The men don't know, but the little girls understand"
Howlin' Wolf: "Backdoor Man" 1955
I watch Oprah. You got a problem with that? I used to think when "Jeopardy!" was over, it was time to hit the computer. I associated Oprah with all the other provocative, one-name, daytime hosts, like Phil, or Maury, Sally, or Rikki, who all seemed to cover the same topics on the same day; teen sluts, people who were grotesquely fat, or incest, sometime all three at once. Then I became a househusband and a freelancer, which means any sort of lancing I'm called upon to do is usually pro bono, so I've allowed myself to be coaxed by Melody away from the internet to check out the topics on "Oprah," and have come to the same understanding that all her admirers reach; there are talk show hosts, there are celebrities, there are politicians, and then there is Oprah. And the amazing part of it is that men have no conception of this single, courageous woman's influence, because they don't watch the show. Men think of her as a rich, celebrity TV star, women see her as a force of nature.
I've become familiar with the inner stories surrounding Ms. Winfrey and Harpo Productions. I know of her humble beginnings and her start in broadcasting in Nashville to become the head of not just a corporation, like Martha Stewart, but a business empire that includes publications, movies, television, theatre, and more. And she is the CEO, as well as spiritual leader, of a philanthropic organization that has given more scholarships, medical supplies and treatment than any celebrity since Danny Thomas. Her school for girls in South Africa was briefly touched by sexual scandal until Oprah attended to it personally, ending the problem like Paul Bunyan stamping out a prairie fire. I know her favorite designer is Nate Berkus who lost his partner in the Indonesian tsunami, and her best friend is Gail King. When Gail and Oprah came through Memphis, it was treated by the media like a Presidential visit and their tour of Graceland was hosted by Priscilla herself. Oprah had already won the Freedom Award, given by the National Civil Rights Museum.
Oprah has never used her celebrity to support politicians, until her recent endorsement of Barack Obama and her announcement that she would attend several upcoming campaign events in Iowa on his behalf. Immediately, both Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, who should know better, discounted the importance of her participation. But, as I said, they are men and just don't watch the show. I have seen spontaneous demonstrations of respect and love by ordinary people toward Oprah that rival the public's response to Robert Kennedy. Olbermann said that she would make no difference unless she started handing out clock radios. Others may only see the Oprah highlights; the ribbon cuttings, the Broadway openings, and the "favorite things" shows, but they don't understand that the devotion of her fans is a direct response to the sincerity of her mission, to help people live better lives.
Oprah will be appearing opposite Bill Clinton, but I bet that secretly, Hillary would trade Bill for her, if Oprah would only offer. Because Oprah is a genuine threat to Hillary and her claim to the women's vote. I, like many people, would welcome a woman President; just not Hillary Clinton. Obviously, Oprah feels the same way, and anyone who doubts her ability to persuade should look at the long list of books, including many classics, that have reached the top of every national best-seller list because of her recommendation. And anyone who wishes to cross Oprah, or take her on, would do well to remember the author James Frey, who's fictionalized "autobiography" caused Oprah to break him into a million little pieces after the hoax was revealed. Or the Texas Cattle Industry, whose lawsuit against Oprah's free speech was thrown out of court as baseless and only caused Winfrey's stature to rise.
I have heard female talking-heads on cable news say that the thought of a woman president is just too appealing not to vote for Hillary. I'd like to see a Jewish president one day, but don't expect me to be voting for Joe Lieberman. Oprah's appeal to women of all regions, economic strati, races, and ages is enough to make the most ardent feminist take another look at Barack Obama, and that chips away at the perception of inevitability that Hillary is attempting to establish. Clinton tries to project competence and toughness. Oprah constantly exudes the single emotion that Mrs. Clinton lacks; empathy. Anyone who doubts this does so at their own peril.
My wife believes that Hillary's interview yesterday with Katy Couric is the equivalent of Howard Dean's scream. Asked if she would support a nominee other than her, Hillary protested that "it will be me," and when prodded by Couric that certainly she must have taken into consideration that someone else could win, Hillary replied that she never thinks of anything other than being the next President. That is hubris that George Bush would admire. No wonder all the Republicans are dying to run against her. But the latest Zogby Poll showed Hillary losing in head-to-head races with five different Republican candidates; Giuliani, Romney, Thompson, McCain, and Huckabee. Her arrogance, masquerading as certainty, may be her undoing.
Celebrity endorsements may not mean much to the beltway types, but they have never reckoned with an Oprah Winfrey. And although Iowans are reputed to be a jaded lot when it comes to celebrity, I'll bet right now that Oprah and Barack are the hottest ticket in town and will outdraw Bill and Hill. And that's because Obama is right; the Clintons are old news and are still caught in the teeth of the culture wars begun in the sixties that my generation will fight until we all roll over and die, and people are rightly weary of it and eager to turn the page. Barack Obama is increasingly looking like the agent of change the country so desperately wants, and Oprah, like her many other successful endeavors, just may convert enough women voters to tip the nomination to him. In that case, Ambassador Winfrey has a nice ring to it.