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Who Is Marianne Williamson, The Writer And Spiritual Leader Running For President?


We're going to take a few minutes now to talk about one of the standouts from last night - writer and spiritual leader Marianne Williamson. And if you're wondering who she is and where she came from, you're not alone. Her name was the most Googled of the debate participants last night. Williamson is not a traditional candidate, and that was clear.


MARIANNE WILLIAMSON: If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I'm afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days. We need to say it like it is. It's bigger than Flint. It's all over this country. It's particularly people of color. It's particularly people who do not have the money to fight back. And if the Democrats don't start saying it, then why would those people feel that they're there for us? And if those people don't feel it, they won't vote for us. And Donald Trump will win.

CORNISH: Now, to find out more about Williamson, we have Jenni Avins. She's a correspondent for Quartz. She's been writing about Marianne Williamson.

Welcome to the program.

JENNI AVINS: Thank you.

CORNISH: All right. For those of us who are just tuning in or in the middle of our internet search, what can you tell us about the background of Marianne Williamson?

AVINS: So Marianne Williamson first became famous in the early '90s with a book called "A Return To Love," which is really the CliffsNotes on another spiritual guide called "A Course In Miracles." The whole premise of "A Return To Love" is about seeing the world and your interactions in it through a filter of love rather than fear. Oprah made this book famous and Marianne Williamson famous and has featured her several times. And she's written dozens of books that all sort of come back to this same idea, whether it has to do with making money or losing weight or recovery from addiction. And she is kind of a hero to the recovery community.

CORNISH: Let's talk about how it applies to politics. How are we hearing it onstage? How does it help her differentiate herself from the other candidates and from Trump?

AVINS: So I think one way we really saw that last night was her sort of standout moment talking about reparations, that she does not shy away from really ugly things in American history. And she sort of talks about them in this kind of fearless moral capacity. And she talks about apology, and she talks about repair. Beto O'Rourke had spoken about reparations and about supporting H.R. 40, the bill to establish a commission. And that's not what people are talking about today. People are talking about Marianne Williamson sort of taking it on as a moral stance.

CORNISH: She's also not afraid to crack a joke here and there. And one of the more memorable moments last night is when she ended one of her points saying, yada (ph), yada, yada - right?

AVINS: (Laughter) Yeah.

CORNISH: ...To mock all of the plan-focused comments from her competitors. This is something that the head of the RNC was using as a joke online today. So could Williamson kind of backfire on the Democratic field?

AVINS: It's certainly possible. She is self-aware. She knows the memes. She knows the jokes that are being made about her. I did hear her say, at one point, that she will not do anything to take a single vote away from, you know, whoever the nominee is in 2020 in the end. It's certainly not her goal to bring the Democrats down. It really seems to me that she wants them to start appealing to sort of the emotions of the American people the way, frankly, that Trump has.

CORNISH: How far do you think she can take this?

AVINS: Trump has taught us - and also, you know, after sort of steeping myself in the literature on miracles, you are (laughter) sort of attuned to the idea that anything can happen. Also, I don't know that a Marianne Williamson administration would be any stranger than a Trump administration.

CORNISH: Jenni Avins of Quartz, thank you so much for speaking with us.

AVINS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.