New Age guru Marianne Williamson throws her aura into the 2020 presidential ring

Prominent New Age personality and bestselling author Marianne Williamson is the latest über-left-wing Democrat to declare her candidacy for her party's 2020 presidential nomination.  What sets apart Williamson from a rapidly expanding field of presidential aspirants is her background as a spiritual leader with a large following who has never held or run for political office.  In a speech livestreamed before an invited audience of supporters in Los Angeles on January 28, Williamson officially threw her aura into the ring.  She had previously indicated an interest in running for the nation's highest office as a peace, love, and spiritual candidate.

Marianne Williamson livestreams the news that she's running for president, January 28, 2019.

The header photo on her Twitter account, where she has over 2.6 million followers, proclaims, "Join the evolution."  At her Instagram, which also now promotes her candidacy, her most recent message contains a campaign pitch intended to distinguish her from what promises to be a record-breaking number of serious Democratic Party candidates:

When I talk about the underbelly of America's millions of chronically traumatized children, or the sociopathic nature of our economic system, or our systemic racism, or America's pathological militarism, I'm not saying much the traditional political candidates don't know.  But I'm naming those things, and they're not.  So what does that tell you about our political establishment...?  The qualification we most need in a president today is the willingness to articulate the conversations we most need to be having.  You have to name the darkness before you can route [sic] it out, and that takes courage and conviction more than it takes expertise at playing the game already being played.

Intrigued by her reference to "systemic racism," I checked out Williamson's campaign website,  Under a heading of "The Problems of Our Criminal Justice System," I read:

‍According to the Bureau of Justice, incarceration in the U.S. grew from 200,000 people in 1980 to almost 7 million in 2014.

Having done some research and reporting on prison issues, these stats sounded way off to me.  In fact, a May 1981 publication "Prisoners in 1980" by the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that the number of Americans incarcerated in state and federal prisons at the end of 1980 was actually 329,122 – not 200,000.  And citing the most recent official government statistics I could find, again from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (April 18, 2018), the number of Americans locked up in 2016 was far fewer than the 7 million that Williamson claimed were incarcerated in 2014:

The incarcerated population decreased from 2,172,800 in 2015 to 2,162,400 in 2016.

Marianne Williamson, it seems, promises to be a fact-checker's delight in the months ahead.

Marianne Williamson's Twitter header photo, January 29, 2019.

In recent years, Williamson has spoken more and more often about political issues as she has crisscrossed the country, lecturing to large groups of fans and followers who looked to her for spiritual guidance.  A 1997 profile of Williamson in Mother Jones described her as "an unembarrassed political liberal whose latest book, The Healing of America, warns that spirituality can unite the country while politics steeped in religion can only divide it."  Two decades later, on April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Williamson penned an op-ed for the Washington Post titled "Why we need both a national apology and reparations to heal the wounds of racism."

Marianne Williamson Twitter profile photo.

Williamson, who is now 66, had an undistinguished and, by her own admission, troubled early adulthood ("when she talks about sex, swinging, drugs, and one-night stands, it is sincere; she has done it – and we know it").  Raised in Houston, Texas, her father was an immigration lawyer.  According to Wikipedia, which cites numerous sources:

Williamson put in two years studying theater and philosophy at Pomona College in Claremont, California before dropping out in her Junior year and moving to New York City to pursue a career as a cabaret singer.  In 1979, Williamson returned to Houston, where she ran a metaphysical bookstore.

In the 1980s, Williamson became immersed in A Course in Miracles, a dense and somewhat influential (to hardcore New Age seekers) but not exactly bestselling series of spiritual books first published in 1976.  In 1992, Williamson wrote the first of her 12 books, A Return to Love, which was about the Course and how it had transformed her life. The 1997 article on Williamson in Mother Jones, "Faith: Marianne Williamson is Full of It," picks up the story:

A Return to Love was Williamson's interpretation of the much deeper, more demanding A Course in Miracles, which Williamson describes as a "self-study program of spiritual psychotherapy."  Written [others say it was "scribed"] by psychologist Helen Schucman between 1965 and 1972, the three-volume Course bills itself as a correction to Christianity – beginning from a premise of original innocence rather than one of original sin, for example, and focusing on the metaphysics of identity and ego formation.  Schucman, who died in 1981, said that Jesus had dictated the books to her.  At first, Williamson was turned off by Course's heavy emphasis on Christianity.  But she ultimately reconciled it with her Jewish upbringing, and the woman who had written a Dear John letter to God as a Texas schoolgirl says she found her way free of "terrible emotional pain," eventually even becoming Course's public face.

A fawning feature article in Psychology Today, "Marianne Williamson: Who Is She & Why Do We Need Her Now?," said of the "author, teacher, and preacher":

America's latest Mary Magdalene is Mary Media-lene[.]

I attended a book-signing by Williamson in La Jolla, Calif., in the spring of 1992 before her first appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, the highest rated daytime talk show in American television history, instantly catapulted her book to mega-bestseller status.  It was a small gathering at a local bookstore, and I had a chance to chat at some length with Williamson after her brief presentation.  In our one-on-one conversation, Williamson spoke with an accent that sounded as though she was from Brooklyn or Queens, N.Y.  At the microphone earlier, it was as if she had graduated from a finishing school.  I recall being underwhelmed by the encounter.

I was surprised when, a few months later, her appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show elevated her to superstar status.  Within a year of appearing on OprahReturn to Love had "sold 750,000 copies in hardback, an equal number in paperback, and spent 39 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list," according to the 1997 Mother Jones profile, which also noted:

Williamson doesn't like questions about her power as a priestess of the New Age, doesn't much like being questioned about her path to enlightenment.

As a candidate for the nation's highest office, she may have to begin to answer some of these questions now.  Forty-three years ago, during the first of his three campaigns for the presidency, then-California governor Jerry Brown, who also had an interest in New Age philosophy and practices including Zen Buddhism, was subjected to this description on more than one occasion:

He's the candidate whose position is well-known.  It's the Lotus position.

It will be interesting to see how much more seriously a candidate's interests in the New Age – after decades of Oprah et al. – are taken now.

Peter Barry Chowka writes about politics, media, popular culture, and health care for American Thinker and other publications.  Follow him on Twitter at @pchowka.