Posted Wednesday morning, January 10, 2018.
Yet another scene from the 2016 presidential campaign trail of Hillary Clinton failing to inspire her voters. HRC at a rally in Las Vegas, February 2016. Photo by David Becker courtesy of Reuters, via MSNBC.
Oh for Pete’s sake!
From NBC News:
WASHINGTON — Oprah Winfrey's still a long way from the Oval Office, but a new O-for-POTUS boomlet caught fire after she delivered the kind of inspirational and aspirational message at the Golden Globes that Hillary Clinton had trouble hammering home in the 2016 presidential election.
What’s the news here? That a practiced television personality with decades of experience, one of the most eloquent and quick-witted talk show hosts ever, an Oscar-nominated actress, and a remarkably charismatic human being blessed with a marvelously mellifluous voice that she’s spent her adult life training and honing can deliver a speech better than a politician?
Or is the news, once again, that “It’s her fault she lost! We in the media had nothing to do with it!”
Never mind what Oprah said and why she was saying it. The important thing about her speech was how it reflected on Hillary Clinton and showed that she was a “fatally flawed” candidate who deserved to lose!
Here’s a surprise. The story’s by Jonathan Allen, co-author of Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, a book whose main theme is signaled in the subtitle. HRC was doomed to lose from the start so it didn’t matter what we in the political press corps did with our relentlessly negative coverage of her and our celebrity-worshipping coverage of Donald Trump.
Not to take anything away from Oprah or minimize the importance of her speech, but it was one speech delivered to a receptive and sympathetic, not to mention comfortable and well-fed and---the Golden Globes being what they are---well-oiled audience on a topic everyone in the room was already keyed up to hear about and not one of a dozen delivered over the course of three days in five states to audiences of skeptical voters who’d been lined up for hours in the heat or the cold or the rain on one of those scintillating topics like free trade or how to pay for infrastructure projects.
It’s not just media types who’d rather cover a barnburner of a speech than report on the issues the barnburning politician making the speech might be ignoring or demonstrating he knows jack about. All Obama’s presidency, liberals on the internet kept waiting for him to deliver the speech that would rally the nation and rout the Republicans once and for all. Too many of us think politics is easy and leadership simply a skill you can learn the way you can learn how to...um...knit.
A great leader should be able to deliver a great speech. Every candidate for high public office should make a hard study of the examples of Lincoln and Churchill and Obama and Oprah. And it’s true. Hillary is not in their league as a public speaker. (Who is?) The words are fine. Her delivery isn’t always pitch perfect or well-timed. She doesn’t have the greatest public speaking voice. (She has a wonderful personal voice that serves her well when she meets one on one with voters, gives interviews, and enters into debates---that’s part of why she won every single debate against Bernie and Trump and carried off every town hall and “forum”, including the one a now-revealed and disgraced misogynistic and creep of a morning talk show host tried his sexist best to throw to Trump.) But she can and did deliver a good speech. But how would the political press know?
They didn’t cover her speeches.
They critiqued them.
And found them wanting in the kind of chills and thrills that they needed to keep them awake.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s speeches were gibberish What wasn’t gibberish were lies. What wasn’t gibberish and lies was pure racist demagoguery. Actually, the gibberish and lies were racist demagoguery too. But his mobs went wild and the fans at home couldn’t get enough so his speeches weren’t covered so much as sold. Rather, they were used to sell.
Buy our paper! Watch our network! Visit our website! Now with more and better Trump!
CNN was the worst offender. Ironic, considering. But it’s hard to think of a major news outlet that didn’t use Trump to the fullest to pump up the ratings and garner the clicks.
Hillary spoke like a grown up to grown ups. Trump ranted and raved like a racist idiot to mobs of fellow racist idiots. But the latter made for dramatic television and the former bored journalists.
Both Hillary and Trump stirred the passions of their bases. But Hillary’s base was mature women of all colors and their passions were hope-filled, positive, idealistic but realistic, and contained the way adults contain their emotions. Trump’s base was emotionally stunted middle-aged white guys whose passions were dark, angry, and hate-filled, and who thought the way to make America great was to make them feel good about being angry and hateful and stupid.
Hillary inspired nearly 66 million people to vote for, but most of them weren’t people the white men who dominate the news media are interested in or even think are worth being interested in.
By the way, one of the people she inspired was Oprah Winfrey.
I said I don't want to minimize the importance of Oprah’s speech but Allen does just that by treating it as nothing more than early campaign speech. Her subject is of minor importance to him. The issue and the moment to which she spoke he more or less waves away. What matters to him is how well it might play to voters. Would it turn out the crowds on the campaign trail and get people to vote for her? How effective was it as a proto-stump speech? Which of course is asking how effective was it as an advertisement for herself, as though Oprah was there to advance her brand.
Even more insulting, given who we know pundits think Hillary should have been inspiring, is the implicit assumption that Oprah’s more important audience was white men who probably weren't even watching----Alabama beat Georgia, by the way. Maybe you heard?---and not the women in the room and in the industry and among her staunchest fans, the ones who really on her to give them hope and strength, and, basically, women everywhere. She spoke to the men in the room to but it wasn't exactly to inspire them.
