Jewish World Review June 25, 2002 /15 Tamuz 5762
'The Body' bites, then bows out
There was a curious inevitability about Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura's announcement that he would not run again this November. His long-running media sitcom was going stale. It was getting old, even to him.
Despite the sinking of his approval ratings to the low 40's, he might still have had a halfway decent chance to get re-elected, at least in another three-way battle like the one that brought him in.
But, "you've got to have your heart and soul into these types of jobs," he said wearily.
Righto, Gov'nor, and bye-bye. Ring the bell. This round's over. Make way for the next match.
Artists are like bees, Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "they must put their lives into the sting they give." Bill Schneider, CNN's senior political analyst, says the same about third- party candidates: "They sting and then they die."
The governor formerly known as "The Body" has bitten and now bows out. He was an actor and a third-party candidate, often at the same time. His bite was painful to Minnesota's two major parties, whom he upset and often tangled with in the legislature.
But, otherwise, his sting has not stung deeply. He offered little in the way of new ideas or issues, except some warmed-over libertarian populism - shrink government, cut taxes and legalize just about everything for adults that doesn't hurt anyone but the user.
But even when his content was conventional, he made it sound colorful. Put him on a debating stage and his opponents from the two major parties virtually disappeared into the beige background.
I was delighted to see him win, if only because it was a welcome surprise. In an era in which high-priced consultants, green-eyeshade pollsters and gasbag news panelists think they have reduced election victories to a predictable science, it is reassuring to be reminded from time to time that the voters still have the last word.
For better or worse, successful mavericks help to keep the political professionals and those of us who watch them on our toes. The political establishment would do well to mine the discontent that such victories represent, particularly among the young who so often seem turned off to conventional politics. Ventura won his three-way race with only 37 percent of the vote, and, according to exit polls, most of that came from voters under the age of 40, the very group that most conventional politicians and, for that matter, most major news media find the hardest to attract.
A major part of his appeal grew out of his relish for challenging the establishment and speaking his mind, even if he sometimes seemed to shoot from the lip before his mind was fully engaged.
The downside of such mavericks is that the public has to live with the consequences of their actions, for better or worse. People get the politicians they deserve, it often has been said, but growing numbers of Minnesotans appear to feel they deserve better than Ventura.
He seemed to start off successfully enough. He cut taxes, as he promised he would, and returned tax rebates to the voters in "Jesse Checks." He hired "New Democrat-style" advisers and didn't try to micromanage them. He issued press credentials cleverly marked "Jackals," yet impressed many media, particularly those of us who didn't live in Minnesota, as a colorful voice for a new radical-middle.
But things turned sour. The economy slumped and bills had to be paid. The state budget deficit grew to $2 billion. Those dreaded taxes had to be raised. Old-style Democrats and Republicans ganged up on him in the legislature and he failed to mend many fences with them.
Now, with his sinking approval ratings, Ventura already sounds like a relic, a walking and endlessly talking memento of less-serious pre-Sept. 11 times. He never seemed cut out to be a career politician. That used to be part of his charm. Now it reveals a pathetic lack of seriousness.
The question never seemed to be whether but when the former "Body," who wanted to be called "the Mind," would quit, perhaps to run for president like a local show trying to make it to Broadway.
He still might try for the White House. If so, we voters should remember where he once had his "heart and soul" and how fickle both of them proved to be.
He has nothing to lose but our support.
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