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Am I joking? Kind of. Consider this a parody of the people who insisted that their favorite longshot candidate was the only one fit to rule, despite having positions nearly identical to at least five others.
As illogical as it is, people do this because their candidate is the one whose message speaks to them the most, and whose politics they most admire, even if they would be identical to most of the others in office. By that measure, I now realize - too late - that my choice should have been Marianne Williamson.
Williamson ran for president on the “politics of love,” which she explained in an interview with Dave Rubin:
“Nobody doubts the part that negative emotions play in creating and determining political dynamics. So does love … Is there anything in your life that would motivate you more than your loving someone - and when somebody needs help, what you would do for them because you love them? … People ask me what is a ‘politics of love?’ It’s not mysterious: You see a hungry child? You feed them. You see a child who’s not educated? You feed them. You see a sick person? You help them. You see a poor person struggling unnecessarily? You help them.”
The positions and plans Williamson staked out during her bid were manifestations of this politics of love in public policy. Her plan for reparations was written out of love for Black Americans who have suffered at the hands of systemic racism for centuries. When she delivered her famous line in praise of Jacinda Ardern’s vision for child development in New Zealand (“Girlfriend you are so on, because the United States of America will be the best place in the world for a child to grow up.” ), it came from, in her own words, “love [not only] for our own children … [but] also love for the children on the other side of town.”
Williamson’s politics of love is the culmination of a life dedicated to answering a deep, primal, yet unanswerable question: the origin of human suffering, and how to end it. Growing up comfortably in southern California, she dropped out of college and became a victim of the 70s, wandering across the country following “bad boys and good dope.”, living in what she called a “state of existential despair.” It was after a quasi-religious revelation that she became a spiritual teacher in California, dedicated to pulling others out of that same condition.
The politics of love is far from groundbreaking or revolutionary. If you had someone compare Marianne Williamson’s policy plans to Bernie Sanders’ without telling them which was which, they would be unable to tell the difference. But the practice of politics involves a lot more than just policy plans. Good politics is a method of everyday discourse and conduct - a way of life - and it is this from which the ten-point plans and white papers emerge. Marianne Williamson’s politics of love is the way of life that should motivate our words, actions, and ultimately, our plans. In the same way, the politics of love is a solution to the equally important, and equally underappreciated, fundamental problem of human existence, the origin of human suffering. These are facts we could all use a reminder of.
Williamson’s diagnosis and prescription are intuitive. Sooner or later, all people experience suffering in their lives. There is a story of the Buddha - no less than the greatest expert on human suffering in history - that my mother once told me. A woman came to him and asked him if he could revive her dead father. He responded that he could, if she brought him five grains of rice from a household that had not seen death. The woman did not come back.
Undoubtedly, much of the pain and suffering in the world is the result of systemic injustices. But pain has a way of slithering through the cracks of the strongest wall we can build and tormenting us in ways that no public policy can prevent. The only way to ward it off is for each of us to take it upon ourselves to fill in those cracks with compassion and sympathy for each other.
There’s a clip on YouTube that exemplifies this. In 2016, at a town hall at Clemson University, John Kasich spoke with a supporter who told a painful story: a close family friend committing suicide, the divorce of his parents, and his father losing his job - and who explained that in the depths of that depression, he found inspiration in Kasich’s campaign. Kasich’s response - after giving the young man a hug - was to admonish the audience:
“We’re going too fast in our lives. We need to slow down. Because there are not enough people helping those who have no one to celebrate their victories, and we don’t have enough people that sit down and cry with that young man … We can rebuild the country, sure, and we can get people on their feet, and we can grow, but is there any substitute for what you just heard?”
Williamson agrees: “We don’t have enough lovers who love with conviction,” she said to the Yale Political Union.
If Williamson has indeed cut to the heart of the fundamental problem of human existence, it is astonishingly simple. Both the left and the right have invented all manner of fanciful constructs to explain where things have gone wrong - whether it’s critical theory and radicalism, or theology and nationalism. And in doing so, they have motivated their politics with repression, anger, and fear. Today’s mainstream liberals - my ideological brethren - are only a little better: our politics are governed by cold calculations and transactions. The heartbeat that brought us to life is jaded and indifferent. We have forgotten who we are.
There’s a piece of paper pinned to the bulletin board above my desk, in my room. On it are written the words to the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the “Ode to Joy.” I’ve known those words all my life, and I have fond memories of my music theory professor reciting them in class.
One line has begun to stand out to me recently: “Alle menschen werden brüder.” All people will be brothers. When it was first sung in 1824, under the direction of Beethoven himself, it was a declaration of faith. Now, in the age of George Floyd, it is a challenge. What would you do for every man if he were your own brother?
Behind the kooky-looking woman on the debate stage, Marianne Williamson’s politics of love presents to us the same challenge. Her message is like an oasis in a desert: rejuvenating, basic, an essential ingredient that we didn’t realize how much we needed, until now.
Sachin Shukla is one of the co-presidents of NU Political Union. He is a viola performance major, but dabbles in public policy in his free time. His personal blog can be found at sachinshukla.com.
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