Friday, February 1, 2008

Oprah is Obama's Bill Clinton

I just read in this piece that Oprah is going to make an appearance for Obama in California tomorrow.

This is big news--and it strikes me as unfair. I feel bad for Hillary Clinton. No doubt at the end of last night's debate, when she mentioned how she will be available to answer questions on the Hallmark channel for an hour on Monday night, in a direct appeal to women voters, Obama smiled: he was probably thinking, hah, go ahead and spend millions renting out the Hallmark channel, I've got the women vote locked up, I've got Oprah making a surprise appearance in California on Sunday.

I've already argued that the "Oprah effect" in Obama's favor in South Carolina has been greatly underestimated and underreported by the media. Now Oprah's appearance recommending Obama is going to do wonders for him in California. She is an incredibly powerful woman who is able to to do what Obama professes he will do as President - transcend race: a recommendation from her can move millions of white women to buy a certain book, or even a pair of jeans. Oprah has also achieved what Hillary Clinton has not been able to: Women do not resent Oprah despite the power she has attained. Women are the votes that Obama and Clinton are fighting over, and Obama has found his savior in Oprah--the perfect person to stump for him.

Whereas Hillary Clinton has been trounced by the press for relying on Bill Clinton to campaign for her in several states, in Oprah, Obama has found a more powerful political force than a former President, one who is more universally loved by the public on both sides of the political spectrum.

Oprah's speech in South Carolina in December before 30,000 mostly African-Americans, in which she praised Obama, was steeped in religious imagery and references, and also references to race--a fact which was also under-reported, because somehow Obama has been consistently praised as a figure who transcends race and does not profit from his color, and yet Oprah was specifically referring to his race and making reference to the race of the spectators. It will be interesting to see if Oprah again makes racial and religious references.

It's amazing how entertainment and politics has truly merged here--Neil Postman, the media critic who wrote Amusing Ourselves to Death, about how television has turned politics and news into entertainment, and other books, is surely turning over in his grave: Oprah's stumping for Obama surpasses candidate appearances on late-night talk shows, and the star-studded Kodak audience at Thursday's debate. Here, the most powerful talk show host is bringing her stage to voters and swaying thousands(of women--that is her audience) to vote for her candidate.

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