The Body Politic
By A.D. Freudenheim

23 June 2002

Since Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura this week announced his decision not to run for a second term, there have been many articles repeating the same themes about Ventura's gubernatorial rise in 1998. His election "stunned the punditocracy," wrote Jodi Wilgoren in The New York Times[1]; it "sent chills through the major political organizations" wrote Nicholas Pilugin of Reuters[2]. He has been called an unlikely candidate in as many ways as possible, and both praised and reviled for being a maverick. The coverage itself is fascinating; it reveals the political obsessions - and also the ambivalence - of the media towards someone who successfully challenges the establishment. Ventura was an object of fascination, compelling and yet repulsive; an underdog to be cheered, and (recollecting his past as professional wrestler "The Body") a buffoon to be laughed at, and this overshadowed much of his time on office.

Ventura may be clownish, but he is not stupid. He served in the Navy's elite commando unit, the SEALs (as did former U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey, no dummy either). He had some minor political experience as a mayor in rural Minnesota; this may only have proved his ability to get elected, but nonetheless showed he was up to the challenge of running. As governor, he had a number of political successes, including giving tax rebates to his constituents in the years when the state could afford it (as opposed to our current president, who has done so when we cannot), and suffered many failures as well. Most importantly, he seemed willing to learn new things about the world. (Contrast that trait to the lack of intellectual curiosity in our current president, too.) When examined in comparison to his peers, however, his tenure seems unremarkable in some of the best ways: Minnesota suffered no energy crisis, no farming crisis, and no crisis of confidence. The state and its people survived almost four years of The Body's politics, and Minnesota's body politic does not look any worse for the wear - and certainly no worse than most other states these days, with budget deficits, declining tax revenues, and more unemployment than Americans have seen in a decade.

How Minnesotans feel is one thing. For the rest of us, it is most certainly a shame that Ventura is calling it quits, not because we will miss his erratic political views and colorful comments, but because we lose what his views represented as the growth potential for American politics. To anyone who cheered Ralph Nader or Pat Buchanan (or even John McCain) in the last presidential election; to anyone who supported Ross Perot in the two elections before that; for anyone who admires the bravery required of Senator Jim Jeffords when he dropped his allegiance to the GOP in 2001, or who respects Vermont's independent congressman, Bernie Sanders; to anyone who has registered as a member of an opposing party solely to cast a disruptive vote in a primary election, or who has gone to the polls and voted for the other guy; or to any American who reads the news and is disgusted by the gridlock and the money-grubbing and the pork-filled corruption of both the Democratic and Republican parties: Ventura should have represented a certain kind of hope.

Ventura's success signaled it was possible to run a reasonably-grassroots, third-party campaign - and succeed in getting elected. He took a little bit of responsibility as a citizen and decided to get involved in a state he evidently cares about deeply. How many among us can say the same? Ventura may not represent the best of American populism or of American politics, but he is far, far from the worst. David Duke, anyone?

[1] "Gov. Ventura Says He Won't Seek Re-election,"
by Jodi Wilgoren, The New York Times, 19 June 2002.
[2] "Minnesota Gov. Ventura Will Not Seek Relection,"
by Nicholas Pilugin, Reuters, 18 June 2002.
Copyright 2002, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
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