Oprah’s Commencement Confusion
The celebrity offered up a dose of New Age hokum to Harvard graduates.

Oprah Winfrey at Harvard on May 30.



Oprah’s second suggestion was that we should pretend that conflict is a mirage and difficult choices a myth contrived by troublemakers. Advocating for immigration reform, she suggested that “it’s possible to both enforce our laws and, at the same time, embrace the words on the Statue of Liberty that have welcomed generations of huddled masses to our shores . . . We can do both.”

Oh, well that’s good then. One wonders why we debate these things at all. For instance, if we can just “do both” at every political juncture, then we don’t need a Congress. That should save some money and angst. Suffice it to say that telling a group of young people that we can have everything if we just want it enough is, as the president might put it, “not optimal.”

Although it was honest. It turns out that Oprah does, in fact, pretty much believe her own bulls**t, which raises the question as to why a prestigious outfit such as Harvard invited her to give their commencement speech in the first place. Presumably, the university wouldn’t invite a creationist, and one wonders whether the faculty would allow a global-warming skeptic. So why, then, did it welcome someone who accepts and promotes the dangerous proto-Scientologist insanity that is The SecretSalon’s Peter Birkenhead explained Oprah’s interest in this philosophy back in 2007:

Steve Martin used to do a routine that went like this: “You too can be a millionaire! It’s easy: First, get a million dollars. Now . . . ” If you put that routine between hard covers, you’d have “The Secret,” the self-help manifesto and bottle of minty-fresh snake oil currently topping the bestseller lists . . . The main idea of “The Secret” is that people need only visualize what they want in order to get it . . . But what really makes “The Secret” more than a variation on an old theme is the involvement of Oprah Winfrey, who lends the whole enterprise more prestige, and, because of that prestige, more venality, than any previous self-help scam.

That “prestige” has helped the book to sell 19 million copies. In it — central to it, in fact –- there are some astonishing claims about medicine. For example: “You cannot ‘catch’ anything unless you think you can, and thinking you can is inviting it to you with your thought.” About economics, it contributes this: “The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts.”

Oprah’s championing of this nonsense prompted the Daily Beast to mock the philosophy thus:

Wish Away Cancer! Get A Lunchtime Face-Lift! Eradicate Autism! Turn Back The Clock! Thin Your Thighs! Cure Menopause! Harness Positive Energy! Erase Wrinkles! Banish Obesity! Live Your Best Life Ever!

You might be thinking — blunt the edges a touch, and this all sounds very familiar – that you’ve perhaps heard it somewhere before. Maybe at a college? Maybe at a college commencement address?

Sounds about right.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.


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