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Biden Shouldn’t Blow Off Marianne Williamson
even if she doesn’t win, she’s likely to make the president sweat — and actually campaign. here’s why.
"These pseudo-sophisticates who give us their PR about how they're the adults, you see, and the people like me and the people like most of you should really sit down now," crooned Marianne Williamson to cheering supporters at her campaign launch in Union Station. “They'd have us think this whole thing is just too complicated. No, ladies and gentlemen, the problem is not that it's complicated. The problem is that it is corrupt."
Three days later, on March 7th, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre seemed to embody the precise sort of dismissive Washington insider that Williamson had just described. She laughed off Williamson's challenge to Biden in response to a question from a reporter and made jokes about "crystal balls" and "auras" — in an apparent reference to Williamson's history as a writer of spiritualist self-help literature. Other Democratic Party insiders have called her "not a credible candidate" and "not a major Democrat."
The Biden Camp isn't taking Williamson seriously. At first glance, it seems that they shouldn't have to. A Morning Consult poll conducted after Williamson announced her candidacy placed her support among likely Democratic primary voters at only 4 percent. However, the same poll found that under half of potential Democratic primary voters have heard of Williamson. Still, only a third have formed views: 20 percent view her favorably, and 13 percent view her unfavorably. She has plenty of room to grow, and it's worth noting that Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy 50 points behind Hillary Clinton according to some polls and would end up garnering 45 percent of pledged delegates in 2016.
The specter of Sanders hangs over the Democratic Party. The Biden camp might not be concerned about Williamson, but they are afraid of a challenge — deeply afraid. Last month, the DNC changed the primary calendar to make South Carolina the first state to vote. It was formerly the fourth. The party promoted this change as an attempt to "diversify" the process — an odious claim. Democratic primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire might be largely white, but they certainly aren't in the third state in the old calendar, Nevada. South Carolina is now first not because minorities live there, but because it turned Biden's campaign around in the 2020 primary after Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire and Nevada, and won the most votes in Iowa (although through some weird caucus math, Pete Buttigieg received more delegates). This sort of naked rigging screams of insecurity on the part of the Biden camp, and it's well justified. Shortly before the DNC announced the primary calendar changes, a poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs research showed that only 37% of Democrats wanted to see the President make a second run for office. Williamson probably wasn't the progressive challenger the DNC had in mind when they changed the rules, but she's the one they have, and they should be taking her a lot more seriously.
Marianne Williamson's platform is remarkably similar to that of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two candidates she ran against in the 2020 primary. For those on the left of the party in 2020, there was little reason to vote for Marianne Williamson — two sitting Senators were running on virtually the same ideas, and one of them, Sanders, spent the early days of the race as a frontrunner. As it currently stands for the 2024 primary, voters particularly energized by ideas such as Medicare For All and free tuition at state colleges, universities, and trade schools have only one candidate to turn to — Marianne Williamson. Bernie isn't running and has said he would support Biden if the President seeks re-election, which he is widely expected to do by everyone, including the First Lady. However, Sanders, unlike other Democrats, has not dismissed Williamson. He told Insider, "I know Marianne. I'm sure that she's going to run a strong campaign and raise very important issues," and refused to speculate on her chances.
Bernie might know Marianne, but as the aforementioned Morning Consult poll indicated, most Americans don't. Getting herself in front of voters will be Williamson's biggest challenge. If she can manage to do it, she's bound to intrigue, as her own political history has shown: after the first Democratic debate in 2020, Williamson was the most googled candidate — no small feat in a crowded stage of ten. When Williamson is speaking, it's difficult to look away. Although a prolific and best-selling author, she has made her living off speaking — not to bankers or journalists — but to the regular men and women who pay to attend her seminars. She speaks with a strange but melodic accent — a bit old Hollywood and a bit southern — and she knows how to face a camera. She exudes an explicitly feminine charisma which we often find in media and real life but rarely in politics. It's no surprise that she once played spiritual confidant to Oprah Winfrey — possibly the most charismatic woman who has ever lived. Game recognizes game.
