Michael Moore cannot be serious. In his new book, Dude, Where's My Country?, Moore makes several misguided appeals to get Oprah to run for President in 2004. She may generate charismatic leadership and passion. But, the triumph of celebrity in California notwithstanding, that's hardly enough to recommend her. Is hers the informed, politically mature leadership America needs? Despite her many worthwhile charities, when politics is concerned, she is doing more harm than good.
Forget for the moment her psychobabble guest of the week, her recitation ad nauseam of discredited self-esteem theory (and other psychological fabrications), her high-end materialism, her crusade to makeover America's women, or her gullible fawning over empty-headed guru Gary Zukov. What's more disturbing is Oprah's blatant biasing of the recent California recall with her guesting of Arnold Schwartzenegger and "her good friend" Maria Shriver just days before the election.
On Oprah's show, Maria and Arnold waxed poetic about their supposedly wonderful marriage, even as over a dozen women went public saying otherwise. The recall was an effort by the GOP to undo yet another election. For example, in 2000, the GOP unlawfully dumped thousands of legally registered Democrats (more than the difference between Gore and Bush) from the Florida voter rolls and prevented them from voting. Tom Delay and the Texas Republicans undid post-census, court-approved redistricting by gerrymandering seven more GOP congressional seats in Texas alone. Companies owned by big GOP donors now control election machines in most states and these same companies refuse to provide a paper trail, publish the codes for these voting systems, or permit any oversight. No maneuver is too bold for the GOP pirates, yet Oprah said nothing.
Reliable poll after reliable poll reveals the electorate's views more closely parallel the Democrats'. But, Republicans wedge that consensus by playing to a few emotional grenade issues, including abortion, gay rights, and who "loves Jesus more." Arnold couldn't play those tunes. So, the GOP found another way. Not surprisingly, Arnold took a page from the Reagan gubernatorial playbook and the movie, Network's, "mad as hell" mantra. Another unoriginal touch was his appropriation of the "No-car-tax," one-liner from budget-destroying former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore. Moreover, by airing Arnold unchallenged, Oprah blurred all the stark differences between the two parties' agendas and exploited Californians' focus on general outrage. The real roots of California's fiscal problems are mostly the handiwork of the GOP (e.g., the contrived energy crisis, unjustified federal tax cuts, Proposition 13, and the stallout in the legislature due to 2/3 rule for California. budget items).
As the famous Enron emails reveal, in 2001, Arnold met with Ken Lay regarding California's energy crisis...this when Enron was causing a good deal of the crisis itself by contriving false shortages and extorting usurious rates from California ratepayers. Why did Arnold, no expert on energy policy, meet with Lay and other Enron officials? A year later, within days after the November 2002 election of Davis, Arnold met with Pete Wilson to plot his next "Terminator" role. But when the time came, he delayed his candidacy, thus avoiding close, extended, and thorough scrutiny until it was too late.
Oprah never challenged Arnold's claims that he didn't know George W. Bush well, even though Barbara Bush's own book clearly states otherwise. This connection isn't trivial because it relates to whether the whole sorry recall was orchestrated by the White House. Instead, Oprah presented a puff-piece interview, helping to deliver to her friend's "isn't-he-charming?" hubby 43% of the women's vote.
Several other intrusions into the political arena with her "entertainment" show deserve mention. For example, the Monday after the Starr report was released, she led her viewers in national "chest beating," and even a televised prayer, because Bill Clinton had consensual sex with "that woman." By her sanctimoniousness, Oprah may have turned many in her audience into cheerleaders for Ken Starr. (So much outrage then and so little now when Bush administration lies are so much more grave and costly to us all!) Moreover, while railing about others' failures regarding marriage vows, she refuses to take any of her own--after about two decades with Stedman.
In 2000, Oprah "balanced" Al Gore's visit by letting W. kiss her on the cheek and get away with his "compassionate conservative" act unchallenged. Had she researched his record in Texas, she'd have found that him anything but compassionate. Bush left a gaping hole in the Texas budget following his record-setting tax cut. He produced the worst pollution record in the nation and gave Texas its forerunner of "Leave No Child Behind," which did the opposite. Elsewhere, he bragged about executing Texans, but refused to properly scrutinize death penalty cases--one of his jobs as governor. How many innocent lives were lost to the hands of his prison-industrial complex? Bush's talk show credentials were that he appeared "nicer" and "loved Jesus" more than Gore. Any second thoughts about that now? Millions of women no doubt saw Bush in a more favorable light, even while learning nothing about him that mattered.
More recently, Oprah invited Judith Miller, author of now-discredited columns on Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction" to scare the bejeebers out of the audience. And so viewers went, white-knuckled, into a trumped-up war against Iraq, even without any imminent threat. The weapons inspectors (current and previous), even our own national intelligence agencies, attested Iraq posed no such threat. Still, serving as a direct mouthpiece for the prevaricating hawks in the administration, Miller spewed warnings about bio-weapons in our hometowns.
Since the Arnold fiasco, Condoleezza Rice brought the White House Disinformation Tour to the Oprah show. Again, Oprah failed to ask meaningful questions. What about Rice's links to one of the oil companies hoping to benefit from the invasion of Iraq? Of all the White House prevaricators, Rice may hold the record for inventing language to stretch, and contradict the truth. Her frequent story telling (Saddam "is determined" to strike us--as if she can read his mind) continues unabated. She has made outright misrepresentations of facts (e.g. that no one could have known someone intended to fly airplanes into US skyscrapers) even as she knew, or should have known, that intelligence had revealed such a possibility. She told us Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs and that he was an imminent threat to Americans. But even at the height of the war, Saddam didn't attack America. So, the administration un-truth squad labels small insurrections in a country we now occupy as proof, post hoc, that Saddam has committed terrorist acts against the US. Rice's dissembling would have merited an investigation by the opposing party during any Democratic administration. But on Oprah, Rice entertained no serious questions and Oprah seemed happy to oblige.
The past two years have been a test in courage for those who should have used their leverage with the public to advance clear thinking, not collude to the tune of lost lives, liberties and the nation's economic and international security. Oprah may not be a TV news anchor, but increasingly she plays one. Despite her generous, well-intentioned Angel Network and other considerable charities, Oprah has failed miserably at informing her audience. Most important, it's clear that Oprah ought to stick with what she does best -- entertainment. She's got a lot to learn about courage, leadership, and fairness. And, as presidential material, she's definitely not ready for prime time.
Kathryn Welch (Katyrwelch@aol.com) is a freelance writer and industrial-organizational psychologist who lives and writes in Blacksburg, VA. Her expertise includes leadership development and training.