Is Marianne Williamson really a fringe candidate? She doesn’t think so, she said Tuesday morning at the Flatiron location of The Wing, the New York–based women’s club. “Somebody said to me—it was on ABC Nightline—they said to me, how are you going to get people to perceive you outside of a religious or spiritual box? And my response was, if everyone who’s either religious, spiritual, health and wellness, AA, meditation, yoga, psychotherapy, course of miracles votes for me? I win!”
The crowd, a modest gathering of about 55 mostly white, millennial women, a few of them with their mothers, laughed big in support. Williamson's blue Armani jacket contrasted placidly with the millennial pink that upholsters much of the club, including the chair on which she perched; it couldn't have escaped her attention that those two tones are her official campaign colors.
“This is America today,” she continued. “This is America today. When this establishment...over-secularized conversation claims that this is woo-woo—no! This is America. This is America. The mind-body connection. This is not wacky. This is where America is today. It’s just that they seem to have not gotten the memo.”
Who is this “they”? And why haven’t they tuned into the Goop podcast? Williamson may be polling at less than one percent among likely 2020 Iowa caucus-goers, but she’s emerged as something between a cult figure and a truth-telling demagogue who is increasingly difficult to ignore. Her moving words on reparations and the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, at the second Democratic debate, along with rhetoric about the “dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred” cultivated by President Donald Trump, made her the most Googled candidate the following day. The Atlantic reported that this past weekend in Iowa, which isn’t exactly a spot on the Goop travel guide, “Williamson floated through the fairgrounds like some sort of celestial being, unbothered by the harsh sun and perpetually surrounded by a throng of sweaty supporters demanding selfies and hoping to soak up some of her good vibes.”
When The Wing’s co-founder and CEO, Audrey Gelman, announced the event with Williamson on Twitter, a number of members replied in protest, disturbed by what they perceived as the club offering a platform for her harmful ideas about anti-vaccinations and antidepressants (in June, for example, she called mandatory vaccinations “Orwellian,” saying, “The U.S. government doesn’t tell any citizen, in my book, what they have to do with their body or their child”), as well as people with disabilities. As Gelman pointed out, The Wing has invited all the female candidates to speak at the club, and reminded her followers, “Nothing is off the table!” Toward the end of her conversation with New York Times editor-at-large Amy Chozick, Williamson took a moment to “correct the record” on her statements about vaccines and antidepressants in particular, describing her comments as “sloppy” and ones that she “regretted.” It was refreshing, as Chozick pointed out, to hear a politician admit they’d made a mistake.
Chozick began her conversation with Williamson by referencing David Brooks’s column from last week, which proclaimed: “Marianne Williamson Knows How to Defeat Donald Trump.” Brooks may not seem like a central cultural observer now, but take a look back at his bibliography, and of course he digs Williamson: She’s straight out of Bobos in Paradise, his 2000 treatise on the upper-middle-class conflation of bourgeois and bohemian cultures. "Bobos," as he called them, were a group of “highly educated folk who have one foot in the bohemian world of creativity and another foot in the bourgeois realm of ambition and worldly success.” Backstage, before the interview, Williamson meditated with crystals she brought herself. But she was doing it in Armani (plus suede leggings and black d’Orsay stilettos; whenever she’s in New York, her press secretary told me, she loves to set aside a few hours to shop).
Most attendees indeed seemed to be there in search of those good vibes we’ve heard so much about. Speaking on her unconventional political background, the shift in America that made “the businessman God,” and her plans for a Department of Peace and a Department of Childhood and Youth, she was often met with applause and a chorus of women shouting, “Right!” One woman even spoke along with Williamson as she referred back to George Washington’s stance on political parties, saying in eerie unison: “Washington warned us against them.” A few moments later, the woman held up her cell phone to take a photograph; on her phone case was the Oscar Wilde quote “I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.”
Williamson held forth for over an hour—about seven times the number of minutes (less than nine) she squeezed into that second debate. But she spoke with the toughness and urgency of someone without enough time. (“Am I talking too much?” she asked Chozick at one point.) When she’s given the floor, it’s clear that Williamson is not “too soft,” too “woo-woo,” as she’d put it. Williamson might talk about love, light, and psychic forces, but “I’m no pacifist,” she said, when an attendee asked how she would balance her desire to “harness love for political purposes” with the realities of American political leadership such as drone warfare. Her voice isn’t an ASMR purr but an intoxicating mix of folksy twang (she was born in Houston), with a mid-Atlantic reverence for elocution. It’s persuasive. She is rarely at a loss for words, building with a career orator’s grace up to pronouncements about America’s increasing diversity: “This is the full manifestation, the full actualization!”
But it isn’t merely that Williamson is asking Americans to have difficult conversations about race, gender, income inequality, and immigration. Her toughness runs deeper, to a stranger place—one more establishment than her reputation as a self-care guru permits. “Too many women have been acting like little girls,” she said on the Goop podcast in July of last year. “Too many men have been acting like little boys.” On the same podcast, she railed against “prissyness,” saying this is not a “time to be precious.” She begged for us to stop “coddling.” Williamson was on the podcast to promote her book A Politics of Love, which was released six months later in tandem with the announcement of her presidential candidacy. At the end of her interview, with Goop chief content officer Elise Loehnen, Paltrow chimed in, “I feel really hopeful about the future Marianne painted.”
For Williamson’s supporters, the country’s future finally looks like it might be the paradise these bobos have long dreamed of. In this election, Williamson is the harnesser of upper-middle-class white-female discontent, who rose to prominence on the unease of the elite. Her rhetoric may seem fringe to the average American, but her ideology—and indeed, she herself—have been central to the liberal elite for nearly two decades, after she first went on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1992 to proselytize about the New Age book A Course in Miracles. “I was a singer like Bill Clinton was a saxophone player,” she joked on Tuesday about her brief stint as a cabaret singer. Was the joke that they were contemporaneous musicians?
Writing in The New Republic in June, Alex Pareene begged: “Take Marianne Williamson Seriously,” comparing her role as an outsider and her power as a populist rhetorician to Trump. But the strongest connection between the two is her ability to speak to a constituency that feels fully misunderstood and overlooked: angry white women. Women who clutch pearls and crystals. Recalling a pundit who rebuked that “I don’t do yoga,” Williamson reached for an alarming comparison: “There are just as many yoga girls as coal-miner girls.”
She went on: “You keep making a whole bunch of people feel like they’re less than—see how that does for you at the ballot box. You keep making people who do things like yoga and health and wellness feel like, ‘Well, you can vote for us, but there’s no deep honor for what you’re doing.’ See how that works out.”
Originally Appeared on GQ