Wednesday’s post-inaugural edition of The Oprah Winfrey Show, taped at a Washington restaurant, overflowed with strange and messianic notions about Obama and how the thrill over him is unanimous. Actor Forest Whitaker summed it up for Oprah: "The light of the New Age is here." Oprah pal Gayle King passed along her agreement with a message that "Not only does he hear us. He feels us. That when I hear Barack Obama, they said, he talks to my soul." Whitaker also strangely claimed "we’re not used to seeing" a president and a First Lady who love each other, but the Obamas have signaled "it’s okay to love."
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin strangely claimed it was "extraordinary" to have a president care about history, and told the audience Obama said to her in 2007 he’s not getting the presidency to be Millard Fillmore, but to be great like Lincoln. Ali Wentworth, the wife of George Stephanopoulos, painted an incredible picture of a massive gospel choir on the subway system en route to the festivities: "I took the Metro, and everyone was singing ‘Amazing Grace’ on the Metro."
Near the show’s beginning, Oprah praised Forest Whitaker: "I got a wonderful E-mail from you. I thought it was 2 in the morning...a wonderful E-mail from Forest that just said ‘The light of the New Age is here.’ I just love that." This might stick out to some people who have warned of Winfrey's promotion of "New Age" spiritual thinkers.
Doris Kearns Goodwin recounted a conversation she had with Obama in the spring of 2007 (he announced his candidacy on February 10, 2007). She passed on snippets of the chat:
"I just read your book, Team of Rivals. Lincoln is so great. We have to talk about Lincoln." To have a president who thinks about the past is an extraordinary thing. Then when I met him, he said, "You know, I go by these pictures of these presidents – Millard Fillmore, James Buchanan – I don’t want just to be one of them. I’m not just getting this because I want the office. I want to do things that will be remembered, so that somebody will remember me years later." We haven’t had that kind of a person – that spacious – and it was, "Uh!"
This may be the strangest soundbite of the entire show. Put aside for a moment that President Bush has talked of his love of history and the history books he has read as president. Liberals would easily discount that. But Bill and Hillary Clinton aggressively sought out Goodwin for advice about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, their role models, and put Goodwin up in the Lincoln Bedroom. It’s a little amazing that she would spurn the Clintons so thoroughly by claiming a president with a passion for history is an "extraordinary thing." There must have been plates breaking in Hillaryland.
Then came that odd moment when Forest Whitaker ignored every loving presidential marriage from the Bushes to the Reagans to the Carters to the Fords to the Nixons to the Eisenhowers, and so on:
WHITAKER: We’re not used to seeing like, a President and a First Lady actually holding each other and kissing each other and like whispering in each others’ ears.
WINFREY: Yes. Intimacy.
WHITAKER: I think it’s really important for us as a nation, for us to be able to be healed, for us to move forward, to know it’s okay to love.
Minutes later, Goodwin crowed over how Obama had the communications skills to make people feel in hard times that the country’s going to get better.
When FDR first became president, and he gave his first Inaugural speech, somebody wrote in and said to him, "I’ve had a terrible time. I’ve lost my job. The roof’s fallen off. I’ve lost my dog. My wife is mad at me. But you’re there now. Things are gonna be okay." I think Obama has that commmunications skill.
She tried to charm the Obama-loving audience with a confession: "I’m supposed to be mature as a presidential historian and not say these things, but I think it’s very exciting what’s happening."
Oprah replied: "You’re still mature." Winfrey aggressively sold Goodwin’s book at several times, explaining to the audience that Obama said it was the one book along with the Bible he would want with him in the White House.
Oprah said of Obama: "I personally feel he makes me want to be a better person. I feel that I am a better person and that this country is going to be a better country because of him."
Oprah gal Gayle King chimed in with what someone told her: Not only does he hear us. He feels us. That when I hear Barack Obama, they said, he talks to my soul. I think it’s been so long since we felt that about a President of the United States."
Oprah wanted opinions on the inaugural address, what lines stuck out. She said she was "cold and vibrating" during the speech. Goodwin said Obama’s speech was historic: "It will be remembered a long time from now," she said. "There are words there that will be remembered. 'America's ready to lead again.' You know, that's the America of World War II.…We're going to be a beacon of hope once again."
It’s strange how they pull out pedestrian lines and try to invest great meaning in them.
Forest Whitaker didn’t like the words as much as the spaces in between: "It's the moments between the lines. I think when I was listening to him speak, the words were so powerful I wanted to embrace the time that I had to even experience what he just said. So it's the breaths between that I wanted so badly to sit still with, because I was overwhelmed by his inclusion of everyone."
Oprah brought on Ali Wentworth (Mrs. Stephanopoulos) appearing from a Starbucks store to promote the new Starbucks community-service initiative. Wentworth described how she’s not only married to a political journalist, she comes from a family of political journalists: "Our phones were tapped during Watergate, my mom was with Bobby Kennedy when he was shot. I have never seen this town, I have never seen this country so euphoric, so full of hope." Since "George" was broadcasting the festivities live on ABC, she added:
I took our two daughters down to the Mall. We walked, which felt like going through the Andes mountains....[Laughter] And we got caught up in this sea of optimism and excitement. People helped me with my stroller. Strangers were hugging and kissing. I took the Metro, and everyone was singing "Amazing Grace" on the Metro. I mean, I was caught up in this – there’s no other metaphor – except a wave of hope. And it was the most spectacular day.
She said she and her husband attended a few parties before the evening balls, but then she went home and watched more coverage with her daughters in her pajamas. When Beyonce sang "At Last" to the Obamas dancing, she said she called Stephanopoulos and they cried at the moment.
After all, the O in Oprah never stands for Objectivity.
PS: Oprah wrapped up the show with a music video for "America's Song," which constantly married flag images and glowing pictures of Obama, showing the merger of patriotism and the Obama cult of personality. Some viewers may have been struck that the song features two female singers (Faith Hill and Mary J. Blige) and two male singers who aren't American (Bono is Irish, Seal is British.)