On the evening 35 years ago when Oprah Winfrey said goodbye to her Baltimore colleagues, everybody gathered at the old Café des Artistes and wondered if she was making the mistake of her life leaving WJZ and the grand TV career she was creating here.
Nobody suspected that one day her career might entail running for president of the United States.
She was just a kid then. She’d been here the better part of a decade, some of it not so happily when she was co-anchoring the news, and some of it quite happily when she co-hosted “People Are Talking” with Richard Sher.
But on this farewell night, she was trying without much success to stop the tears from flowing. “I remember when I first came here,” she said, “I would drive around town just crying.” She mentioned the city’s rowhouses. “I didn’t understand why they were all stuck together.”
She was still the little country girl who’d come to the big city and found herself overwhelmed. And now, if you listen to all the talk following her speech at the Golden Globes gathering the other night, there are many political types – particularly in the Democratic Party – who would like to see her run for president. And some friends of Oprah are saying she’s weighing the possibility.
Apparently, there’s nothing in the world that overwhelms Oprah Winfrey anymore.
She’d have some pretty good attributes going for her. Her speech the other night, for example. She clearly caught the power behind the cultural/sexual tidal wave sweeping the country, as men and women try to figure out mutually comfortable lines of engagement.
As a candidate, she’d likely have considerable backing from women and racial minorities, although she seems to transcend the country’s traditional racial anxieties. And, of course, she’s famous.
For some voters, though, the last might be a pretty big problem. We’re currently trying out a president who got the job without any previous experience in government. Donald Trump was mainly known as a reality TV star. He was famous for being famous.
Oprah Winfrey’s political beliefs are mostly antithetical to Trump’s. But there is that one unfortunate similarity — inexperience. She’s done some marvelous things in her life – works of charity, expressions of comfort, donating huge amounts of money to worthwhile causes. She’s a remarkable woman.
But in matters of government and politics, of economy and law and constitutional issues, there’s nothing in her resume.
So as we wait for her to ponder a possible political future, we’re also watching Donald Trump, the current amateur in the White House, and wondering: How’s that experiment working out so far?
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” has just been re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.