Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson was in Fairfield Tuesday afternoon speaking with residents at Sunnybrook Assisted Living.
The event was a warm-up for her talk at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center titled “A conversation with Marianne, hosted by Mayor Ed Malloy.”
After Williamson met with Sunnybrook residents, she sat down with The Ledger for a one-on-one interview about issues ranging from health care to foreign policy to the environment.
Question about experience
Williamson is perhaps best known as an author and lecturer. Her first book “A Return to Love,” became a New York Times bestseller in 1992 and even earned a plug from television host Oprah Winfrey. Williamson became a regular guest on Winfrey’s show as her popularity grew, which included six more of her 12 books reaching the New York Times bestseller list.
Williamson has never held elected office. Besides running for president this year, the only other race she has competed in was for a U.S. House of Representatives seat in California in 2014. Running as an independent that year, Williamson came in fourth place in the primary with 13.2 percent of the vote. The seat was eventually won by Democrat Ted Lieu.
The Ledger asked Williamson why she would start her political career by running for president of the United States instead of first winning election to a lower office.
“These are extraordinary times,” Williamson responded. “The old, predictable, formulaic, linear doesn’t seem applicable to this moment in history.”
Williamson was asked how the public can have faith in her abilities if she doesn’t have political experience. She said having knowledge of political machinations only gets a person so far.
“We need a political visionary right now more than we need a political mechanic,” she said. “Franklin Delano Roosevelt said the primary job of the presidency is moral leadership, and that the administrative aspects of the job are secondary.”
Williamson said picking leaders just because they have experience hasn’t always worked out.
“How well did all the experienced politicians do in leading us into Iraq?” she said. “I know how the human heart functions and how it changes. I believe that is as significant a qualification for the presidency as anything a political mechanic might have to offer.”
During her talk that afternoon to 15-20 SunnyBrook residents, Williamson touched on a number of issues. She told the crowd about the need to address “chemical toxins in our water and food” and how they contribute to illnesses in the country.
The Ledger asked Williamson what she meant by “toxins” and how they make people sick. She said she was referring to how the Environmental Protection Agency “gutted” the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, and overturned the ban on pesticides “known to cause harm to a developing child’s brain,” that “every scientist working for the Obama administration voted to permanently ban.”
According to National Public Radio, former EPA director Scott Pruitt denied a petition to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, despite a finding by EPA scientists that there is no safe level of exposure to the substance. In January 2018, Pruitt suspended the Clean Water Rule for two years while considering a formal repeal. The Obama era-rule limits potential runoff pollution of fertilizers and pesticides.
Williamson was critical of the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the “Roberts court has chipped away at voting rights.” The Ledger asked her what she meant by that.
Williamson spoke about the case of Shelby County v. Holder from 2013. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to strike down a portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required nine states, mostly in the South, to seek federal approval before changing their election laws. According to the New York Times, the decision allowed Texas to implement a voter identification law that had been blocked, and allow the state to implement redistricting maps without federal approval.
In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “Our country has changed. While any racial discrimination is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”
Williamson said that, in her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg likened the majority’s position to a person who, while holding an umbrella in the rain, notices they remain dry and concludes they must not need an umbrella.
On another subject relevant to voting rights, Williamson mentioned that Florida’s state Legislature recently advanced a bill that would require former felons to pay back all court fees and fines before they could register to vote.
“Republicans are trying to pass that in Florida, and hopefully they will not be successful,” she said.
‘Medicare for all’
Williamson voiced her support for a health care program known as “Medicare for all,” which means extending the program designed for adults 65 years and older to the entire population. The Ledger asked Williamson how she would pay for such an ambitious proposal.
“Isn’t it funny how they never ask how you’re going to pay for a $2 trillion tax cut?” she responded. “How are you going to pay for a $2 trillion invasion of a country that did not invade you?”
Williamson said every dollar that’s “invested in people goes into our economy.”
“So much of people’s budget goes to health care,” she said. “As soon as ‘Medicare for all’ is established, people will have so much more money in their pocket, and that money goes into our economy. So we’re actually feeding the economy through ‘Medicare for all.’”
