Step out of the race now, my little darlin'
We've heard your lofty talk before
Your words of love won't cure the loathing
Your thoughts on peace can't win the war
You're so wrong, Marianne
To win, we need a plan, which
You don't have, so just go back to writing books again
~ With apologies to the late, great Leonard Cohen
When McSpirituality/New-Wage guru Marianne Williamson made her appearance in part 2 of the first Democratic pageant last month -- I can't seem to bring myself to seriously call those two nights of sound bites, posturing and constant interruptions "debates" -- she reportedly won the Google search war for the evening, as herds of the curious and perplexed stampeded to their favorite search engine to find out more about her, or in many cases to find out just who the hell she is. No doubt her ascent to fame in the 1990s predated the birth of many of the searchers, and she hasn't exactly been front-page news in recent years.
But many others -- me, for instance -- have known about her for years and years, and I daresay that many of us knew most if not all of what National Review recently declared to be "Twenty Things You Probably Didn't Know about Marianne Williamson." Being a former long-time resident of Houston myself, I knew, for instance, that she is a native Houstonian, and furthermore I know very well that she used to make quite a big deal of being a Texan, making her current strange-sounding accent, which some have described as "mid-Atlantic," seem all the more like an affectation.
More importantly, many of us think that her presidential campaign is a colossal waste of our time, though probably not of hers; after all, look at all the renewed attention this once fading star is now getting as a result.
Williamson didn't speak much compared to some of her co-stars on the Democrats' stage, and in fact didn't speak at all for nearly the first half hour. But what she did communicate drew a lot of attention, particularly her apparent disdain for plans.
She did follow that up immediately with a valid if abstract point about America having a "sickness care system" rather than a health care system, and a slightly more concrete point about some of the possible roots of chronic illness. And later on, after the performance, she clarified that she has nothing against plans but believes crafting plans is the province of the president's Cabinet.I tell you one thing, it’s really nice if we have all these plans, but if you think we beat Donald Trump by just having all these plans, you’ve got another thing [sic] coming. Because he didn’t win by saying he had a plan. He won by simply saying, “Make America Great Again.”
But it was Williamson's closing statement that arguably got the most jeers across the Interwebz:
I’m sorry we haven’t talked more tonight about how we’re going to beat Donald Trump. I have an idea about Donald Trump: Donald Trump is not going to be beaten just by insider politics talk. He’s not going to be beaten just by somebody who has plans. He’s going to be beaten by somebody who has an idea what the man has done. This man has reached into the psyche of the American people and he has harnessed fear for political purposes.
So, Mr. President — if you’re listening — I want you to hear me please: You have harnessed fear for political purposes and only love can cast that out. So I, sir, I have a feeling you know what you’re doing. I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field, and sir, love will win.
The past as prologue
Perhaps you know Williamson's back story, but in case you don't, and you don't feel like following all of the links I'm providing, here's a capsule review.
After years of being an adventurous, free-spirited dilettante whose colorfully dysfunctional past is currently being portrayed in the media as wild, crazy, exotic, and even "controversial" -- but really wasn't all that unusual for many who were born during the first half of the postwar American baby boom -- Williamson shot to New-Wage guru stardom in 1992 with the publication of her first book, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles." (The Amazon link is for the 1996 reissue/update, but the book was originally published in '92).
The original A Course in Miracles, as you may know, was a ponderous three-volume work by a woman named Helen Schucman (1909-1981), who claimed that Jesus Christ Himself dictated the words to her between 1965 and 1972. Marianne Williamson's book was a much more marketable distillation of ACIM -- and her own attractiveness and charisma certainly didn't hurt -- and her career took off like wildfire. Numerous books and other info-products followed over the years, and Williamson became a McSpirituality minister to the stars -- even officiating at one of the late Liz Taylor's multiple weddings -- and, of course, she became an Oprah pal.
I lampooned Williamson back in the early daze of her stardom, originally creating this fake ad for "A Correspondence Course in Miracles" in 1992 and including it a few years later in my self-published BLP (book-like product), Cosmic Relief: Honoring and Celebrating the Global Paradigm Shaft, which is apparently a very, very rare book, though I still seem to have a few copies lying around the garage, and if you ask me very nicely, I will sell you a copy for much less than the $1,071.50 or even $425.00 currently listed on Amazon.
