While some of Democrats’ biggest national names crisscrossed Iowa in recent weeks to boost local candidates and prepare for 2020 runs, a small gathering in Polk City on Sunday night saw another side of the developing Democratic presidential field.
Marianne Williamson, a best-selling author and activist from California, held a house party with local Democrats and personal fans to discuss her consideration of a presidential run. She’s one of several non-traditional candidates with unique appeals that may jump into the 2020 fray soon after the November election.
Though not too well-known in Iowa or national political circles, Williamson does have a substantial number of devotees from her books and speaking tours on spiritual and self-enlightenment topics. Williamson’s Twitter following is larger than even Senator Kamala Harris, who is also traveling in the state this week.
“Fear, bigotry and racism have been harnessed for political purposes,” Williamson said in Polk City. “It’s time to harness dignity, decency and love for political purposes.”
Her visit is part of a two-day trip in Iowa to meet with local activists to assess whether a run for the White House is a viable option. It’s not her first trip, as she’s been quietly reaching out and traveling to Iowa several times this year with the help of some local friends and connections with the Fairfield community. She often asked her crowd – an eclectic group of two dozen people squeezed into a small living room – whether she should give it a try.
“I think with anything in life, you have a feeling and then you check it and have a reality check,” she told Starting Line. “That’s what I wanted to know tonight.”
Williamson has had seven books on the New York Times’ bestseller list, including ones like A Return To Love and Healing The Soul Of America. She’s a frequent guest on shows like Oprah and was a very public backer of Bernie Sanders in 2016.
Were she to run, Williamson would be one of several outsider candidates looking to turn non-political fame and a different message into a credible alternative to the governors and members of Congress planning presidential bids.
“In my opinion, the political establishment got us here. I don’t believe a certain kind of traditional political establishment is going to get us out of this mess,” she said about a possible candidacy. “I have great respect for good politicians, but I believe my 35-year career guiding people through periods of crisis gives me a deep understanding of people, which clearly the Democratic establishment lacked.”
The Sunday event opened with a poem reading from a supporter, and her speech and lengthy discussion with attendees ping-ponged between national and historical topics, and included occasional quotes from Gandhi, Adam Smith and Louis Brandeis. She touched briefly on a variety of issues, from the Clean Air Act, to slavery reparations, to mass incarceration to pesticides.
But by and large, Williamson laid out a vision for the country based on a set of very progressive policy ideas. She focused in on many economic inequality topics that Sanders highlighted during his run, and knocked the Democratic Party for getting too close to corporate donors.
“American capitalism has swerved so far from an ethical center,” Williamson said. “This is not conservative any more than it is liberal. It’s an authoritarian corporatism … This has not been our history. Our ancestors always fought against overreach by capitalism. That’s why we have unions. That’s why we have child labor laws. That’s why we have anti-trust laws.”
She also touched on a number of issues concerning race in America.
“I don’t think the average American is a racist, but I think the average American is so undereducated about what has happened here, especially since the Civil War,” Williamson explained.
And she pointed to Democrats’ failure to adequately address growing frustration with poor wages and healthcare affordability as a big reason for Trump’s victory.
“That’s what got Trump elected, was economic trauma that people are living with,” Williamson said. “There was going to be a populist cry of despair. It was either going to be an authoritarian populism, such as Trump, or a progressive populism, which the establishment Democrats suppressed in Bernie Sanders.”
If Williamson ends up pulling the trigger on a White House run, it won’t be her first big for elected office. In 2014, she challenged Congressman Henry Waxman in Los Angeles as an independent, but came in fourth place.
“What I was very naïve about was the significance of the fact that I knew nothing about political campaigns,” Williamson admitted. “But you learn from failure as much as you learn from success.”
Her closing message on Sunday took aim at the anti-democratic moves the Trump Administration has made.
“This is not the first time America has been sliding away from its democratic values,” Williamson said. “But every other generation has risen to the occasion to put this country back on track. Let’s just not be the first generation to wimp out on doing what it takes to make that happen.”
by Pat Rynard