Got No Body
June 20, 2002
By Richard Prasad
Out of the Midwest, came a voice as big and booming as his
personality. Jesse 'The Body' Ventura became Governor of Minnesota,
the 21st largest state in the union, in 1998. And now, his
dream of running for a second term as governor, and indeed
his dream of running for president as an independent is now
over. Ventura announced on Tuesday, June 18, that he would
not seek reelection for the office of governor.
There are many similarities between Jesse Ventura and George
W. Bush. What do these similarities portend for the Bush Administration?
The once mighty Ventura is now a memory, will the now mighty
Bush be a one term flash in the pan like Ventura was? Or will
Everyone should know the story of Jesse Ventura by now. He
was a former wrestler and Navy Seal that won election to Minnesota's
governor's mansion in a three way race between Ventura, Democrat
Hubert Humphrey III, and Republican Norm Coleman. Ventura
won with 37% of the vote, and suddenly and dramatically, a
new political star was born. The victory had huge ramifications
at the time, could Ventura's victory mean the rebirth of the
third party movement, a movement that was almost simultaneously
born and killed by the antics of billionaire H. Ross Perot?
Could Ventura ride his independent popularity all the way
to the White House? His first term in Minnesota would be a
test case of whether his statewide popularity could be tried
on a national stage.
Things started well enough for Ventura, he gave the people
of Minnesota a tax cut and enjoyed an approval rating of around
70%. People were in love with the idea that an ex-professional
wrestler could be governor of a state. It worked for a Hollywood
actor who became governor of California, and then president
- why wouldn't the same formula work for Jesse Ventura?
There was an incredible novelty factor working for Ventura
and he milked it for all it was worth. Soon the country was
awash with Jesse the Body action, and there were the inevitable
books from Ventura, the first, "I Aint Got Time to Bleed",
and the second, "Do I Stand Alone?" Apparently, someone wanted
to read what Ventura had to say - political victory makes
geniuses out of idiots. And not only did people want to hear
what Ventura wanted to say, all the major presidential candidates,
Bush, Gore and McCain went to pay homage to Ventura, in the
year 2000, seeking a political endorsement.
But Ventura soon found that governing was much more difficult
than winning an election. His big mouth, that people found
oddly refreshing early in his term, got him into trouble.
He called religion a crutch for weak minded people in a 1999
Playboy magazine interview, and in the same interview he defended
the idea of legalized prostitution, and declared the Tailhook
scandal, which involved men from the Navy groping at women,
to be "much ado about nothing."
He also sought to exploit his celebrity candidacy by being
a referee in the World Wrestling Federation and being a commentator
on the poorly-conceived XFL.
If his big mouth got him in trouble, his ideas while governing
kept him in the dog house. According to the Minneapolis Star
Tribune, one of his least popular ideas was trying to reduce
the number of houses in the Minnesota State legislature from
two to one. "He single-handedly breathed life into it, but
could not or would not work with a small group of legislators
to bring it to fruition." said a former Minnesota state senator.
But more than any other action, probably the one thing that
led to the most precipitous fall of his approval ratings,
was the suggestion that taxes needed to be raised to close
a $2 billion budget deficit. Ventura's plans to raise taxes
and cut services were repeatedly overridden by the legislature
- in fact Ventura was overridden 10 times, more than any other
Minnesota governor according to a June 19th New York Times
article. This goes to show that you can do anything as a politician,
be an ex-wrestler, have dolls made of yourself, rant and rave
about religion - but raise taxes and you're political roadkill.
I must say that I admire Ventura's idea to raise taxes to
close a budget deficit, it is much like Bill Clinton's idea
to raise the top rate of the income tax in 1992. Republicans
hated it, but we went from the nation with the largest deficits
to a nation with budget surpluses. The Clinton budget of 1992
ensured economic well-being for the entire decade of the 90's
and all he got for that from Republicans is grief. The political
landscape is strewn with politicians who tried to raise taxes
to close budget deficits caused by previous Republican administrations.
Some, like Clinton, survive, because the economy responds.