As her star rose, Williamson caught a lot of flak about a lot of things, including her temper and her seeming fondness for using colorful language. In a long-ago essay (posted on my currently inactive Cosmic Relief web site) about Houston being "Spaced City," due to the city being a breeding ground for numerous New-Wage/McSpirituality/selfish-help luminaries, I swatted at Williamson in passing, describing her as having a sweet face but a foul mouth, and making a reference to "A Curse in Miracles." On a more serious note, Williamson was also accused of mis-managing some of her charitable organizations, essentially using them to promote her various shticks. Some of those early-days criticisms are detailed in this 1992 Entertainment Weekly piece. And Mother Jones published a more than slightly mocking profile in 1997.
Like many New-Wage gurus, some of whom I've also written about on this blog, Williamson had a tendency to throw the criticism right back at the critics, strongly insinuating that they were the ones with the problems, not her. But she was not above invoking her Texas background as a partial explanation for some of the problems people had with her, nor of using her Jewish heritage as a rationale, and indeed on more than one occasion she used her "Jewish Texan" creds to explain why she was such a bad-ass. I don't have any specific links to the latter point; I am just going by long-term memory.
In more recent years Williamson was no longer front-page news -- or maybe I had just grown bored with her so she slipped off of my radar -- but she kept producing whatever it is she produces, and in late 2010 she came out with a weight-loss book that her pal Oprah enthusiastically endorsed in what was clearly a very contrived promotional scheme. Natch, I had to write about that.
Back to the future
In many ways Williamson was and is a personification of the passive-aggressive reality that so often lies beneath the thin veneer of the SNAG (sensitive new age guy/gal) "love and light" mindset. That sometimes disturbing inconsistency, so often seen in New-Wage "leaders," is another topic I've covered on this blog, and as a matter of fact I'll be writing about it again very soon regarding a hypocritical and profoundly narcissistic New-Wage guru/scoundrel I've written about many times before.
But back to Marianne. While it's true that women who assert themselves in any way -- in business or in politics or in their personal lives -- have always been more harshly judged than men (a phenomenon that holds true even today), the new-age love-and-light hypocrisy is a separate issue from that. Following Williamson's stage performance as a Democratic presidential candidate, my friend Barbara G, who lives on the West Coast and is about as astute an observer of the cultural milieu as I've seen, wrote about Williamson on a Facebook thread, saying, "She is so phony with her hostile, aggressive 'love'. She drones on & on with her prepackaged pseudo wisdom and spirituality. My skin crawls when I hear and/or see her obnoxious demeanor. YUK!" She added, "Something off about her. She talks love but emanates something opposite." I concur.
That said, I don't see anything bizarre or terribly offensive in Williamson's rhetoric about "leading with love," nor in her implicit and explicit messaging that so many of America's problems are rooted in a deep spiritual malaise. While it may have seemed laughable to many when she preached it from the stage at the Democrats' show, consider the fact that Williamson is, after all, a long-time proponent of a McSpirituality "religion" of sorts. So her message is hardly surprising, and to tell the truth I don't find it nearly as objectionable as the right-wing theocrats' booming declarations that America's problems are mostly rooted in a Jesus deficiency or in Americans forgetting that the US is a "Christian nation."
In addition to lampooning her in Cosmic Relief, I have, as indicated above, taken a few potshots at Williamson on this blog over the years, as has my friend and blogging colleague Chris Locke at the dormant but still germane and well-worth-reading MysticBourgeoisie blog. I'll say again as I've said before that I met Williamson in person once at a book signing/reading that I attended with a star-struck friend. The event was to promote her recently released work, A Woman's Worth, and if you're interested, I do have a signed first edition of that book, which I will gladly sell you for only a few hundred dollars. Anyway she seemed genuinely nice during our brief exchange, though this doesn't invalidate the points about the faux-love-and-light syndrome I mentioned above. Williamson is also clearly intelligent, writes lovely and poetic, if rambling, prose, and has lofty ideals and a strong sense of social justice.
