Day 6

#Oprah2020: How fans of Winfrey's speech may have missed her point

Slate reporter Dahlia Lithwick says fans galvanized by Oprah Winfrey's powerful Golden Globes speech should think twice before supporting #Oprah2020 — and consider running for office themselves instead.
Oprah Winfrey accepts the 2018 Cecil B. DeMille Award onstage during the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 7, 2018. (Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

People all over the world cheered Oprah Winfrey's rousing speech at the Golden Globes, as she accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement.

Her speech, which focused on giving voice to the voiceless, immediately set off calls for "Oprah 2020," pleas for the former talk-show host to run for president.

Like many people, writer Dahlia Lithwick, who covers the courts and the law for Slate, was moved by Oprah's speech.

But she argues that people who want Oprah to save them by running for president completely missed the point of Oprah's speech.

"I didn't watch the Golden Globes live at all," Lithwick says. "I just am not an awards-show person."

"And then I heard about the Oprah speech. I was so mesmerized by how authentic and eloquent she was."

"She gives this beautiful story of this woman, Recy Taylor. She says, this is a young black woman, she's raped in Alabama in 1944 by six white men who were never brought to justice. What Oprah says is, when eleven years later Rosa Parks launches the Montgomery bus boycott, in her heart somewhere is Recy Taylor, is the memory of this person who came forth and sought justice even though it couldn't be achieved."


Oprah Winfrey poses backstage with her Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 7, 2018. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Inspiring others

Lithwick says Oprah's speech brought to mind the ways women who've achieved success can inspire the next generation.

"It reminded me instantly of when I covered Sonia Sotomayor's hearing at the Supreme Court. [She] was the first Latina woman who was being confirmed at the U.S. Supreme Court, and I sat through her confirmation hearings.

"I remember these [teenaged] Latina girls standing in line for hours just to see the first Latina justice go through her confirmation hearings," Lithwick says. 

"And watching Oprah, there was this click where I thought, 'Oh, this is what it is seeing an adult modelling to young women: 'Tomorrow, you could be me.' For me, that was just goosebumps."

Do something more than just passively hope that someone else is going to save you.- Slate writer Dahlia Lithwick

But while some viewed that inspirational tone as the beginnings of a bid for public office, Lithwick says she saw something entirely different in Oprah's message.

"This is the crazy part — I saw this speech and I went back and read the transcript, and I said, 'Hey, this is this Obama-style 'find your power, you do it, get up off your couch, be the change you want to see in the world' [message].

"But then everybody in America reacts by sitting back on their couch saying, 'Oprah for President 2020.' And I thought that was the antithesis of what she was trying to do," Lithwick explains.


A vendor sells #MeToo badges at a protest march for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters in Los Angeles, Calif. on Nov. 12, 2017. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Leadership void

Lithwick says those left adrift by the election of Donald Trump are looking to fill the political void — but that it won't necessarily come from a famous person with a silver tongue.

Slate writer Dahlia Lithwick

"I think there is this paradox playing out in the United States where Democrats are so looking for someone to lead them.

"And I think that when someone strides across the national stage and gives an inspiring and empowering message of resistance, we don't even hear what they're saying — we just say, 'There's our leader,' and we lemming-like sort of jump off the cliff and say, 'She's going to fix it.'

"If Donald Trump has taught us anything, if somebody says, 'I alone can fix it,' you're already in trouble.

"And so I really think it's that basic Gandhi proposition — whether it's run for office, support someone running for office, support journalism — do something more than just passively hope that someone else is going to save you."