By Stacia Friedman
Marianne Williamson is good at a lot of things. She is good at writing best-selling books. When it comes to branding, Williamson rivals the Kardashians. She’s been on every talk show and anointed by Oprah. The values posted on her website are pretty much my own: peace and love. Who can argue with that? But when Williamson stood on the debate stage with fellow Democrat 2020 presidential candidates, I had to ask, “Is this good for the Jews?” Um, no, it isn’t.
When I envision the first Jewish woman president, I see someone with Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s judicial brilliance, Bella Abzug’s fortitude, plus Gloria Steinem’s journalism chops and charisma. In other words, “a woman of valor” with a deep understanding of history, human rights and the Constitution. More importantly, these women all moved the dial forward on women’s rights and feminism.
Williamson? Not so much. Granted, she founded a nonprofit Project Angel Food in 1989 that delivered meals to people with AIDS in L.A. But her back story makes me nervous. Williamson dropped out of college in her sophomore year. So did I. However, I went back and completed my degree and then some. Williamson didn’t. Instead, she took a deep dive into Southern California’s “spiritual psychotherapy” community, a world in which faith replaces consulting with a psychologist, psychiatrist or medical expert. Think Scientology, but with better parties.
I admit, I have never read one of Williamson’s books. The titles alarm me. The Law of Divine Compensation? Sounds like Steve Menuchin’s bible. A Year of Miracles? Thank you, I’ll take a year of sanity. Illuminata? That sounds too similar to a famous conspiracy theory. There are enough of those floating around in the political landscape.
Before her loyal fans start trolling me, let me explain the basis of my discomfort.
It isn’t Williamson’s books, lectures, audio tapes or belief system. I’m sure they have helped millions deal with grief, heartache, fear and self-esteem issues.
It isn’t her wealth. This is America!
It’s that, in spite of her solid liberal values, Williamson comes from the same cult of celebrity that gave us our current divisive politics. She is a self-made contemporary media phenomenon who never ran for city council, state legislature or, as far as I know, PTA president. Yet her Twitter feed probably has more followers than any senator.
I have no doubt that starting at the top, running for leader of the free world, rather than the drudgery of taking the GREs and going to — yawn — law school, makes sense to Williamson. To me, it’s a recipe for disaster. I don’t want to, as she says, “bring spirituality into politics.” I want to bring rationality, common sense and honesty into politics. I’ve had it with thoughts and prayers. As for “miracles,” I reserve them for finding a parking space.
If Marianne Williamson was a Christian, Muslim or avowed atheist, I would still be offended by her blatant self-promotion and attempt to use celebrity to catapult into the White House. The fact that she is Jewish, even if she is totally nonobservant, makes it worse. When Williamson gave her final statement at the debate, vowing to use “love to fight Trump’s fear-mongering,” I cringed. Across America, millions of her followers no doubt cheered and openly wept. If my mother were still alive, she would’ve dubbed Williamson’s performance a shanda, a disgrace on par with dancing naked on the buffet table at a Bar Mitzvah.
Celebrity is not always a negative in presidential campaigns. Neither is being media-savvy. TV cameras loved John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and they loved them back. But there was depth, weight and substance to their candidacy. Getting into politics was a career track they had been on for years. It wasn’t a tangent. The last four years have taught me that being really good at something, whether it is hosting a reality TV show, raking in billions or writing self-help books does not qualify anyone to get their hands on our nuclear codes. Williamson is good at what she does. I hope she sticks to it.
We can and will do better. The other Democratic female candidates are outstanding. They have law degrees. They have impressive experience as public servants. They speak with passion, championing the rights of the disenfranchised, the persecuted, the hungry, the sick and the environment. Emes. What is more Jewish than that?
Stacia Friedman is a freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia.