Marianne Williamson doesn't like most articles about her. She seems to remember every slight, every snarky subhead that called her a shaman, a prophet, an ex–lounge singer.
"The press creates a caricature," she says.
Take, for example, the most recent headline from The New York Times: "Marianne Williamson, New-Age Guru, Seeks Congressional Seat."
" 'New Age guru,' " Williamson scoffs. "First of all, what is the suggestion here, that the 'old age' is working?"
Williamson is sitting on a wooden bench beside her press person, Ileana Wachtel, inside a vegan/organic/raw food café in Santa Monica called Rawvolution. "I've never worn a velvet scarf in my life. You label somebody 'New Age,' and that's automatic mockery: 'She cannot possibly be a serious thinker.' "
What would she rather be called?
"Author ..." she says, searching for something with more oomph.
Wachtel offers, "Author, lecturer, thought leader — how about thought leader?"
"That's what that world calls it," Williamson says. "I wouldn't call myself that. In the East, the guru never calls himself a guru."
She sips from her room-temperature carrot juice. On the sound system, Donovan is singing: "Wear your love like heaven. Wear your love like heaven."
" 'Spiritual teacher' feels a little grandiose," Williamson ventures. "What do you call Alan Watts? What do you call Ram Dass? What do you call Wayne Dyer? If it's a man, there's not even a question."
Wachtel breaks in: "What do you call Deepak Chopra?"
"Well, he's a doctor," Williamson says. "To me, when I think of New Age, I think of crystals and rainbows and platitudes. A Course in Miracles — what do you see in there that's silly? That's a very serious book for very serious thinkers."
It has been nearly three months since Williamson — best-selling author, spiritual teacher, founder of Project Angel Food, international lecturer — announced her candidacy at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, an art deco movie palace that once served as home to her spiritual lectures. Alanis Morissette performed at the event.
The announcement was met with guffaws from political insiders — a challenge to Henry Waxman? From the left?
"She has some very unusual beliefs about the world, a cult following, but she's not a credible candidate," says Eric Bauman, chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. "She's done a lot of work helping people heal, but that's not preparation to be in Congress."
Then again, with Congress' approval rating hovering at about 10 percent, the feeling toward career politicians is hostile.
"No question about it, Waxman is one of the most powerful and influential Democrats in Washington," says Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "But in this type of political environment, that both helps and hurts."
Schnur, who is preparing his own unlikely run for California secretary of state as an independent, says the battle for California's 33rd District congressional seat may throw a few curveballs. Too much is unknown about Williamson, her campaign style, how hard she'll work, how hard her rabid fan base (she has 200,000 Twitter followers; Waxman has 3,100) will push, how much money she'll raise, how much of her own money she'll put in.
"A campaign against Williamson," Schnur says, "is a much less straightforward one than [Waxman] had last year."
California Congressional District 33 contains one of the wealthiest demographics in the nation, hugging the Pacific Ocean from Point Dume to Rancho Palos Verdes, with a small, east-reaching finger that includes Beverly Hills and ends at tony Marlborough School in Hancock Park.
Waxman, a congressman since 1975, couldn't be less concerned with Williamson. The candidate who really keeps him up at night is independent Bill Bloomfield, a multimillionaire who came within eight points of unseating Waxman in 2012, thanks to spending $7.5 million of his own money — more than any other congressional candidate that year.
Waxman is aching to know if Bloomfield will run again. Bloomfield says he hasn't decided.
As for Marianne Williamson? "If she ended up in a runoff against me, which is not easy to imagine, but it could happen," Waxman says, carefully playing out the scenario at his Miracle Mile district office, "it would be like two Democrats, she more to my left. I don't think she would win."
A debate between the two would be a fascinatingly asymmetrical encounter, akin to one speaker reading Shakespeare and another reading an interdepartmental memo from a box factory.
Even setting aside obvious stylistic differences, their visions of liberalism couldn't be more different — she the utopian, reaching for the moon and the stars; he the coldly effective pragmatist with a résumé that could drown a man in ink.
Williamson had toyed with the idea of making a symbolic presidential run. "But I don't think this is a time for symbolic gestures," she says. "I think running for Congress is scale."