Rishabh Kewalramani: Don't do it, Oprah

Tuesday, January 23, 2018 - 4:17pm

“Can we please watch anything else?” I implored my mother as I sat down for my after-school snack while secretly hoping she wouldn’t acquiesce to my demand. My bus dropped me off every day just in time for “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to come on at 4:00 p.m., and I had grown very fond of the woman who seemed to ooze charisma even through the TV screen. Oprah became a part of our families; she was our mom, sister, daughter and aunt all at the same time. She reminded us of this infectious personality with her monumental and empowering speech last week at the Golden Globe Awards. Seemingly instantaneously after the speech started, an all-too-familiar call to action resurfaced: “Oprah for president."

I understand the appeal. I really do. In many ways she is the opposite of President Trump so many of us crave; she is soft when he is abrasive, generous where he is stingy and likable while he’s laughable. However, I cannot in good conscience endorse her for president.

Her candidacy would fundamentally lessen what it means to be president of this great country. It is a slap in the face to so many who dedicate their lives to just have the chance to be in a position to lift up a nation. What does it say to John McCain, a war hero and lifetime civil servant, if Oprah wins and he didn’t? What does it say if we elect the second person in a row with no political experience or related educational background (a vast majority of presidents since the beginning of the 20th century have law degrees or advanced degrees in business and economics)? In a time where we wouldn’t hire an electrician in our homes without thoroughly reading their reviews and making sure they have the requisite training, it seems absolutely insane that we would be willing to give the hardest job on the planet without any record of how they would act in such an environment.

This past week, I learned about electoral politics in the developing world, the weaknesses of different times of autocracies and even the legal responsibilities of the president. As I sat in these classes and heard my peers discuss checks to presidential power, I couldn’t help but let my mind wander to the proposition of Oprah for president. Just by being an upperclassmen majoring in political science, we probably have more of a baseline of knowledge for the job than Oprah does. Having interned for various campaigns and political organizations, I have seen countless people who have foregone more lucrative career paths to start on a path of public service. Oprah didn’t do that. You don’t become a billionaire by sacrificing your life to public service. There is a very real difference between being a good person and being a good public servant.

We don’t need Oprah. If you want a candidate with a record of taking on gender issues, especially sexual assault, see Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D—N.Y. She has had a history of advocating for women’s rights, especially combating sexual harassment. Gillibrand got her bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth in Asian Studies and went to law school at UCLA. In her career, she has worked as special counsel to Andrew Cuomo, then—U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development—and served as a member of the House of Representatives. She is eminently more qualified than Oprah Winfrey and deserves your vote.

If a minority woman who has broken down barriers her whole life is more your speed, look no further than Senator Kamala Harris, D—Calif. Harris, a senator from California, is the second African American woman in the Senate and first Indian American. She received her bachelor’s in political science and economics from Howard University and her law degree from Hastings College. Furthermore, the senator has worked as a district attorney and as California’s attorney general. She is also richly deserving of your vote.

That right there is the crux of the issue — as soon as you pit Oprah against any qualified politician who has committed their life to serving, she should never stand a chance. Yet, a recent poll of a possible Democratic primary has her handily beating Gillibrand and Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. in a hypothetical one-on-one matchups. So, it’s up to Oprah to do what’s best for our country and come out and definitively say she’s not running.

Oprah, we all love you. Your humanitarian work is unparalleled, and your impact as a role model can never be forgotten. I’m not even saying you would be a bad president — you have shown your ability and intellect time and time again. However, this isn’t about you. This is about the office of the President of the United States. This is about having enough respect for that office to say that not just anybody can do the job. This is about reaffirming the fact that to be president, you actually need to know what you are doing.

Selfishly, this is about me. This is about me waking up at 8:30 a.m. and learning about autocracies and then campaigning in the evenings because I hope to one day be the President of the United States and be in the position to lift up a nation. Oprah, please don’t do it because I want to one day run for office in a country where we still recognize the work and sacrifices it takes to have that unparalleled responsibility.

Rishabh Kewalramani can be reached at rkew@umich.edu