The Audacity of…Op?

We knew it was coming. With polls showing the two Democratic frontrunners in a statistical dead heat in Iowa, Hillary pulled out her biggest weapon: her maddening but toweringly charismatic husband. Her campaign has been trying to dole Bill out in measured doses, because dude so often reduces her to looking like his hypeman. Or hypewoman. Er…hypeperson. (See his virtuoso performance at Coretta Scott King’s funeral for proof.)

But Obama parried by finally rolling out The Oprah, his outspoken supporter and arguably the only person in the world who is more famous than Bill Clinton. I remember reading in disbelief an earnest letter to the editor in Time in 1999 arguing for Oprah to be the magazine’s Person of the Century. It’s not just that she’s famous, but that her fans see her as a paragon of human decency. She inhabits the most rarefied space in the public’s consciousness.

While pundits debate whether Oprah’s stumping in Iowa will prompt legions of undecided Chico’s-clad housewives to defect the Obama camp, the other very important question is: what happens to Oprah’s brand? Is it some kind of imperial overreach for Oprah to hitch her wagon to Obama’s political star?

Backing a politician isn’t like plucking some author from the ranks of semi-obscurity, because Oprah wields all the power in that set-up, and can more easily sever ties with folks who do wrong by her golden imprimatur (as in her public sonning of James Frey last year). If, say, a campaign scandal involving some kind of ethical violations were to come to light, she could have a pretty hard time distancing herself.

A major part of her strategy toward media domination is that she’s pretty safe in who or what she uses her platform to go after, digging into only the most easily condemned and rooting for people who are the easiest to champion. A less ignominious but equally dangerous risk to her reputation would be that Oprah’s audience may just not like Obama’s center-left politics — or just be made uncomfortable by one insanely popular high-profile black person using her platform to endorse another. You know, it could remind people that Oprah is black. (And if he says or takes a position that is really controversial, Oprah could see some of that backlash.)

Whether or not Obama is the eventual Democratic nominee, if Oprah (who lobbed some softball questions at both Bush and Gore on her show 2000) were to sit down with a pol who gives a lame interview, that person’s camp would go after Oprah and assert that she has a dog in the fight. Interviewing Obama would be even trickier. And she could still possibly be subject to the FCC’s equal air-time provisions.

Or…maybe none of this is true. Maybe Oprah just shrugs off any poor showing and pretends like the whole thing just never happened.

It’s gonna be fun to watch this play out.

  • Tears and head-scratching following the shooting death of Sean Taylor, the Pro Bowl safety for the Washington Redskins. Jemele Hill of “Perhaps the most pertinent question is, how much closer does it have to get before we realize these unfortunate incidents are reflective of an enormous crisis that requires our immediate attention and action? A New York Times article reported the homicide rate among young, black men in America was seven times higher than any foreign country studied. That article was published in 1990. Why has nothing changed?”
  • NBC discusses issues affecting black women. “Throughout the week of November 26, “NBC News With Brian Williams” will take a look at the issues facing African-American women across our nation in a new series ‘African-American Women: Where They Stand.’ The series will cover a wide-range of issues from their role in the ’08 Presidential race, to the increased health-risks that they need to be concerned about.” Has anyone seen this? Is it a reductive and cynical ploy for ratings, or does it actually have some merit?
  • Shahadah and Samoas. Immigrant Muslim communities are enrolling their daughters into the Girl Scouts to help them have an easier time assimilating.
  • Not exactly a noose today, but definitely wild noose-ish. A flyer in Iowa imploring Iowans to “Vote for Edwards, Not the Bitch or the Nigger. Vote for the White Man!” Seems a little calculated.


Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.