But she is -- to put it mildly -- not a credible presidential candidate, any more than her g.f. Oprah is. Granted, Williamson actually did manage to make a couple of valid points during her performance at the Democratic gathering in June, even if most of those points were so abstract as to be useless. And she made one highly pertinent comment that, unfortunately, was immediately drowned out: she mentioned the historic role that US foreign policy in Latin America has played in the current immigration crisis. Williamson was spot-on when she said that none of the other candidates had mentioned this core problem during the entire evening's performance. In fairness, it's hard to dig deeply on any issue when you're restricted to 90-second or less sound bites, and when folks are constantly hollering over you, which is why these "debate" formats are such a joke. Even so, someone should have at least mentioned the US' foreign-policy baggage, and Williamson did. I have to give credit where it is due.
But none of the above means that Marianne Williamson is a viable candidate for the presidency. She might have a place in an agency such as Health and Human Services, due to her long history of advocacy and activism, or perhaps in the Environmental Protection Agency, assuming that any of these agencies survive the Trump disaster. But president? Please, girlfriend.
Joke's on us?
Hilarity aside, Williamson isn't being completely dismissed across the board. Even though she is widely considered a joke candidate, there seem to be two schools of thought regarding even this matter. Some think she's nothing but a joke. Humorists have been having a field day mocking her; Saturday Night Live alum Kate McKinnon did a fair imitation on Seth Meyers' show, and comedian Trae Crowder took to Twitter to recap Williamson's platform "as I understand it":
Healthcare plan: lol plans are stupidThe second school of thought is that Williamson may be a joke, but, as Arwa Mahdawi reminded us in a July 2 opinion piece in The Guardian, we might still be wise to take her seriously; after all, Trump's victory in 2016 taught us that a joke can win an election. A writer on The New Republic web site, Alex Pareene, suggests that Williamson is a possible Democratic version of Trump, being "a proper outsider, with a great deal of TV experience giving her both name recognition and some degree of respect among the 'base' despite the 'establishment' not taking her seriously." Yet of course she is also Trump's opposite, Pareene hastens to add, being "not just female but powerfully and unabashedly feminine, aiming her message not at the raging car dealer dad but the anxious Wellness Mom."
Biggest issue: Holler at New Zealand
Ultimate takeaway: See y'all in the Love field
Maybe so, but we don't need another TV star in the White House, no matter how opposite she may be to Trump in all of the ways that matter.
Williamson herself seems to have been a good sport about the laughter at her expense, noting, according to the Guardian article I linked to above, that America could use a good laugh. (She did, however, get a bit huffy about being left out of a Vogue profile of female candidates, which perhaps indicates that the "good-sport" facade can only cover up so much.) And notwithstanding Trae Crowder's snarky tweet, Williamson does have some solid progressive ideas that are not mired in abstraction and flowery new-age language, at least as outlined on her campaign web site. Her words on those pages don't sound nearly as flaky as the Marianne we saw on stage in Florida. Again, that ludicrous "debate" format left little opportunity for thoughtful remarks, much less elucidation, on any issue; with such a large pool of candidates, everyone would have been better served had the show been stretched out over four nights instead of two. But it was what it was. Time to move on.
In any event, however much or how little of a joke you may think Marianne Williamson is, the joke may be on all of us. As of now it appears that she has reached the requisite donation and polling thresholds to make it to the second crop of debates at the end of this month, apparently thanks in no small part to donations from Republicans, who reportedly want to keep her in future debates for her entertainment value. This is both funny and scary.
These Republican donors fully understand that Marianne Williamson is in over her head, and no doubt they are chuckling at her wacko pronouncements, and patting themselves on the back for their efforts in the service of sabotaging the Democrats, even as they're clicking the "Donate" buttons or writing out their checks. But I should point out that these are most likely some of the same folks who supported the profoundly stupid-sounding Sarah Palin or even bonkers Jeezus freak Michelle Bachmann back when those women were in the running for national office, and who now wholeheartedly support the ignorant, lying, gaffe-prone poser who currently occupies the Oval Office, and who has said more than his share of just plain stupid things. Clearly these GOP hyper-partisans don't even raise an eyebrow over a candidate or even a president saying unintentionally hilarious or completely wackadoodle things, nor do they object to that person's core unfitness for office, as long as he or she is on their side. But I do mind, and I have no problem with calling out Williamson even if I agree with her on some matters.
