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Opinion: Oprah for president? No thank you

No, Oprah. Do not fall for it.

Do not listen to the sirens’ calls; deafen yourself to those political consultants no doubt working every contact they can find, eager to reach you and whisper sweet songs about your future. Pay them no heed, and none of your millions.

The temptations are obvious: If you take a meeting, those consultants will tell you that if you want the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, they can get it for you. They’re probably right, although if so, they won’t deserve credit for accomplishing that feat. You would. You are one of America’s great success stories, proof that a poor black girl — the daughter of an unmarried maid in Mississippi — could not only rise to the top of the media and business world, but do so while maintaining a fundamental decency and grace often missing these days.

That’s why they’re so eager to attach themselves to you. As a candidate, you would have many of the strengths of Donald Trump — the immense fame, the ease around cameras and microphones — and far fewer of the drawbacks. Your greatest asset, built over years in public life, would be the vast reservoir of trust that you have built, a quality that nobody in politics can match.

To a woman who has long championed female empowerment, who banged on long-closed doors and then ensured that those doors remain open for sisters to walk through as well, the idea of breaking down the door to the White House, of becoming our first woman president, also might seem not just an opportunity but even an obligation.

So why not? In the wake of Trump, anybody with a Q score of more than 30 seems to be toying with the idea that they too could become president, so why not you?

“Oprah has read books, she knows how to identify talent,” as Nancy Pelosi put it this week, harshly but accurately. “So if we are going into a place where they are devaluing experience in terms of substance and legislative acumen and stuff like that, you might as well have somebody who knows what they don’t know and would get the best possible people there.”

So … why not you?

Because the antidote to a celebrity presidency is not another celebrity presidency. Because as we’ve seen, the role of president is not an acting role. Because the trust in Oprah Winfrey as a brand is built in part upon an authenticity, a willingness to admit to human shortcomings and limitations. That should include the humility to admit that the presidency is a job that takes decades of preparation to do well, and that doing it well matters.

Governing experience and policy expertise also still matter, or ought to, particularly in the White House. They will matter a lot more by 2021, when our next president faces the task of repairing the damage done by four years in which experience and expertise were not just missing from the White House but were treated with contempt.

Finally, because for the first time in a long, long time, we are once again trying to decide who and what we want to be as a country. Our destiny is no longer so manifest; our role internationally is in flux, and the range of possible directions that we might take as a country may be greater now than at any point since the early 19th century.

I fear one of those possible directions is a descent into frivolity, a collective decision that things have gotten too tough, too complicated, and that we would rather be entertained by our leaders than governed. We’ve wandered far down that path already, but can still turn back. Save us; save us by saying no.

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