The answer is simple. Mr. Romney didn’t fight his church’s institutionalized apartheid, whatever his private misgivings, because that’s his character. Though he is trying to sell himself as a leader, he is actually a follower and a panderer, as confirmed by his flip-flops on nearly every issue.
Oprah is indeed a megacelebrity. At a time when evening news anchors no longer have the reach of Walter Cronkite — and when Letterman, Leno, Conan, Stewart and Colbert are in strike-mandated reruns — she rules in the cultural marketplace more powerfully than ever. But the New York Times/CBS News poll probably was right when it found that only 1 percent of voters say they will vote as Oprah asks them to. Her audience isn’t a pack of Stepford wives, and the message of the events she shared with Mr. Obama is not that her fame translates directly into support for her candidate.
What the communal fervor in these three very different states showed instead was that Oprah doesn’t have to ask for these votes. Many were already in the bag. Mr. Obama was drawing huge crowds before she bumped them up further. For all their eagerness to see a media star (and star candidate), many in attendance also came to party. They were celebrating and ratifying a movement that Mr. Obama has been building for months.
This movement has its own religious tone. References to faith abound in Mr. Obama’s writings and speeches, as they do in Oprah’s language on her TV show and at his rallies. Five years ago, Christianity Today, the evangelical journal founded by Billy Graham, approvingly described Oprah as “an icon of church-free spirituality” whose convictions “cannot simply be dismissed as superficial civil religion or so much New Age psychobabble.”
“Church free” is the key. This country has had its fill of often hypocritical family-values politicians dictating what is and is not acceptable religious and moral practice. Instead of handing down tablets of what constitutes faith in America, Romney-style, the Oprah-Obama movement practices an American form of ecumenicalism. It preaches a bit of heaven on earth in the form of a unified, live-and-let-live democracy that is greater than the sum of its countless disparate denominations. The pitch — or, to those who are not fans, the shtick — may be corny. “The audacity of hope” is corny too. But corn is preferable to holier-than-thou, and not just in Iowa.
Instead of handing down tablets of what constitutes faith in America, Romney-style, the Oprah-Obama movement practices an American form of ecumenicalism.