Was Oprah’s speech a pitch for 2020 US presidential campaign?

Golden Globes speech on race and gender by TV star Winfrey overshadowed all others

Oprah Winfrey became the first black woman to be awarded a Golden Globe for lifetime achievement, delivering an impassioned speech in support of those who have exposed sexual misconduct in Hollywood and beyond. Video: Reuters

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Did the opening shots of the 2020 presidential campaign just ring out from Los Angeles? As the nation settled in to watch the annual Golden Globe awards on Sunday night, the speech delivered by Oprah Winfrey as she accepted the Cecil B DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award overshadowed all others.

This year’s Golden Globe Award ceremony was inevitably going to attract more attention than usual. The deepening #MeToo controversy and demise of disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has put Hollywood in the spotlight in recent months. Women attending the event adopted a black dress-code in an expression of solidarity with victims of sexual harassment, allowing for a welcome refocusing of attention on politics and talent rather than fashion at the annual awards.

But it was Oprah Winfrey’s 10-minute speech as she took to the stage to accept her award that dominated the evening.

Early in the evening host Seth Meyers raised the prospect of an Oprah presidency in a tongue-in-cheek way. Recalling how President Donald Trump was reportedly inspired to run after being told that he could never be president at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in 2011, he peered into the audience and said: “Oprah, you will never be president!”

Deliberate tones

But as the former TV queen took to the stage and began to speak in dignified, deliberate tones, it became that this speech would be different, and the talk of a possible run was not just an idle fantasy.

She began by recalling how as a child she watched Sidney Poitier being presented with the Oscar for best actor in 1964 as she sat on the linoleum floor of her mother’s house in Milwaukee – “the most elegant man I had ever seen… His tie was white, and of course his skin was black. I had never seen a black man being celebrated like that.”

She said she was aware there were some little girls watching today “as I become the first black woman to be given this same award”.

As she spoke of the bravery of women who had spoken out against abuse and injustice and the importance of a free press, she declaimed that “a new day is on the horizon… a time when no one has to say #MeToo again”. The crowd erupted in applause as they rose to their feet.

Almost immediately talk of a possible presidential bid erupted on social media, while on Monday the airwaves and TV talk shows were alight with speculation about whether the most powerful African-American woman in the world could consider a presidential run.

Could Oprah Winfrey really be a candidate in the 2020 election?

Up to the people

Speculation that the TV star may be actually considering the possibility was sparked when her long time partner, Stedman Graham, told the Los Angeles Times: “It’s up to the people. She would absolutely do it.”

His apparent confirmation ignited the chattering classes in Washington. Within hours, CNN reported that two close friends of Winfrey had also confirmed that she plans to run. The prospect of an Oprah candidacy is a possibility for several reasons. Ironically, Donald Trump – on many levels her antithesis – has legitimised the idea of a celebrity presidency (though arguably the ascent of actor Ronald Reagan to the highest office in the land set an early precedent) Democrats currently have no one candidate who has emerged as a likely 2020 contender, making Winfrey a possible unifying candidate.

Winfrey herself is a formidable speaker and communicator who also has a history of taking on serious policy issues such as domestic violence.

With almost three years to run, there is still all to play for in the 2020 presidential election. After this year’s Golden Globes, that race just got a lot more interesting.

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