MAILANDER’S LA-I would guess that with slightly over a year to go in this race that has miraculously dropped for our entertainment out of God's and Malibu's sky, esteemed Congressman Henry Waxman is about two million dollars, 67 dioceses, 42 synagogues, and 29 temples ahead of New Age bestseller writer Marianne Williamson in the race to represent California's Congressional District 33.
Ms. Williamson, the one-time cabaret singer turned miracle-oriented New Age author of such titles as "A Course in Weight Loss" and "Manifesting Abundance" who has been angling towards the political arena for three years now, suddenly announced that she was running to unseat Waxman before a throng of admirers at Saban Theater in Beverly Hills last Sunday afternoon.
She had spent the previous week courting local political consultants, but hired none before making up her mind to run.
"Lol. Luck with that," Venice community political pillar Marta Evry told me in a DM on Monday.
Williamson filed papers to run October 2. She still does not have a campaign manager, though she has courted some local and national consultants. Her communications director is Ileana Wachtel, a Republican-lite operative who worked for the conservative group Common Sense Coalition and also with Mitt Romney counsel Dan Winslow when the latter ran as a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate to replace John Kerry earlier this year.
"We'll keep you posted on that as we move forward," Wachtel told me of Williamson's search for a campaign boss.
While Williamson doesn't find much wrong with the esteemed Congressman Waxman, Wachtel's presence on Williamson's nascent campaign indicates a tricky finesse may be taking place. Williamson has always registered as a Democrat but spoken of independence from the parties. Her candidacy may oblige the distinguished Congressman Waxman to spend a bunch of money that therefore won't go to tighter Democratic races in 2014.
When authors enter the political arena, the results are often paradigm-subverting--at least for the authors who venture into the muck.
Gore Vidal entered an upstate New York Congressional race in 1960 and very soon lamented that he had not been helped enough--either that, or was too proximate--to the Kennedys. But he never really left politics after that, and became one of America's greatest political essayists.
And in a gush of admirable writerly megalomania, Norman Mailer tried to challenge a much-weakened Mayor John V. Lindsay for the top job in New York City in 1969--and may have helped inadvertently re-elect Lindsay, who was defeated in his own primary but thereupon ran successfully as an independent. While Mailer lost and lost badly, he would go on to write politically charged fiction, non-fiction, and even non-fiction novels, like "The Executioner's Song"--widely heralded as a contemporary social masterpiece.
And California's own Upton Sinclair ran for office four times, ultimately penning the telling long essay, "I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked."
"I grieve for the people," Sinclair, enough of an idealist to be a socialist, states early in his bitter post-election self-analysis. "But the people have suffered for ages, and I have no way to help it. Whoever made this universe ordained it that people learn by suffering, and in no other way. The people of California have much to learn."
In short, it more often turns out that politics changes writers, rather than that writers change politics. And this is precisely the opposite kind of message that Williamson has been peddling for years and years.
Williamson in her announcement did not back away from her New Age moorings. She spent some very long minutes talking about the Pyramid on the Great Seal of the United States. She spoke at length of mysticism and irony and how the "Founding Fathers" chose this pyramid and isn't it mystical and isn't it interesting, &c.
The pyramid has also had its share of enchantment with occultists who read it with the avidity of a sorceress at a Tarot reading. Its roots alas are rather more banal than that; the image originally appeared on the $50 Continental Currency note designed by Francis Hopkinson, a political satirist and occasional artist who also helped design the original American flag.
Like a lot of Angeleno spiritualists of yore, Williamson engages an audience with the rapid-fire patter of a cotton auctioneer. She doesn't engage an audience so much as carpet bomb it. She can talk a mile a minute, maybe up to 300 words a minute. Rhetorically she is a one-trick pony, and the trick is parallel structure, piling subordinate clause on top of subordinate clause until a single sentence becomes a litany. When she stops, she expects applause, and she gets it from her adoring self-help-seeking throngs.
But can she get it from an Elks Club chapter? A Neighborhood Council? Will she even try? Presently, she has two events scheduled for the next month, and one's in a bookstore.
She has carpet bombed her staffs too; the LA Times in the early nineties documented her capricious-seeming firings of her own AIDS org boards, running through three directors in five years at one point.
Williamson continues to love to stitch in the miraculous, the weird pyramid, the unexplained phenomena. She is a kind of postmodern Aimee Semple McPherson; a ceaselessly vibrating tuning fork, hectoring but brittle, relentless, rhetorically a kind of perpetually astonished one-trick pony, a Tony Robbins with vulnerability. It's both thrilling and exhausting, to listen to all those subordinate clauses piled one on top of the other, rapid fire, it's like listening to a Catholic litany of titles for Mary on a Holy Day of Obligation.
But in politics you can't have the same community meeting with the same fawning folks over and over. The audience that is not captive is full of skeptics. The dry and rational art of politics involves much more traveling road show than Williamson lends her miracle-gazing faithful in her Sunday talks.
I ask Wachtel about Waxman's exemplary Congressional record, with which Williamson does not appear to disagree on many points. "Democracy is about creating more options in the system," Wachtel tells me.
Her team has 380 days to show their option is a viable one.
(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of Days Change at Night: LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013. Mailander blogs here.)
Vol 11 Issue 85
Pub: Oct 22, 2013