That was Oprah in 2007. She was effusive and unrestrained in her excitement as the man soon to be president sauntered onto her soundstage. He spoke. She listened. He enthralled. She endorsed. They seemed like best friends. Even better, play cousins.
Their mutual admiration was palpable and sometimes even difficult to watch. During his appearances, she did everything but pass the plate. She even took time from her busy schedule of taking magazine cover shots of herself to join him and Michelle on the campaign trail.
Fast-forward four years, and Winfrey has allegedly cooled her private jets a bit. Although her reps have denied it, rumor has it she will not publicly endorse Obama for the 2012 election. At this point, her plans are unclear at best.
Here is something we know: Over the course of Obama's 2008 campaign, Oprah saw her ratings — of both the approval and the TV variety — dip. Winfrey is no dummy — she certainly recognized the possible cost of endorsing Obama when she did. She had to have understood that some of her more conservative-minded fans would get their feathers ruffled and turn away in protest.
It was a classic risk-reward scenario: lose a few viewers but help gain the first black president. It was worth it then. Now? Maybe not so much, if there are concerns that a public re-up on Obama could alienate potential viewers she's hoping to lure to her OWN cable network. Especially considering the fact that her new business venture is like Shaquille O'Neal at the free throw line: It's big, well-intentioned but struggling like hell.
Speaking of basketball, it was another Chicagoan, Michael Jordan, who provided the apolitical template that Oprah used for years and appears to be embracing again these days. When Jordan, raised in North Carolina, was famously asked why he didn't come out and support the Democratic opponent of that state's Confederate-flag-flying Republican Sen. Jesse Helms, he even more famously replied: "Republicans buy shoes, too." Brilliant.
Winfrey won't bother me as much as Jordan did if she decides against a public endorsement. Like many, she pinned her hopes on President Obama, but then things changed, and not in a "change we can believe in" kind of way. Look no further than the recent budget negotiations. While the final details haven't been fully unveiled, it's common knowledge that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the boys went "H.A.M." on the 2011 budget process and are still doing victory laps around the White House at this very moment.
To make matters worse, Obama has seemed too willing to sacrifice programs for the poor at the altar of continued tax cuts for the rich. If this isn't what you call politics over principles, then please explain what it is. It's certainly not savvy negotiating, unless your definition of shrewd bargaining is Obama's giving up the ranch in return for the GOP's rusty old kitchen sink.
And just wait for the debates to begin on raising the debt ceiling. Obama and the Senate Democrats will probably fold again, allowing the Republicans to use the debt ceiling as a hostage to justify further budget cuts disproportionately affecting those most in need. Think of the debt ceiling as a party in Republican terms. There, you will find them downing bottles of bourbon, cheering, "The ceiling, the ceiling, the ceiling is on fire, we don't need no water, let the motherf—-er burn. Burn, motherf—-er, burn!"
Obama's presidency thus far hasn't been inspiring. It's been a tour de force of compromises and broken promises. Yes, we all know that he inherited a clunker from George W. Bush. The concerns, however, are with Obama's policy and budget priorities, as opposed to the ailing economy left by his predecessor.
Maybe it's a case of overpromising and underdelivering. To borrow from former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, "You campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose." President Obama is a textbook case: from the flowery language of 2007 to the verbal rubble of 2011.
So how are Oprah and Obama different? While she may not (publicly) support him for re-election, he may not ever support the people who helped get him elected in the first place. His decision-making process seems far more egregious than hers. But whether it's political culture or popular culture, this is what people do: They posture and pander for approval ratings.
It's entirely possible that, despite what her representatives say, Winfrey simply doesn't want to endorse her good friend. Either way, until I'm happy with President Obama, I can't be mad at Oprah Winfrey.