A study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia published a study in 2018 alleging that the “Medicare for all” plan proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders would cost $32.6 trillion during a 10-year period. The study argued the plan would deliver savings on administration and drug costs, but increased demand for care would drive up spending.
According to CBS News, Sanders responded to the report by calling it “biased” and “misleading.” He noted that the Mercatus Center receives funding from libertarian activists Charles and David Koch, often referred to collectively as the “Koch brothers.” Charles is on the Mercatus Center’s board of directors.
Universal basic income
Williamson supports a $15 per hour minimum wage at the federal level. The Ledger asked if she worried this would drive businesses to rely more on machines, thereby reducing employment. Williamson said this was possible, and was the reason she also supports a federal job guarantee and a program called universal basic income.
“If someone is a receptionist at a drug store, and that drug store becomes automated, it’s not like they can just go to some other drug store to find a job because the other drug store has been automated as well,” Williamson said. “This phenomenon will only grow over the next few years.”
Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has promised to give every American a universal basic income of $1,000 per month, without having to pass a test or fulfill a work requirement. The Ledger asked Williamson is she supported Yang’s proposal, and though she didn’t want to commit to a dollar figure as he has, she liked the idea.
The Ledger asked Williamson if she supported withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan. She said that was a difficult question because of the state of negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban. In March, the U.S. and Taliban spent two weeks in Doha, Qatar, attempting to negotiate an end to the 17-year war. Williamson said the Taliban has insisted that the government of Afghanistan not be part of the talks.
“The U.S. wants an agreement with the Taliban that they would not allow terrorist organizations to have a foothold there,” she said. “What concerns me is that it has nothing to say about women and the Taliban’s treatment of women.” Williamson said one of the first things she would do as president is meet with Afghan women before she commits to any particular policy. The Ledger asked Williamson thought she thought would be best for Afghan women.
“I don’t know. I need to hear from them,” she said.
In her talk to SunnyBrook residents, Williamson said Americans are not well educated about the history of racism in their country. She spoke about how an “era of domestic terrorism” including lynchings followed the end of the Civil War in 1865.
Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman issued an order setting aside a 30-mile tract of land along South Carolina and Georgia for former slaves, and promised them help securing a mule. This became known as the “40 acres and a mule” policy, which Williamson said was never fully implemented for all slaves, and even the slaves who received land eventually had it taken back by former slave owners.
Williamson said it is time to make good on Sherman’s promise to the slaves, and that’s why she favors reparations for slavery. The Ledger asked her what that would mean in practice, such as how the reparations would be paid and how the recipients would be selected.
“Black leaders in culture, academic and politics would be tasked with dispersing the funds in a negotiated settlement,” she said. “I have proposed somewhere between $200-$500 billion. If you look at 40 acres and a mule in today’s economy, that would be trillions of dollars.”
Williamson envisions the money being spent specifically on educational and economic renewal. She likened slavery reparations to the money West Germany paid Israel as restitution for the Holocaust carried out under the Nazis.
A member of the audience asked Williamson for her thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Williamson said she will keep two commitments: to the security of Israelis, and to the protection of the Palestinians’ human rights. She said she did not support President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, not does she agree with the blockade of the Gaza Strip. She favors a two-solution to the conflict, remarking that a one-state solution would spell “the end of the Jewish people.”
Williamson said she wants to ban assault weapons and that she is “not a fan” of concealed carry weapons. The Ledger asked her if that was something a president would take up or if that would be left to the states. Williamson said she wasn’t sure about that.
Williamson supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrations and supports the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act is a process whereby qualifying immigrant children could receive conditional residency and, after meeting further qualifications, permanent residency.
The Ledger asked Williamson how she felt about the handful of Democrats who have called for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. Williamson said she believes Trump has committed impeachable offenses, such as his policy of separating families at the border, and by being a “pathological liar.” However, she does not think the Democrats should initiate impeachment because it would amount to little more than political theater, since Senate Republicans would never vote to impeach the president.