Can Oprah get Obama elected president? It's possible. After all, everything - and everyone - else the Queen of Television touches turns to gold.
Oprah Winfrey has given her in-studio blessing to her various courtiers - Dr. Phil, Rachael Ray, Nate Berkus, Bob Greene - and now all of them have gone on to great success in the larger world. So maybe, too, for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., a past guest on her show who announced his candidacy for the White House on Saturday.
Because, while Oprah focuses mostly on taste and self-help - the current cover of Oprah magazine headlines "5 Wildly Unexpected Ways to Get Happier" - she has never made a secret of her soft-left politics. The same March issue also features puffy profiles of liberal heroes, including Spike Lee, Jimmy Carter and the late Molly Ivins.
And, of course, it's understandable that Oprah, as a black Chicagoan, would be particularly attracted to Obama, another black Chicagoan. As she told The Chicago Sun-Times in September, "I would do everything in my power to campaign for him." She emphasized her admiration for his "sense of hope and optimism." Indeed, there's something infectious about Obama's optimism. As a D.C. Republican, a hard-core politico, said of Obama spontaneously, "He's, like, Mr. Hope."
And what hope, exactly, does Obama offer? He offers all Americans the hope that the racial split vexing this land for nearly four centuries can be transcended, just as Obama himself - the child of a white mother and a black father - has transcended it. Although conscious of history, Obama seems to feel no personal rancor; he comes across as a nice guy, with none of the anger that one sees in, say, Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton.
That's the reality that Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., was seeking to communicate when he ham-handedly referred to Obama as "bright and clean." Biden's dopey condescension aside, many Americans want Obama to do for blacks what John F. Kennedy did for Catholics in 1960 - that is, prove that the right kind of candidate can sweep away what remains of prejudice and win the highest office in the land. Ever since 1960, the once-bitter hostility between Catholics and Protestants has been put to rest in this country; by the same logic, a black president could provide healing for the black-white divide.
And Oprah, embodying post-racial identity, is a leading indicator. Like Colin Powell and Tiger Woods, she threatens no one and appeals to almost everyone. And now she will do what she can to help Obama, an apt pupil. The freshman senator eagerly reaches out to all sectors of American society; he has even gone so far as to claim, on his mother's side, a distant relationship to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.
No wonder he was labeled "the Clintonian candidate" by Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus - and that's Bill, not Hillary. Marcus observed that Obama, like the 42nd president, has a knack for using words to slide over ideological razor blades - staying friendly with all sides while not himself getting cut. Such ability can be defined as either oozy or smart. But Clinton did win two national elections.
At the same time, it is true that, when Obama is finally pinned down ideologically, he votes reliably on the left; his lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union is 8 on a zero-to-100 scale. And other aspects of his life, too, will be explored, such as his real estate deal with a shady Chicago developer, which even Obama has called "boneheaded." Meanwhile, as the other Clinton, Hillary, seeks to demolish his candidacy in her own quest for the White House, there's an undeniable wind at Obama's back. If he were just the Great Black Hope, he wouldn't get far. But instead he's an American hope. Only time will tell whether he's great or not. In the meantime, most Americans rightly wish him well.