She's been part of the national consciousness for nearly 30 years now. She's so well known she goes by one name. She's been called the most powerful woman in America. When she speaks, people listen.
So is this the year a woman decides the American presidency?
Now that Barack Obama has won 11 states in a row and 24 of the 36 Democratic primaries and caucuses held to date, now that he's nudged ahead of Hillary Clinton in the delegate count and the national polls, now that he's attracting not only a high percentage of black women voters but a much higher than expected percentage of white women voters and an overwhelming majority of women voters under 60 as well, these are legitimate questions:
• Just how much has Oprah Winfrey's endorsement of Obama meant to his bid for the Democratic nomination?
• Will the irony of the 2008 campaign turn out to be that the power and influence of one woman will effectively stop the bid of another woman to become America's first female president?
For answers to these and other similarly probing questions I consulted a person who knows Oprah like she knows her own mother, a person who can tell you without looking it up that Oprah was born 54 years ago in Mississippi to an unwed mom, that despite the odds she grew up to become the host of the longest-running and most successful talk show on daytime television (watched by 49 million people every week), that in the process she has become the richest woman in the world and wealthiest African-American of all time (Forbes estimates her worth at $2.6 billion), a person who records every episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to watch later that night, who buys Oprah Book Club books at Costco, who subscribes to O magazine.
"Is Oprah powerful enough to elect a president?" I asked.
"Oh totally," she answered without hesitation. Clearly this wasn't something she needed to stop and think about. "If she could make a star of Dr. Phil, she could get Obama elected.
"Everybody watches Oprah," she went on. "She touches all people. Not just black people, not just women. And you know there are men who watch her."
Who, I wanted to know, besides Tom Cruise?
That got me the glare.
Mock soap operas, mock "America's Next Top Model," even mock figure skating if you dare. But do not mock Oprah.She can make you, and she can break you.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and faxes to 801-237-2527.