On some level, we all seem to know that Marianne Williamson shouldn't exactly be on the debate stage. Even she seems to know it, because she operates like she's performing a commentary on the rest of the stage, speaking from a different stage about the debate taking place.
Toward the end of Tuesday night's debate, she practically jumped off the ropes with a flying elbow against the candidates who'd been laying into Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. She says "yada, yada, yada" onstage. She talks about love.
Williamson has sold a lot of metaphysical books and lectures that, while occasionally drifting into the "everything is an illusion" zone of New Age, basically offer solid and old fashioned advice: love other people, love something higher than yourself, believe in the egalitarian dignity of your own life. When Oprah started ruminating on spirituality 25 years ago, she brought Williamson on her show. And Williamson is part of that wider wellness world — up to and including Williamson's view that, for example, antidepressants are overprescribed (which earned her some real criticism last week, about how that view can stigmatize seeking real help) and other hazy aspects of the wellness approach to health.
But we know that, or maybe suspect that going in.
So it becomes this balance between fun and emotion, which is why the room goes silent and is rapt when Williamson speaks. She's not Donald Trump in 2016 — by now he was leading the polls. It's FUN, for once. Like can't we have just a couple minutes that are fun and a little charming and weird?
She doesn't talk like a politician, but she doesn't exactly talk like your average person, either. And there's something magnetic in hearing racism described as a "dark psychic force," as Williamson did Tuesday night. On the first level, that sounds absurd, because those are funny ghost words. On the second level, isn't racism a dark psychic force? Isn't this country's original sin slavery, and doesn't racism poison too many interactions big and small?
Where Williamson sounds hazy and a little silly is around some of the domestic policy proposals she puts forth (department of children, and so forth). She can be pretty testy, too, in interviews, particularly when pressed on health issues. But separate from Williamson, Williamson's argument that America's problem is spiritual in nature, and ostensibly moral, is a compelling one, and it's part of the reason her case for reparations works onstage. She identifies the long arc of slavery through Jim Crow as a moral issue, and then says we don't need a committee to make a decision about doing it.
This is, to understate it, a weird moment in American history, and we end up maybe slightly keen to people who have arguments about why things are so bad. And what she wants is "a politics that speaks to the heart" about "something emotional and psychological." Williamson sounds ridiculous, and it is a little ridiculous, but then... there is a spiritual void, after all. And why can't something be fun? Why can't we enjoy something? Why can't it be about emotion? That's the Marianne Williamson moment!