Some, like James Florio, are met with such voter anger that
they ruin whatever name they had for themselves. And some,
like Jesse Ventura, never even get a chance to try their economics.
The un-politician Ventura acted very much like a politician
when his poll numbers descended. He attacked the media. Ventura
tried to get the press to wear official jackal press passes,
according to a June 19th Howard Kurtz article in the Washington
Post. According to a June 19th article in the Minneapolis
Star Tribune, Ventura said "They better watch out," meaning
the media. "They are on my hit list." Ventura was angry about
the latest batch of stories coming out of the local press,
saying that Ventura's son used the Minnesota governor's mansion
to throw lavish parties. But the press bashing was just an
excuse. Ventura could read the writing on the wall, his approval
rating was 43%, and it was time to go.
So what of the similarities between W and Jesse the Body?
Could these similarities mean a one-erm presidency for the
current occupant of the White House? Both W and Jesse like
to view themselves as outsiders, Jesse from the land of wrestling
to the governor's mansion, W from the land of baseball and
big business to the governor's mansion in Texas and then the
White House. This strategy has worked like a charm for Bush,
using his southern drawl with irritating regularity to mispronounce
words like 'nucular.'
Related to the outsider theme was the 'regular guy' theme.
Both Bush and Ventura try to use that to their advantage.
Sure I went to Yale says Bush, but I got C's. I don't have
a fancy Presidential retreat, I go to my ranch in Crawford
and cut trees. Of course everyone knows that regular guy stuff
is all just a big lie when it comes to Bush, buttressed by
a lapdog media. Bush is the bluest of bluebloods, who fights
for blueblood corporate causes like the estate tax, and would
be nowhere without his name and family connections. As for
Ventura, he really was a regular guy, probably too
regular for politics.
Both Ventura and George W. Bush came to prominence at the
height of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Ventura won the governor's
race in Minnesota in 1998, and he has a lot of disaffected
Democrats to thank for that. Democrats became disaffected
because of the daily drumbeat of the scandalmongering press,
and they elected Ventura. Similarly, if not for the Lewinsky
scandal, let's face it, Gore would have wiped the floor with
Bush. There was peace and prosperity in America two years
ago, and now there is neither. There was a diminution of fighting
around the world, Kosovo, Ireland and even a chance for peace
in the Middle East. There was real prosperity, based on sound
fiscal policy. Ask yourself the question Ronald Reagan asked
the country in '84 - are you better off today than you were
two years ago? The answer is, of course not. And all because
the Republicans metastasized a sexual scandal into a political
Another similarity between Ventura and Bush is they were
both able to pass big tax cuts early in their terms that led
to a huge boost in their approval ratings. But whereas Ventura
realized the error of his tax-cutting ways, Bush still has
not. Deficits be damned, Bush will cut every tax known to
man, the top income tax rates, corporate taxes, estate taxes,
and probably soon the capital gains tax. And as the deficits
grow, the economy stays in a funk. Unemployment is hovering
around 6%, from a low of 4% during the Clinton administration,
and the Dow is hovering at 9,500, from a high of 12,000 during
the Clinton administration. But yet in a recent poll, 59%
of Americans think Bush is doing a good job with the economy.
That is a huge disconnect.
Despite all the similarities between Bush and Ventura, Bush
will probably not pay a political price the way Jesse Ventura
did. Perhaps the only lesson Bush Jr. learned from his father's
losing campaign in 1992 was never, ever raise taxes, no matter
what the economic circumstance. He can stomp on the Constitutional
rights of citizens and non-citizens alike, ruin the environment
for decades to come, mix fundraising with policymaking, JUST
DON'T RAISE TAXES! And everyone's happy!
Furthermore, if the heat from any issue, either domestic
or international gets too hot, Bush just utters three magic
words. All he has to say is: "War on Terrorism."
And he is automatically immune from any criticism on any subject.
Jesse Ventura didn't have the luxury of changing the subject.
He had problems and he had to face them. Bush has problems,
he changes the subject.
And so ladies and gentlemen, unless the American public awakens
from its long national slumber, it looks like the wrong political
outsider has been sent packing.