Oprah, Born-Again Reaganite Supply-Sider?!

Mercifully, the Onion headline is always just a satiric poke, even if marginally so, at the state of affairs. Yes, the hyperbole is that the gravitational pull of Oprah Winfrey's media empire exceeds that of legendary publishers Joseph Pulitzer or Randolph Hearst. Sure they started wars, but Oprah can get women of America -- i.e. the country's mothers, wives, and girlfriends -- to do her bidding. Oprah's omnipresence is evidenced by the namesake show, a book club that catapults authors into instant best-sellerdom, a magazine that bears the simple but all-dominating letter of O (as if the second syllable is no longer necessary), and an iconic profile that commands the affection and loyalties of female Americans by the legion. No, Oprah's latest venture is not a new reality, but actually just another entry into an endlessly tedious genre of reality television programming in the form of The Big Give . The show just ended but can gladly be described as a welcome departure from the usual voyeuristic fare in that contestants face off in Oprah's favorite form of inverse conspicuous consumption - acts of generosity. The show doesn't lack for drama - there are petty rivalries and accusations of self-aggrandizement, but generally the show does convey the joy one can derive from simply acting on behalf of the less fortunate, or even random strangers. More importantly, the show does conveys the difficulties inherent to organizing charitable gestures, even the modest ones. Choosing suitable means, raising additional funds from wealthy individuals, designing just the right presentation that raises the recipient's morale while preserving their dignity are all tall tasks for even the most kind-hearted. Secondary to the creative acts of charity but absolutely essential to the show is the individual initiative demonstrated by the contestants, a truly diverse set, ranging from a former beauty pageant winner to a successful survivor of the dot-com boom. Each individual exhibits dedication, thoughtfulness, and, rarely seen in reality programming, true humility in the face of each challenge. In the event of a "loss" (dismissal from the show), each individual's closing comments reminds the viewer the true reward has been the memory of helping his or her fellow man, not the fleeting celebrity enjoyed by reality show contestants. Of course, the centrality of the Individual in this endeavor goes unheralded and why should one be surprised... To date, Ms. Winfrey's liberal inclinations were easily identifiable from the public profile she has maintained, but this year has marked her first major political endorsement ever -- bestowing her immense prestige on the presidential bid of Sen. Barack Obama. That Oprah is a liberal is no surprise, but when observers thought Sen. Hillary Clinton, her ally in the crusade for female empowerment, would have been her logical choice, Oprah defied expectations. Apparently, the former architect of nationalized health care, famed crusader for children, and first major credible female candidate for the White House, was too moderate for her. For Oprah, Sen. Obama, the most liberal member of the Senate according to the National Journal, is her "favorite." Obama's platform espouses universal health care (depending on which liberal one asks), higher taxes on the wealthy, the re-negotiation of NAFTA, an exit from Iraq, and a summit with the president of Iran, an avowed Holocaust-denier. Declaring this "Change We Can Believe In", this die-hard liberal has captivated a nation... and the whole-hearted support of Oprah. So whither the title of this essay? One could confidently wager Oprah Winfrey has hardly had a kind word for the fortieth president or the conservative philosophy he championed. As evidenced by her activities and newly declared political fealties, her brand of liberalism can reasonably be inferred as the liberalism of a perpetually aching heart, yearning to galvanize the consciences of all those around her to "do something" for those less fortunate. Laudable yes, but when such liberalism becomes the basis for political action, it results in nothing more than the subordination of one's well-being to that of another's. If the declaration that "something must be done" for the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, then only the degree of generosity and compassion are suitable metrics for determining the scope and intent of government. Once these standards are in place, the state is then justified in redistributing your sweat equity toward those less fortunate, even though decades of evidence shows this approach will undermine their independence and their integrity. However, her show, The Big Give, is an inspiration directly traceable to libertarian conservative principles. When the Gospel of Reagan and faith in the individual was being ratified in the early 1980s, one of the principal texts was George Gilder's Wealth and Poverty, an appraisal of economic principles unabashedly proclaiming the moral superiority of "supply-side" capitalism. Directly disputing critiques of liberals castigating libertarian economic theories as merciless and Darwinian, Gilder memorably concluded, "Capitalism begins with giving. Not from greed, avarice, or even self love can one expect the rewards of commerce, but from a spirit closely akin to altruism, a regard for the needs of others, a benevolent, outgoing, and courageous temper of mind."
Unfortunately, liberals instead mistakenly conclude the inability of capitalism -- this celebration of wealth as a competition of giving -- to alleviate ALL poverty, ALL pain, ALL misery as the failings of the individual, or more specifically individuals who are "rich, " "excessively compensated," "benefiting from the outsourcing of jobs," "profiting from soaring gas prices," or "forsaking their commitment to the environment." Where libertarians recognize challenges waiting for the solutions of creative individuals, liberals see injustices in demand of government restitution. Consider global poverty. Liberals demand debt forgiveness and unconditional foreign aid, yet it has been the power of microcredit, a completely self-initiated enterprise, that has achieved greater gains, empowering the working poor while preserving their dignity. Consider New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. The incompetence was inexcusable, but so is the sanctimony with which liberals railed against WalMart for a variety of reasons, all the while it proved one of the more capable private entities in responding to the crisis. Moreover, liberals roundly condemn the Bush Administration, but never before the tragedy did anyone call the the quirky yet utterly corrupt culture to account or the city's failure to grow during the roaring 90s.
The Big Give, whether or not Ms. Winfrey realizes it, is that rare achievement -- a demonstration of capitalism at its best. Perhaps, this unintentional accomplishment is Ms. Winfrey's Big Gift to us all.

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