Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders may have been the A-listers on the first night of the Democratic debates in Detroit but a 67-year-old self-help author’s call for a “moral uprising” provided some powerful moments in the race for the party nod to challenge Donald Trump for the presidency.
Marianne Williamson, a spiritual adviser to Oprah Winfrey, does not sound or carry herself like a politician in a field of more than 20 candidates.
Speaking in wandering streams of consciousness, Ms Williamson has an arresting style and a lilt to her voice.
— Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) July 31, 2019
Some of the loudest applause came when Ms Williamson became the first of the 10 candidates on stage to evoke racism at length, calling it “part of the dark underbelly of American society”.
“If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with dark psychic force of the collectivised 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,” Ms Williamson said.
She added that, if the party does not “start saying it, then why would those people feel that ‘they’re there for us,’ and I feel like they won’t vote for us, and Donald Trump will win”.
Mr Trump has put race at the forefront of his reelection campaign, condemning Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings of Baltimore’s majority-black district as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess”.
He also suggested that four Democratic congresswomen from ethnic minorities “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”, as if they were not US citizens.
That debate moment began a pattern of sorts, as Ms Williamson continued to chide the other candidates for putting detailed policy over more ambitious pledges to cure the country’s larger ills.
“I almost wonder why some of you are Democrats,” she said later.
“You seem to think there’s something wrong about using the instruments of government to help people.”
Ms Williamson is still the longest of long shots to capture her party’s nomination, and remains more famous for selling eccentric online merchandise than for anything she hopes to accomplish if elected president.
Republican donors have boasted about padding her campaign coffers to help ensure Ms Williamson qualifies for subsequent debates and sucks up valuable air time.
Indeed, Ms Williamson briefly seizing the spotlight came after weeks of dismissing charges that she is a “new age nutcase”.
In her opening statement, she decried a “false god” of multinational corporation profits that she said “takes precedence over the safety and the health and the well-being of we the American people”.
In her closing statement, Ms Williamson again dismissed the night’s political insider rhetoric and intellectual discussions, proclaiming that it was instead time for “radical truth telling”.
But then she returned to the kind of long declaration that has become her trademark.
“I want a politics that goes much deeper,” Ms Williamson said, continuing that the only way to combat Mr Trump is with “new voices of energy” that only come when the nation makes “amends for our own mistakes, love each other, love our democracy, love future generations.
“Something emotional and psychological that will not be, be, be emerging from anything on this stage.
“It will emerge from something I’m the one who’s qualified to bring forth.”