“She supports Obama because he is black, which is just as bad as NOT supporting him because he is black,” voiced an anonymous woman (perhaps Geraldine Ferraro) at Oprah.com. That sentiment - the elephant in the middle of the media spin room - is commonly repeated throughout Oprah’s highly trafficked message boards. A small band of defenders ignores the charge and blames Karl Rove for the mess.
“After more than 20 years of interviews, you do not have the capability to handle asking her questions about her life rather than her platform?” writes another angry fan. “Just be honest that you don’t want her on the show because her popularity may detract from your personal political candidate. I’m very disappointed and you have lost a lot of credibility.”
The cozy relationship between Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama predates the endorsement she gave him in May 2007. First of all, both were members of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s controversial church. Of course, that topic is off limits.
Miss Winfrey launched the first-term senator as a national brand when she lavished praise on him during a show in 2005. During Mr. Obama’s next appearance in October 2006, Miss Winfrey stated she would support Mr. Obama if he ran for the presidency - even though the previous year Mr. Obama stated he wouldn’t run due to his inexperience. “I am a believer in knowing what you’re doing when you apply for a job,” he said in 2004.
But when Oprah Winfrey gives you her billion-dollar blessing and her platinum Rolodex, what’s a freshman senator to do? A study by University of Maryland economists makes the case that her endorsement alone was worth more that one million votes in the Democratic primary.
Then there was the post-Denver post-speech hoorah: “I think it’s the most powerful thing I have ever experienced,” Miss Winfrey told her fellow believers in the press corps. “I cried my eyelashes off.”
The scenario reads like the MasterCard campaign: “Priceless.”
Yet since Miss Winfrey endorsed Mr. Obama and his political fortunes immediately skyrocketed, Oprah has seen her exceptionally high popularity take a drastic hit.
According to a Gallup/USA Today poll in March 2007, Miss Winfrey possessed a whopping 74 percent approval rating. (Incidentally, Mrs. Palin’s approval rating in Alaska is a Mother Theresa-like 80 percent.) Miss Winfrey’s support dipped to 61 percent by August 2007, and during the primaries her approval dropped further to 55 percent - the lowest in her career.
The Palin punt should wash away many more ardent supporters, many conservative and Republican Oprah-watching faithful among them.
People marvel that Mr. Obama was able to slay Mrs. Clinton, formerly the inevitable Democratic choice. But as they say, behind every successful man, there’s a strong woman. In Mr. Obama’s case, it’s certainly not Michelle.
If Mr. Obama is elected, no one will have more power and access than Oprah Winfrey - the ultimate lobbyist.
But maybe those millions of women that she played for fools - and deprived of an election cycle filled with exceptional female electoral achievements and electrifying television moments, many among them Hillary followers and a cadre of Sarah supporters - will deny her that historic opportunity.
Hell hath no fury like an Oprah Book Club member scorned.