Barack Obama found the perfect booster in Oprah Winfrey. Not only can she fill a football stadium with 30,000 adoring people and put a hammerlock on a news cycle, she specializes in the warm-and-fuzzy uplift that is the very foundation of Obama’s candidacy.
This was the pontiff of daytime television bestowing secular sainthood on the golden child of latterday liberalism. “For there is born to you this day a savior.” The Oprah- Obama match is made not quite in heaven, but in a haze of inspirational piety with heavy religious overtones. People had “Oprah for V.P.” buttons at this past weekend’s rallies. The Queen of All Media surely would never accept such a demotion. But Obama-Winfrey would make a natural ticket. They are both African- Americans with major racial crossover appeal. They are arguably the nation’s biggest celebrities in their respective fields of media and politics. And they offer affirming messages of hope and self-help.
In her stump speeches on Obama’s behalf, Oprah zeroed in on the heart of the matter: Obama’s post-political messianism. In South Carolina, she declared that it isn’t enough for candidates to tell the truth, “We need politicians who know how to be the truth.” One wonders if in the news reports, it were merely a transcription error that “the truth” wasn’t rendered in divinized capital letters.
Michelle Obama spoke in the same terms: “We need a leader who’s going to touch our souls. Who’s going to make us feel differently about one another. Who’s going to remind us that we are one another’s keepers. That we are only as strong as the weakest among us.”
This isn’t merely overpromising. It’s a creepy inflation of a political figure into a secular version of the Second Coming. Oprah implied the same thing, quoting a film in which an old, long-suffering woman asks every child she meets — in a question fraught with messianic symbolism — "Are you the one?" Oprah continued, referring to Obama, “It’s a question the entire nation is asking — is he the one? South Carolina — I do believe he’s the one.”
Is he really? It’s hard enough for a presidential candidate to have a plan to save Social Security and stabilize Iraq, let alone embody the truth and touch our souls. Obama plays into this messianism because it’s what gives his candidacy its unique appeal. Otherwise, he has a collection of pedestrian Democratic positions.