Though she shares many similarities with Sanders on a policy level and often deploys similar populist rhetoric, her outlook seems much different than the Senator's. For many on the left, "self-help" has become an alien idea — but Williamson has made her living off it. Well, at least a spiritual version of it. At times Williamson can seem almost conservative compared with fellow Democrats. In 2019 she spoke about Abraham Lincoln's faith and complained to The Daily Show's Trevor Noah, "We're living in an aberrational time… the left has become over-secularized in terms of its rhetoric." In her 1992 book A Return to Love, she wrote that "our generation" — presumably hers, the boomers, had "slipped into a barely camouflaged vortex of self-loathing." She elaborates:
We're always, even desperately, seeking a way out of it through growth or through escape. Maybe this degree will do it, or this job, this seminar, this therapist, this relationship, this diet, or this project. But often, the medicine falls short of a cure, and the chains just keep getting thicker and tighter. The same soap operas develop with different people in different cities. We begin to realize that we ourselves are somehow the problem, but we don't know what to do about it. We're not powerful enough to overrule ourselves. We sabotage, abort everything: our careers, our relationships, even our children. We drink. We do drugs. We control. We obsess. We codepend. We overeat. We hide. We attack. The form of the dysfunction is irrelevant. We can find a lot of different ways to express how much we hate ourselves.
It is difficult to imagine any Democrat today talking about any of these issues as expressions of self-hatred — or, when it comes to issues like overeating — at all. Williamson's worldview extends beyond pure materialism, but not in the identity-politics way the left has become accustomed to. It is a universal worldview, a dualistic battle between fear and love — and God is love, according to Marianne Williamson and the Apostle John. Williamson might be the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter to run for President as a convincing believer in God. In her political manifesto, A Politics of Love, Williamson says:
Government is here to serve its people, and people are not just job numbers or cogs in a corporate machine. We are living, breathing, divinely created human beings on this earth for a high and mighty purpose. No politics, and no political establishment, that fails to see us that way or treat us that way is worthy.
Her willingness to speak in such explicitly moral and spiritual terms might elicit scoffs and eye rolls in Washington, but Washington is not America. This is a country where 81% of the population believes in God, and outside of Washington, few have reason to lie about it. American politics has always been driven by religious fervor, from the Great Awakening to Abolitionism, the Civil Rights Movement, and the moral majority. The decline of regular Christian church attendance has not quelled this impulse. To observe in 2023 that wokeness or Qanon function as "new religions" has become passè — everyone has written about it. This country yearns for spirituality and it always has. We are a country of tent revivals, and the best political rallies mimic them. When Marianne delivers a speech, she does so with the diction and passion of a televangelist, a good one, who’s made a lot of money. Televangelists are rich in this country for a reason. It’s not because they are blessed by God, it's because they are blessed by Americans. This country doesn’t like politicians, it likes preachers, and the best politicians know how to mimic them. Biden can’t deliver a sermon, he can hardly deliver a speech, and sometimes struggles to deliver a sentence.
Marianne Williamson's platform and commitment to fundamental economic reform might be similar to Bernie Sanders, but she shares similarities with Trump as well. Bernie might have been an underdog in 2016, but he was not a "political outsider." He was a sitting Senator who had spent the majority of his adult life in elected office. Like his fellow best-selling self-help author Williamson, Trump was a genuine outsider. His successful run for President was actually his second run for the office. A fact often forgot: Trump briefly campaigned for the Reform Party ticket in 2000, running in the California and Michigan primaries before quickly dropping out. Williamson is also on her second run and has also flirted with a third party, speaking at the People's Party Convention in 2020. The dismissiveness showed toward Williamson by Democrats and much of the mainstream press on the basis of her outsider status — baffling, given that Trump barely left office two years ago — only gives her an opportunity to articulate the precise sentiment that attracted voters to Trump and, I believe, will attract voters to Williamson. Take her recent interview with ABCs Jonathan Karl. When Karl, who deployed an audibly patronizing tone throughout the interview, referred to the Associated Presses' description of Williamson as the "longest of long-shots," Williamson shot back.
