Democratic Underground  

I Ain't 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 Bush survive?

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 scandal.

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.

Printer-friendly version
Tell a friend about this article Tell a friend about this article
Discuss this article
Democratic Underground Homepage