Marianne Williamson isn’t a traditional political candidate, but like a veteran politician, she began her campaign event at Prairie Lights Bookstore on Saturday with a joke.
“I know there are about 1,736 people who’ll be running for the Democratic nomination, and I’m just honored to be one of them,” Williamson said. But then she added, “I’m not running against anyone, I’m running with everyone.”
Williamson is a best-selling author, and has written many books that emphasize the spiritual aspects of a range of topics including weight loss (A Course in Weight Loss: 21 Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight Forever), personal finance (The Law of Divine Compensation: On Work, Money and Miracles), relationships (Enchanted Love: The Mystical Power of Intimate Relationships) and politics (Healing the Soul of America: Reclaiming Our Voices as Spiritual Citizens). She was a frequent guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and lectures widely.
“My belief is that we need a moral and spiritual awakening in this country, without which there will be no fundamental pattern disruption of the political dysfunction in this country,” Williamson told the capacity crowd of approximately 70 at Prairie Lights. “I think that there’s a moral rot that has led to political corruption, that has led to all manner of human devastation. And we need an integrative approach to repairing this problem, to solving this problem.”
“The external issues and the external challenges and external problems are merely affects, are merely symptoms,” she continued. “And if we do not address the root causes of these problems, and we do not return to our ethical and moral center — economically and politically — in this country, it will continue, no matter who is president — Democrat or Republican — in a very perilous direction.”
Williamson said the “shallow thinking” of the political establishment, which since 1980 has been focused on short-term gains, is largely responsible for the present state of government dysfunction, and “is not the mindset” that will improve conditions in the country and the world.
And it won’t be politicians alone, regardless of their mindset, that will correct the problems, according to Williamson. That will require the full participation of citizens as well.
“We should think of every citizen as an immune cell,” she said. “And the problems that confront us today are like opportunistic infections that could never have taken hold had the people, ourselves, been more awake to the problems on local levels, on state levels, on federal levels.”
“We know what we have to do externally, and when it comes to the external things to do to address such issues as climate change, to address such issues as wealth inequality, to address such issues as student loan debt, to address such issues as health care,” Williamson continued.
I’m a pretty straight-line progressive Democrat. I think we need a $15 minimum wage, we have to have universal health care, we have to have education that goes all the way through. I think we have to have education that goes beyond that — so that it’s beyond college, so that there’s a major infrastructure and matrix of technical schools and so forth.
We have to do everything possible to fight climate change. And, of course, we have to defeat Donald Trump.
But any policy solutions have to be conceived at a moral and spiritual level to be effective, Williamson told the crowd.
“Far more people love than hate in this country. We’re not bad people, we’re a decent people…” Williamson said. “However, the problem is that those who hate — bigots, racists and so forth — have harnessed their convictions for political purposes. We need to harness our love for political purposes. We need to harness our dignity for political purposes. We need to harness our love for democracy for political purposes.”
Williamson said her background has allowed her to identify “four main problems, morally and spiritually” that are creating the current level of political dysfunction.
“I’ve had a 35-year career working in the field of personal transformation, and all that a nation is, is a collection of people,” she said. “The same psychological and spiritual and emotional dynamics that prevail within the journey of an individual, prevail within the journey of a country.”
The first problem Williamson identified was a transformation of economy that began during the Reagan administration, in which corporations abandoned larger ethical considerations for a “short-sighted focus on profit and near-term” gain. The result, according to Williamson, is a sociopathic economic tyranny “where we consider money — our bottom line — above all other humanitarian principles and above all democratic and universal values.”
“It has destroyed the middle class in the United States,” she said. “Forty percent of all Americans struggle to make basic health care, rent, transportation and food costs.”
The second problem she listed was “collective child neglect,” by which she meant the under-funding of public school, the experience of children growing up in violent neighborhoods and the chronic food insecurity many children live with.
“You want to have a vibrant economy 20 year from now?” Williamson said. “Take care of your children today.”
She added, “Our economic councils shouldn’t be filled with just people in pinstripes telling us the same BS that got us here … it should be filled with elementary school teachers. Those are the people who know, educators know.”
The third problem, Williamson explained, is the state of racial relations in the United States.
“I do not think the average American is racist … but I do think the average American is woefully under-educated about the history of race in the United States, particularly since the Civil War,” she said.
In addition to people achieving a better understanding of American history. Williamson called for the federal government to pay reparations to black Americans for slavery.
Williamson explained that from a spiritual perspective, both individuals and nations “have to atone and then make amends” for their transgressions. She cited the examples of Germany paying reparations to Jewish organizations and the U.S. government paying reparations to citizens of Japanese descent who were interned in camps during World War II.
“I believe anything less than $100 billion [for reparations] is insulting,” Williamson said. She pointed out that amount is far less than the more than $700 billion the country spends annually on the military.
“We could have a council of African-American leaders chosen from academia, politics and culture,” Williamson proposed. “Whether they receive $10 billion a year for 10 years, or for 20 years, and it would be up to them to deem the projects of economic and educational [work that are needed].”
Williamson said paying reparations would be good for all Americans: “We are still taking the toxic, karmic burden of this lack of racial reconciliation and handing it down generation to generation to generation.” That burden will remain, she said, until the country takes actions to atone.
The final problem Williamson identified as fundamental involved the “national security system” failing “to do with long-term planning for peace.”
“If you’re going to be healthy, you have to do more than fight sickness,” she said. “You have to cultivate health.”
Williamson then explained that analogy: “So, if you want peace in the world, you can’t just prepare for war. You have to proactively wage peace. You wage peace by expanding economic opportunities for women around the world, you expand educational opportunities for children around the world and you do everything possible to ameliorate unnecessary human suffering.”
Williamson’s message was warmly received by the Iowa City crowd, who gave her a standing ovation at the end of her 45-minute-long prepared remarks. But the limits of her approach to politics quickly became apparent as she took questions from the audience.
The first question was, “Would you please talk to us a little about your policies, specifically on immigration, the Dreamers and what’s going on at the southern border?”
In response, Williamson mentioned the immigration attorneys in her family (her father and brother), the immigrants in her family (all four of her grandparents), before moving onto the spiritual and moral aspects of the issue.
“This is a perfect example of how the external situation, which is horrifying– but [the problem is] the break is a moral break,” she said. “It is a break in values.”
She did not explain what her policies on immigration, DACA recipients or border security would be.
The next question was whether she backed the Green New Deal that is taking shape in Congress. Williamson said she supported “a Green New Deal,” but not the Green Deal because of “certain things.” She didn’t explain what those things were, but described current environmental problems as a “moral and spiritual malfunction,” before claiming “the beginning of our environmental crisis was the destruction of the pagan cultures,” which disrupted humanity’s “spiritual and psychological connection to the Earth.”
That was typical of the whole 45-minute question and answer session. Williamson did not offer specific policies, but instead spoke repeatedly of moral and spiritual dysfunction. It’s an approach that distinguishes her from major candidates for the Democratic nomination, such as the four members of the U.S. Senate — Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker — all of whom have put forth detailed policy proposals on a variety of important issues.
Williamson acknowledged that distinction near the end of her remarks.
“I believe that my qualifications are different qualifications,” she said. “But I submit to you, for your mature consideration — and you have a year to think about this — [those qualifications for office] are equal, if not superior, to some of the tradition political qualifications.”