You would be correct to look at the slew of retirements in Congress and conclude that for many, the Capitol’s hallowed halls just aren’t what they used to be. Who needs such low approval ratings (13 %), the extra long to-do lists with unchecked boxes, and just imagine the stress of all that gridlock.
Well, a certain spiritual guru and friend of Oprah wants in.
She is none other than Marianne Willamson, a bona fide congressional candidate.
The best-selling self-help author, old Oprah show regular and lecturer is vying to fill retiring Rep. Henry A. Waxman’s progressive shoes in California’s 33rd District.
One of her competitors will be Sandra Fluke, an attorney turned activist, who is a household name to many progressive women, sort of like Williamson is to an older generation.
Asked how she would position herself against Fluke, Williamson, who is running as an independent welcomed Fluke to the field.
“It’s great that Sandra entered the race. Democracy is at its best when more people are in the game, particularly women,” she said. “I’m not playing the strategy game, but I do have a message for the people of District 33. And that’s that we need something totally and completely new now — not the worn out rhetoric of either party.”
Williamson, 61, is well-known to the self-help crowd, writing 10 books, most of them best sellers, and popularizing new age speak while chatting on Oprah’s couch from time to time. The Houston native, who now lives in Los Angeles, has a new book out called “A Year of Miracles,” but more about miracles later.
So is she Oprah’s choice?
“Oprah has been throughout my career, profoundly supportive and genuinely warm,” Williamson said. “Her personal kindness has always meant a lot to me and this situation is no exception.”
In some ways, that multimillion selling book, “A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles,” explains much about her candidacy.
First, it would pretty much take a miracle for her to win.
And her platform is something like: Congress, love is all you need.
“Some people think it’s naive to have love be our bottom line,” she said on the phone in that voice that sounds like a massage. “I think it’s naïve to think that if we don’t make love our bottom line, that we can exist for another 2,000 years.”
In California, stuff like this happens all the time. Unlikely candidates–actors, porn moguls, business moguls, baseball commissioners–run for office.
But Williamson, who is now facing progressive star Fluke in the run-off contest in which the top two June finishers will go head-to-head in the general election, sees this bid as an extension of her spiritual work.
“Politics should be the container for our conversations about who we are and where we go. It is, unfortunately, a container for shallow conversations,” she said. “What I write about, is seeking the deeper conversation to seek real answers and if you don’t live in a deeper conversation, you are going to become reckless and irresponsible and that’s what I feel has happened in the United States.”
Waxman, in a conversation before announcing his retirement, dismissed Williamson’s bid and her ambitions in Congress as naive.
“I know she would like to replace the Department of Defense with the Department of Peace,” he said, explaining that he didn’t know that much about her platform. “She thinks she can come to Washington and get things done by waving a magic wand. She doesn’t understand how long it takes to get things done. It took 10 years for the Clean Air Act, 8 for Ryan White HIV/AIDS, 15 for legislating tobacco products.”
Waxman’s approach to Williamson in some ways portends how other candidates might try to frame her. She said she has no intention of replacing the Department of Defense, which she described as vital to the nation’s security, but that the country should invest as much in peace and diplomacy.
As for how to pay for her campaign, Williamson said she does plan to put in some of her own money, though didn’t say how much. The average donation she has gotten so far is about $54 and she has been holding yoga fundraising events. A flier for her next event, which is this Friday in Los Angeles, quotes Yogi Bhajan: “Breathe in, mentally utter the word ‘Victory’ and exhale. You’ll find the strength of a hundred angels behind you.”
“People can laugh about that all they want to,” she said. “But if the power of all those yoga mats was harnessed.”
The power of yoga mats notwithstanding, Williamson’s toughest challenge, beyond being a newcomer to politics, is that she is not running as a Democrat, so won’t have the backing or the infrastructure of a major party. She will likely run to the left of the Democratic field, which will be crowded as a seat that hasn’t been up for 40 years will now be in play. Along with Fluke, who filed papers Tuesday, at least two other Democrats have announced bids.
Williamson sees the two-party system as part of the status quo, and criticized Democrats for not being strong enough on issues like NSA surveillance and the use of drones. She also wants to pass a Constitutional amendment outlawing the influx of money and influence in politics, offer free college tuition, and regulate the use of GMOs in food among other things, that put her to the left of most Democrats.
She dismissed Waxman’s suggestion that she doesn’t understand how Washington works.
“I wouldn’t come with a magic wand, I would be one of 435 voices, there are wonderful people in Washington, and I know how many would love to be involved in a more enlightened conversation about our country,” she said. “We need more people willing and able to go there. I would be one of many, but I would be one.”