I’m Just Saying: One inspiring speech does not a president make

Published 3:29 pm Thursday, January 11, 2018

It’s not that I don’t think the world of Oprah–what’s not to like? She’s empathetic, philanthropic, completely self-made and enormously successful. In fact, particularly when considering the impoverished and abused childhood she endured, her jaw dropping career is the epitome of the American Dream.

But one inspiring speech does not a president make.

Listen, my mother used to rail that if we lazy teenagers didn’t get off our backsides and help clean up around the house, we’d come home from school one day and find her packed up and gone, while my father adopting a far more casual tone, would shrug while seeing us glued to Gilligan’s Island and announce it was fine for us to waste our brains as the country could always use more janitors. These asides had their desired effect in that we actually gave our homework a passing glance, but I certainly wouldn’t have encouraged either of them to put together campaign exploratory committees.

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And to be quite fair, it’s the media trying to percolate interest in Oprah actually running for the White House, not the icon herself, who is said to be merely ‘intrigued’ by the idea.

Her speech was indeed stirring, empowering and essentially about finding one’s inner strength, courage, and standing fast for truth and justice. Well done. Seriously, Oprah, well done. 

However, when it comes to politics, I am far more impressed by a speech after one actually wins the office. Because while campaigning, as we all very well know, a candidate can and will say what they feel the majority of the voters want to hear, and every now and then, what the candidate might actually believe.

Only occasionally while residing in the White House are we moved to tears by a president who can continue to create that intimate connection with a public desperate for leadership.

When Abraham Lincoln delivered his revered Gettysburg Address, he wasn’t even the featured speaker that fateful day. He’d been invited to deliver a short speech during the dedication ceremony at the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pa. When we think of George W. Bush’s most inspiring stand it was atop of heap of rubble with a bullhorn after 9/11. FDR’s defining moment lasted a mere seven minutes before a Joint Session of Congress, a day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in which he made it clear that America had been victimized and could no longer remain isolationist, and was delivered an hour before we declared war on Japan.

We will always be schooled and remember not only JFK’s glorious inaugural address that contained the quote we can all recite, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,’ but we also see the analogy the young president-elect gave to his Massachusetts constituents that Ronald Reagan would polish and insert a piece of into his own heart swelling farewell address to the country:

“I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arabella 331 years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier. ‘We must always consider,’ he said. ‘That we shall be as a city upon a hill — the eyes of all people are upon us.’ Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us.”

And who can forget Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.”

Still sends a glorious shiver down your spine, doesn’t it? It certainly does mine. 

So Oprah, I won’t begrudge a moment of your triumphant address. It really was sensational. But if you’re seriously considering running for president, do yourself and the country a favor and run for a senate seat, first. Get your feet wet. Give it six years of your all and then see if you still have a taste for the seemingly impossible task of successfully running the greatest country in the world.

If you do it may be safe to say that as a presidential candidate, you will have a bevy of supporters.

And perhaps me too.