"I would bet that the Associated Press also said that Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in."
Jonathan Karl shifted uncomfortably in his chair, "Well, I don't know if they would have used that language actually I dunno —"
Grinning, Marianne Williamson cut him off. "Maybe not. But that system. You know exactly what I'm saying. The system that is now saying I'm unserious, I'm not credible, or I'm a long shot, is the very system that protects and maintains this idea that only those whose careers have been entrenched within the system that drove us into a ditch should possibly be considered qualified to lead us out of that ditch. My qualification is not that I know how to participate in that system. My qualification is that I know how to disrupt it. And that is what we need right now."
This is merely a more erudite version of Trump's case against "The Swamp." Of course, large segments of the Democratic base are far more domesticated than their Republican counterparts — the GOP base is feared by party elites, and Democratic voters are often more than willing to be led around by party elites to pasture or slaughterhouse either way — but it is precisely this segment of particularly bovine Democratic party voters who will be least motivated to come out to vote for an incumbent Democrat in a presidential election. The most motivated will be those who hate the Democratic party — the populist independents and leftists that Sanders attracted in 2016 and 2020. It is this demographic for whom Williamson's outsider status, populist rhetoric, and left-wing policy platform would be the most appealing.
Williamson might be a relative political novice compared to Biden, who entered the Senate during the Nixon administration, but she appears to have a good intuitive sense of electoral strategy, or at least good campaign advisors. Almost immediately after she announced her candidacy, she headed to New Hampshire, where many voters — and local politicians — are furious over Biden and the DNC's decision to relegate them to 2nd place in the primary schedule, a move which conflicts with both tradition and state law. The Democratic National Committee — an organization about as democratic as the Chinese Politburo — has not handled the pushback well, with the DNC's Rules and By-Laws Committee saying that they were shocked by the pushback from New Hampshire Democrats, which they described as "disturbing" and "irresponsible." So exploiting the anger of spurned New Hampsherites against Biden — who has essentially punished them for voting for Bernie Sanders three years ago — is a savvy political move, and one that she’s already started. When Jonathan Karl broached the topic in his interview, Williamson was incredibly upfront:
“New Hampshirites are not happy about that. The DNC should not be rigging the system. They don’t even pretend anymore, they’re not even covert about swaying the primary season. They’re very overt about it.”
“So that’s what’s going on — they’re rigging the system for Biden?”
Williamson laughs. “They even admit that Jonathan.”
Such frankness about the DNC should certainly appeal to the people of New Hampshire, as well as to to Bernie Sanders supporters who believe the DNC rigged the 2016 primary against Sanders — a notion that has found agreement among high-profile Democrats who were unaffiliated with the Sanders campaign such as former Democratic Party big-wig Donna Brazile and Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Despite all this, I don't think Marianne Williamson will win, particularly given the primary calendar changes specifically designed to kill the momentum of potential challengers against Biden, the Superdelegate system, and the general difficulty of defeating incumbent presidents in a primary, something which has never happened since the advent of the modern presidential primary election system in 1976. But, if Marianne Williamson is able to introduce herself to voters and present her case to them on a wide enough scale — a challenge in and of itself — I predict that Biden will be forced to actually campaign for his own re-election in a primary. This would be historic — such a thing has not happened in the Democratic Party since the primary which preceded Carter's failed re-election. The great joy of betting on losing dogs is that when they outperform expectations, you see the people who bet on winning dogs flinch as your mutt nears the flanks of their prized pooch, if only for a moment. In this country, the people who bet on winning dogs happen to be the smuggest people at the track, the people who won't let you smoke at it anymore and aren't there to have fun but merely to gloat about having chosen the path of least resistance. I'm betting on Marianne because I think she can make them flinch.
Or read one of our greatest hits —
The Fifth Estate, by Mike Solana
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