Marianne Williamson announced her presidential run on March 4 in Washington, making her the first prominent Democratic challenger to President Biden’s expected reelection bid. The best-selling author, spiritual counselor, and unsuccessful 2020 presidential contender faces a daunting task at a point when prominent Democrats—including many of the president’s 2020 rivals—say they want him to run and win in 2024. As she was preparing for campaign swings in South Carolina and New Hampshire, I spoke with Williamson about why she’s making this run.
John Nichols: You ran in a crowded field four years ago. Now, you have positioned yourself as perhaps the most prominent primary challenger to a sitting president. Why did you decide to run again?
Marianne Williamson: My choice really doesn’t have to do with who’s in the field, or how crowded it is, or anything like that. I’m running because I think there are things that need to be said in this country, because I think that only an agenda of fundamental economic reform will beat the Republicans in 2024, and because I feel I can contribute. There is no way of knowing what’s going to be happening in the next few months, and I can’t let that kind of speculation guide my thinking.
JN: So, to your thinking, this campaign is not about Joe Biden but about the vision you hope to present?
MW: Absolutely. This is about ending a 50-year aberrational chapter of American history and beginning a new one. Neoliberalism has devastated not only our economy—creating the greatest income inequality in 100 years—it has infected every aspect of our culture with injustice and despair. It’s time for us to recognize that, cut the cord, and begin again. It’s going to take someone who is not of that machine to smash it.
JN: What made you decide to run in the Democratic primaries if your frustration is with the whole of the political machine?
MW: They are doing everything they can to invisabilize me. They would have an even easier time doing that if I were running as a third-party candidate. This way, for instance, I can call on the president to debate me and, if he refuses to do so, that exposes the undemocratic aspect in the corporatist elite within the Democratic Party.
JN: Your background is different from the typical presidential candidate. You’ve run for office before, but you’ve gained notoriety as someone who helps people explore their experiences, often from a spiritual perspective. Do you see that as a challenge or an advantage?
MW: It is key to my strength here and I’ll tell you why: I have dealt in my 40-year career with helping people both endure crises, and transform them. That is exactly what this country needs now: someone who can help us both endure and transform the trauma of these times. The chaos is external, but the trauma created by the chaos is internal. Secondly, because of my experience with all kinds of personality types and all kinds of people, I have a deep understanding of what a sociopath is. A sociopath is someone who simply doesn’t care.… It is because of that that I recognize as deeply as I do that an economic system—namely hyper-capitalism, namely neoliberalism—has at its root a deep spiritual darkness. It does not care. It is a sociopathic economic system that prioritizes short-term profit maximization for these huge corporate entities. It is a destructive force. And the political establishment, at its best right now, only tries to stave off its worst aspects. That’s what corporatist Democrats do. They recognize the disease to some extent, and they try to help people survive it. But they refuse to challenge the underlying corporate forces that make the return of all that pain and all that trauma inevitable.
JN: Your campaign is being portrayed as a challenge from the left to Joe Biden. Do you see it that way?
MW: On one level, yes. But on another level, it is a challenge that comes from the Declaration of Independence. It’s a challenge that comes from Lincoln’s concept “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” It’s perishing now. The people of the United States need to recognize that we are not a government functioning of the people, by the people, and for the people. We’re not actually even functioning as a democracy. We are functioning as a government of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations. And we are functioning as an oligarchy. As Louis Brandeis, the late Supreme Court justice said, you can have large amounts of money and power concentrated in the hands of a few or you can have democracy. You cannot have both. Election denialism, voter suppression, all of the dangers of right-wing extremism are attacking democracy from without. But neoliberalism is eroding it from within.
JN: Challenging any sitting president is a daunting task. Do you believe you could win the nomination and the presidency?
MW: Donald Trump was president.
JN: So anything is possible?
MW: Anything is possible.