purpose
« What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. »
Truth against power isn’t exactly a new theme in US politics, but it is an effective one.
Mr Trump campaigned on his own version. He was the outsider railing against career politicians who, as he said in his inaugural address, « reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost ».
After a tip of the hat to a free press that uncovers « the absolute truth », Winfrey broadened her message to include women from all walks of life – domestic employees, farmhands, factory workers, doctors and soldiers – who have « endured years of abuse and assault ».
If Winfrey were to run, her adversaries would try to characterise her as a Hollywood insider, out of touch with the real world. Passages like the above show how she might try to position herself as the voice of a movement.
« Recy Taylor died 10 days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday. She lived, as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. And for too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up.«
Midway through her speech, Winfrey narrowed the focus, recounting the story of Recy Taylor, who was abducted and raped by six white men in 1944. Taylor’s case was taken up by the NAACP and Rosa Parks, 11 years before she became famous for her Montgomery bus protest.
Ronald Reagan, during his State of the Union addresses in the 1980s, innovated the use of personal heroes to illustrate his points – an oratory technique that’s now a staple of political speeches. Winfrey ticks another box.(bbc)