Policies Intact, Marianne Willamson Switches Up Rhetoric
On Sunday, October 1, it was clear under the bright overhead lights of the small UNH auditorium that in front of us stood a changed Marianne Williamson. This candidate, battle-worn and policy-driven, is a far cry from the spiritual leader who declared in the 2019 Democratic debate that she would “harness love for political purposes.” When I asked her if she could elaborate on how faith and love shaped her perspective, she acknowledged her background as an interdenominational minister, joked that she would not break out in prayer, and quickly pivoted to a history of civil rights movements in the United States.
Despite the transformed rhetoric, Williamson’s core policies have not changed since her first campaign. She still wants to create a Department of Peace, a Department of Children and Youth, and an Economic Bill of Rights that includes free health care and tuition-free college. Ms. Williamson began her speech by expressing her gratitude, not to God or the universe, but to the United States for the freedoms she enjoys as a woman in America. She evoked the spirit of 1776 and called for a “nonviolent revolution at the ballot box.” She insisted that we are living in a decisive moment where the U.S. either moves in the direction of stronger democracy or fascism.
When asked why she’s running as a Democrat, Ms. Williamson cites her upbringing in a Democratic home and calls herself a “Roosevelt Democrat” (the concept of an Economic Bill of Rights was proposed by FDR during his 1944 State of the Union address). Throughout her speech, she kept circling back to the 1970s as a model age, a time when a working-class family could buy a home and send their children to college with a single earner. Consequently, Ms. Williamson claims that the current economic malaise is “the full flowering of the Reagan revolution, the full flowering of trickle-down economics.”
Williamson’s Economic Bill of Rights:
1. The right to a job that pays a living wage.
2. The right to a voice in the workplace through a union and collective bargaining.
3. The right to universal quality health care.
4. The right to a cost-free higher education.
5. The right to good, affordable housing.
6. The right to a clean environment and a healthy planet.
7. The right to a meaningful endowment of resources at birth.
8. The right to sound banking and financial services.
9. The right to an equitable and fair justice system.
10. The right to cultural and civic involvement in democratic life.
At the UNH event, she was speaking directly to young voters, promising to “pass the baton” to younger generations after serving a single presidential term. She generally hovers around 5-10% in the polls among Democrats, but her support among young people is almost twice that, surpassing 20% in April. It was curious, then, that young students were almost entirely absent from the audience. The twenty-some people gathered in Durham were mostly older New Hampshire residents from nearby towns. A few students came in after about an hour and said they didn’t know Williamson was speaking that day. According to the candidate, the UNH Campus Democrats withdrew their endorsement of the event just hours prior; their absence was noticeable in the small room. Ms. Williamson spoke of the corporate political-industrial complex and the media blackout surrounding her campaign (notably, the only channels continuously covering her campaign are Fox News and C-SPAN), insisting that “[she has] learned that the system is even more corrupt than [she] could have imagined.” What gives her hope, the candidate said, is “talking to voters.” While addressing the media and Washington not taking her seriously, Williamson pushed back against the idea that she is an “unserious” candidate. “People who are discussing these issues from a transactional, symptoms-only approach are the ones who are unqualified,” the candidate retorted.
When Williamson ended her campaign in 2020, she endorsed Bernie Sanders for president. The candidates were similar in terms of key policies, both advocating for universal health care and universal free college and both trying to carve out an electorate to the left of the mainstream Democratic Party. The main difference between Williamson and Sanders existed in the realm of ideology. Sanders, a long-time member of Congress and democratic socialist, arrived at his policies from the secular starting point of labor movements, while Williamson, a minister and self-help writer, had a profoundly humanistic and spiritual approach to the world of politics. Since Bernie Sanders will not be seeking the nomination in 2024, it appears that Williamson aims to capture at least some of his voter base. With her more secular and pragmatic rhetoric, Williamson is appealing directly to Sanders’ pro-labor base, joining the UAW employees at the picket line in Michigan on September 30 and pledging her support to the WGA strikers in May.
It was clear that Ms. Williamson had learned from her first presidential campaign and altered her message to resonate more with Bernie supporters and shield her from further public mockery by an unrelenting Democratic political and media establishment. While Williamson is arguably still the most progressive candidate running for president this year, as I left Durham, I couldn’t help but wonder whether something was lost as she moved into Bernie Sanders’ political lane. Between the overambitious policy promises and the unapologetic pandering of these early primaries, there was a candidate, long-shot or not, who shifted the focus to love.