Williamson (unlike Palin and Bachmann) is smart, and she seems to have a pretty good idea about what is going on, so I find it hard to believe that she thinks she truly has a chance to win. Call me a pessimist or a cynic, but it seems clear to me that the toxic combination of Trump's cult of personality and GOP dogma and obstructionism have brought American politics far beyond a simple battlefield where love meets hate, and love wins out. Williamson and some of her supporters may truly believe that her metaphorical placing of a flower in the barrel of a rifle will go straight to the core and fix what's wrong with the republic, and she might even be able to best Trump in the unlikely event that she would participate in a one-on-one debate with him -- assuming, of course, a format where candidates were quizzed intelligently on issues and allowed time to give substantive answers -- but Trump isn't the only problem.
There's his base, too: a firewall of irrational, tenacious MAGA soldiers who stick with their leader through thick and thicker, through dumb and dumber. Included among these supporters are viciously hateful MRAs (men's rights activists) who fancy themselves "alpha males" and spend their social media lives raging against women, feminism, "SJWs" ("social justice warriors"), and all manner of "snowflakes." (I've most recently discussed them on my previous blog post, in the context of the way some of them have been defending motivational stuporstar Tony Robbins against #MeToo allegations; see section under the sub-head, "Alphabitching and other reactions.") Then there are the theocrats who still think new-age spirituality is the work of the devil. And of course there are the random racists, xenophobes, and garden-variety ignoranti who won't even consider anyone but Trump, because they see him as their only hope to save America from a host of real and imaginary (mostly imaginary) threats. The hatriarchy truly has Trump's back. And beyond Trump's base, there is a wide field of powerful Republicans who are bent on remaking America in their own image and that of their wealthy donors. That's a lot for one faux-accented, love-spouting guru to tackle, even if she is a bad-ass Jewish Texan.
However solid some of her ideas may be, Williamson's public persona and general flakiness, not to mention her utter lack of qualifications for the most powerful position in the world, overshadow all of those good ideas. I hope she doesn't let her ego get the better of her, and that she has the good sense to step out of the race soon, perhaps donating all of that Republican money either to another, more credible candidate (like Elizabeth Warren, for instance, who actually does have credible plans as well as a solid understanding of who Trump and the GOP power structure are and the damage they are doing), or to any number of worthwhile causes that Williamson holds so dear. We can't afford another four years of what we have now, and Williamson's candidacy is counter-productive to the urgent mission to #DumpTrump.
Note: I have added links and clarifications to this post since it was first published on July 5.
~ CC, July 6, 2019
Addendum, July 23, 2019: Last week, Tarpley Hitt at the Daily Beast reported on Marianne Williamson's return to what she described as her "soul base" in Los Angeles. Said Marianne to her appreciative audience at the Saban Theatre, "There has always been a sense for me that I was seen and heard in Los Angeles, because I think like so many people here think. You don't actually think you're wacky when you're here. You just think like everyone else." (Not a good selling point for a nationwide candidacy, but whatever.) Yet despite her rapport with that audience, some folks clearly wanted her to talk about concrete issues.
For a homecoming—one which could strengthen her standing among California primary voters—the event was largely untethered to Los Angeles, a city currently bogged down by disasters, from record-setting earthquakes and looming wildfires, to one of the worst housing crises in the country. Just last month, Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority announced the results of an annual homelessness count, which showed that the number of people experiencing homelessness in the county had grown by 12 percent since 2018, to a staggering population of 58,936. Housing is one of the most pressing issues in California—and no shortage of attendees expected Williamson to talk about it...And in another Daily Beast article published on July 7, Sam Brodey wrote about how Marianne Williamson squandered $2 million when she unsuccessfully ran for Congress "in one of California's most New Age-y districts" a few years ago. It's a cautionary tale for those who still might be considering supporting her presidential campaign. For the rest of us, it comes as no surprise whatsoever.
...At one point, as Williamson waxed Goopish, someone in the back yelled: “Talk about homelessness!” She didn’t.
The choice left more than one fan disappointed. “Marianne says, ‘If you see a hungry child, feed that child,’” said Jess Torres, a formerly-undocumented organizer with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Human Trafficking and a longtime Williamson supporter. “But I can tell you that 100 people passed a hungry person on their way here, and nobody fed them. I’m looking for a candidate who’s willing to point that shit out.”
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