Welcome Our New Oligarch

Bezos, Zuckerberg, Theil, et tu, Oprah?[1]

"I am your New Oligarch"The danger of having entertainers as political figures is that they’re generally charismatic, sometimes good speakers, and can memorize their lines so they don’t need teleprompters.

Winfrey told David Rubenstein she’d consider as much in an interview on “The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations” this week. If President Trump could do it, then maybe she could too.

“I thought, ‘Oh gee I don’t have the experience,” Winfrey said. “I don’t know enough. And now I’m thinking, ‘Oh? Oh!’”

Oprah Winfrey is one of the wealthiest women on earth, right up there with Elizabeth II Windsor and J.K. Rowling. And she has learned a great deal about public policy from her many interviews with psychics, fake psychiatrists, and woo-woo peddlers like Deepak Chopra. I’m not sure which is worse, frankly: Steve Bannon, or Doctor Phil. Probably Bannon – he doesn’t just want your money.

Unfortunately for us, if Oprah’s oligarchic dreams are realized, we’ll have a president that shows no discrimination at all about who’s a con-artist and who isn’t. Maybe we’d have Doctor Phil in charge of Health and Human Services. Deepak Chopra’d be a good Secretary of Defense, though.

One thing I will say for Oprah: she’s a genuine hard-working “rags to riches” story. When I was growing up in Baltimore, Oprah was a bottom-runger at one of the local TV stations, WBAL.[2] My then-sweetie lured me into playing in a high school performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (she was Helena, I was Demetrius) and Oprah covered it. That’s not quite the “police rescue cat from tree” beat, but it’s close. I didn’t talk to her, but apparently she was professionally interested, very polite, and extremely serious about her reporting. Another thing I will say for Oprah: maybe she knows media bullshit when she sees it, since she’s peddled so much of it. She and our current glabrous oligarch are both expert producers of fake news.

Where is all this heading?

I think the comment from Oprah is right on the money: ““I don’t know enough. And now I’m thinking, ‘Oh? Oh!’”

One of the side effects of Trump’s historic victory is that it restored a part of the “American dream” – not simply that “one day, you might be President of the United States!” but that any idiot can be President of the United States if they are disingenuous, corrupt, and lie fluently enough. The rather obvious next step is a future in which actors or professional talking heads agree to be front-puppets for specific interest-groups, then use their speaking talents and charisma to get elected, then enact the interest-group’s agenda while nodding for the cameras.

In a sense, that’s how it already is, but Trump’s accession must be a body-blow to the current system. And Oprah’s realizing it. You can bet there are other would-be oligarchs who realize it, too – they just lack the financial backing of the self-funded oligarch like Perot, Bloomberg, Winfrey, Bezos, Thiel, Zuckerberg, or Trump. Imagine if the Koch Brothers decided to create a talking-head candidate out of someone with the skill of John Lithgow:

I have floated this scary idea elsewhere, in discussion about the war on authenticity: eventually we divide the policy-making from the entertaining and posturing, and have professional speech-givers give the speeches written by professional speech-writers. Then, sign book deals with the “writer room.” Why not just smart-bomb all of oratory to death at a single fell swoop? Take off and nuke it from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure. Given the massive number of ghost-written books Oprah has featured on her list, we know which side of the war on authenticity she’s on.

A documentary from the future: President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho is as substanceless as our current president – and he has a three step plan!


This piece[2] has some interesting stuff about Oprah’s early life. I didn’t realize that her time at WBAL was very short and that she was harassed there:

She became the first black female news anchor before the age of 20 in Nashville, starting with a few gigs as a local anchor before landing a co-anchor position in Baltimore. She was sexually harassed and humiliated at her job in Baltimore, according to DailyWorth, but didn’t need to quit — she was fired seven and a half months after joining.  

Maybe I should not have called her a “bottom-runger” but I don’t think they sent the big shot anchors out to cover high school Shakespeare. We were not that good. Decades later, I was talking to an accountant whose former partner (now deceased) used to be Oprah’s accountant during her brief stay in Baltimore. When she moved to Chicago, he declined to manage her finances at a distance – a decision he “later regretted.” For those who don’t know: billionaires are basically companies; typically an accounting firm that managed Oprah-sized money would employ 15-20 people full-time. And if they were active investors or venture capitalists, it would typically be a large office and hefty perks and management fees for all involved.

I’d certainly vote for her, if my alternative was Peter Thiel.

But then, I’d vote for Shia LaBeouf if the alternative was Peter Thiel.


  1. Dunc says

    [A]any idiot can be President of the United States if they are disingenuous, corrupt, and lie fluently enough.

    Not true! They also need to be rich.

    The rather obvious next step is a future in which actors or professional talking heads agree to be front-puppets for specific interest-groups, then use their speaking talents and charisma to get elected, then enact the interest-group’s agenda while nodding for the cameras.

    You mean like Ronald Reagan?

  2. sonofrojblake says

    eventually we divide the policy-making from the entertaining and posturing

    Vote Beeblebrox.

  3. kestrel says

    Dunc @#2 beat me to it… yeah, I have felt like that ever since Ronald Reagan.

    It is ridiculous how much money a person needs to seriously run for office. So yeah… looks like it could be President Oprah. Well, it could be worse! Like right now, for example!

  4. says

    Cripes, this lot make Bill Gates look like a dream candidate. He may be a destructive monopolist, but at least he’s educated enough to do the job.

  5. says

    They also need to be rich.

    Or have rich backers. My bet is that a charismatic media figure with financial backers would be more successful than an uncharismatic billionaire. Uh. Uh. Uh-oh. What is the sound of one theory bursting?

    You mean like Ronald Reagan?

    Reagan was governor of California twice before he ran for president. Sure, he was an actor, but I’d say he could also claim to be a politician.

    The scenario I’m talking about is President Kanye West, or President Kardashian…

  6. cartomancer says

    This is not a new phenomenon. Greek and Roman commentators on rhetoric (Aristotle, Cicero and Quintillian chief among them) were quite carefully attuned to just how close the skills of an actor and the skills of a public speaker could be.

    In Rome particularly this was a source of considerable anxiety. After all, in Roman society an actor (and a mime actor especially) was considered a vulgar tradesman at best, whereas public speaking was the preserve of the cultured elite. A lot of Roman advice on public speaking suggests that the speaker needs to be entertaining, witty, dramatic and compelling, but mustn’t be too much like an actor or he will be seen as scurrilous and undignified. In Athens, likewise, Thucydides complained that Pericles (an aristocratic rhetor, most definitely) had a commanding, Olympian style, whereas the grubby chancer Cleon (a demagogue, clearly) shouted and harangued and gesticulated like an actor. The complaint seemed to be as much that people were attracted to an intrinsically low-born style of presentation as that Cleon was not acting in the best interests of the state.

    Of course, the general attitude of ancient commentators was that the skills of rhetoric (and acting for that matter) could be taught. Charisma was a learnable skill, particularly in the eyes of most Athenians to whom the idea that some people have special inborn qualities that raise them above others in politics was suspiciously undemocratic in tone. Training in rhetoric was part of the education of all aristocratic Roman boys, to prepare them for their expected life of political service.

    Cicero saw little problem with this state of affairs – the political elite learned to speak well, order and concord was maintained. Aristotle was much more worried with the proliferation of sophistry, and decided that the only solution was general education on the techniques and workings of oratory, so people could be aware of when others were trying to manipulate them.