“Anticipation of a possible celebrity throw-down between Winfrey and President Donald Trump has grown in recent months…” says Allen, and I’m sure it has, particularly among hack political journalists who are bored with covering actual events and real issues and who would rather play their profession’s equivalent of fantasy football. And that’s what this story is, fantasy football. Allen treats speculation about what might be happening two years from now as if it is happening in the here and now. The most speculative thing about his intellectual game-playing is that Trump will be the GOP nominee in 2020, that he’ll even still be in office.
And I love the way Allen calls his fantasy presidential election a “throw-down”. If Trump is the nominee, then the election will be about whether the worst and most destructive human being who’s ever held the office of President of the United States who will no doubt take his re-election as permission to be even more destructive should be allowed to continue in the job. In other words, it will be one of the most crucial presidential elections in our history with the fate of our continued Republic at stake. But, you know, it’s all a game, so what the hell, let’s talk about it as if it’s a professional wrestling match.
Back to football.
Allen devotes one, quick, cursory paragraph to to “analyzing” the match-up between Oprah and the Donald, comparing their strengths as if they’re the starting quarterbacks for rival teams. It’s an equal contest, as far as he sees it. Celebrity versus Celebrity.
If Allen had really wanted to do his job as self-assigned pseudo-sports analyst, he’d have analyzed their records. If he’d done that, he’d have found that Oprah is pretty much the anti-Trump. She is what he pretends to be.
Her celebrity is of her own creation and a product of her own management. Her talk show isn’t reality television and it isn’t a game show. It’s real conversation with real people about things that really matter, and her television persona is a real side of her. “Oprah Winfrey” isn’t a character somebody else created for Oprah Winfrey to play. There aren’t quotation marks around her name the way there are about “Donald Trump” the character from The Apprentice a lot of people mistook for the guy who ran for President.
She’s an actual stable genius of a businessperson. Her companies have been continuously successful. She’s worth billions. She’s made her money by delivering real goods and services and not by conning people into handing her gobs of money for her to lose in risky and careless business schemes and scams. And hers is a true rags to riches story. She didn’t get started with the help of a “small loan” from her millionaire slumlord of a father.
She’s an actual philanthropist. Oprah’s Angel Network was not a tax dodge and a money laundering scheme. Students at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls get more out of their education than damages awarded in a lawsuit.
She’s authentically religious and spiritual and she’s well versed in her verses: she knows whereof she speaks and she practices what she preaches.
When it comes to politics, there’s no doubt Oprah knows her stuff. She does her homework. She’s mastered the details of policies and programs. She’s never held political office, but her political involvement has been deep, committed, passionate, and effective and has made her not just a savvy politician by default but a true and---yep---inspiring political leader.
And if populism has any usefulness as a word besides as euphemism for “racist demagogue”---and it’s looking as though as far as political journalists know or care it doesn’t---if it means what William Jennings Bryan stood for, the championing of the people against the depredations of the greedy rich elites, then Oprah is the true populist not the guy who the press let pretend to be one during last year’s election campaign.
None of that seems to have weighed heavily on Allen’s mind.
I don’t know. Maybe Hillary would have won if she’d been able be more like Oprah on the stump. Maybe she’d have inspired enough of those Democrats who stayed home to come out to vote for her. Maybe she’d have inspired enough Millennials who voted third party or wrote in Bernie’s name to vote for her instead of “voting their consciences.” Maybe she’d have inspired a few more college-educated Republicans to at least be #NeverTrump in fact and not just in queasy sentiment.
Maybe she’d have inspired journalists like Allen to put aside their resentment of her for whatever it is they resent her for. Maybe she’d have inspired them to stop punishing her for having the temerity to run for President without their permission. Maybe she’d have inspired them to cover her as what she was---smart, capable, experienced, presidential in temperament and spirit, someone whose life story was a record of learning, thought, and maturation leading to achievement after achievement, someone whose candidacy in itself was of historical importance, someone whose election to the presidency would have been transformative. Maybe she’d have inspired them to cover Trump for what he was---a virulent racist, compulsive liar, con artist, crook, and raving loon, someone whose election to the presidency would be what it’s turned out to be, destructive, divisive, incompetent, corrupt, and danger to the nation and the world---instead of as as a celebrity whose main qualification for the job, as far as the media cared, was that he provided great entertainment and got audiences to tune in and readers to open their browsers and update their bookmarks and email their links, someone, that is, who could sell advertising for their corporate bosses and practically write their stories for them.
Maybe she’d have inspired them to do their jobs.
I don’t know.
She might have given Oprahesque speech after Oprahesque speech and the hacks would have still found excuses to cover the race as they did. After all, look at what Allen just did with Oprah’s Oprahesque speech.
To them, all politics is a game, and they don’t like the way Hillary plays it as if it isn’t one. It’s reality TV and they can’t warm to her character because she refuses to be a character. It’s entertainment, and she just doesn’t entertain them.
Related Mannion Re-run: Just in case you didn't get enough of me ranting about the election and the political press corps' general malpractice in covering it, here's the link to a post of mine from last April, Where Trumps come from, once more with feeling.
To be fair, I guess you should read Allen’s whole column, Oprah inspires in a way Hillary never could, at NBC News.