In speech after speech that followed, there were nods to Oprah — her celebrity, her cultural influence and the idea that she might be the person to beat Trump in 2020.
So when Winfrey herself took the stage to accept what amounts to a lifetime achievement award, she knew exactly how her speech would be taken and analyzed. And that’s why what she did say was so intriguing for the political junkies out there.
She recounted the story of “sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee” in 1964 watching Sidney Poitier win the Oscar for best actor. Explained Winfrey: “I tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone tired from cleaning other people’s houses.”
She then segued into the power of the #metoo moment — citing her mother’s own experiences as indicative of the broader struggle for women’s rights. I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue,” Winfrey said.
Then came the lines that, if Winfrey does run for president in three years’ time, we will look back on as the start of it all. Because of their import, I’ll quote them in full:
“I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.”
(You can — and should — read Winfrey’s full speech
It’s not hard to imagine lines similar to those closing out a speech by Winfrey announcing that she is running for president. And make no mistake: Oprah is absolutely, 100% aware of that fact.
She may not have known that Meyers would make a Oprah 2020 joke is his monologue. Or that several actresses would pay homage to her in their own victory speeches.
But Winfrey knew she would be seated in the front row, dead center of the awards ceremony. She knew that she would give a speech that everyone in that room — and watching on TV — would stop to pay attention to. And so, she chose her words carefully. That those words sounded so much like the rhetoric of a campaign was not by accident. You don’t go from where Oprah started her life to where she is today by not understanding moments and opportunities — and what the words you choose mean.
Yes, I know Oprah has repeatedly expressed a reluctance-bordering-on-unwillingness to run for office.
“There will be no running for office of any kind for me,” she said on CBS’ morning show last fall
. “I will never run for public office,” she said on The Hollywood Reporter podcast
in the summer of 2017.
And, she still may not — although her longtime partner, Stedman Graham, told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday night
that “It’s up to the people. She would absolutely do it.” Plus, two of Winfrey’s close friends told CNN’s Brian Stelter Monday that she is”actively thinking”
about running for president.
I am not arguing that Oprah is running in 2020. What I am arguing is that she knew what sort of chatter giving a speech like she gave in a moment like this one would create. She knew that, even without all of the jokes and pleading for her to run in 2020, the words she chose Sunday night would start people talking about what it might be like if she did run against Trump.
Oprah Winfrey didn’t get to where she is by winging it. She got to where she is by smartly and strategically mapping out a path to success — time and time again.
Her Golden Globes speech was, without question, a first step down a political path. Now we have to see if she keeps walking down it.