Jesse Ventura is our governor. This phrase triggers in my mind a few images that border all-out ridiculousness: I see a walrus’ head attached to He-Man’s body in a CIA-style suit. I see an intense warrior clutching a grenade launcher in “Predator,” yelling a characteristic Ventura-ism to his buddy Arnold Schwarzenegger through clenched teeth: “I don’t have time to bleed!” I see the reflection of his sheepishly grinning, shy-looking daughter and photogenic, future politician son on the back of his shiny head as he once again, shaking a meaty fist, bellows “We shocked the world” to a roaring crowd speckled with stage divers and drunk gamblers on election night. I see another one of those stupid “My governor can beat up your governor” bumper stickers.
These silly images make me a little nervous about the idea that this man has been our state’s equivalent to a president since Monday. Of course, there is more reason to be concerned than just silly images. As we all know, my nervousness is shared by many. For instance, Senate Majority leader Robert Moe, DFL-Erskine, complained about the administration’s lack of an agenda. Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, R-Owatana, lamented about the “media blitz” that has caused everyone to forget that Ventura actually has work to do. House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, alleges Ventura made too many promises to too many people. Jesse seems to have spent the bulk of his time since the election licensing products, signing book and movie deals and appearing on talk shows.
On top of all this, Jesse’s agenda seems questionable from the standpoint of many college students. He seems not to want to talk about his apparent lack of interest in funneling a pretty portion of surplus money to the University for things such as scholarships and faculty raises. Instead, his policy rhetoric–sparse as it may be–bends toward the peripheral too much: legalized hemp, prostitution and even fireworks.
Wow. That’s a lot of heat. Normally, I would say that’s enough heat to warrant my disapproval. Despite all the heat–the ludicrous images, valid complaints from public figures, and questionable policy priorities–I think Jesse Ventura’s election is 10 times more a blessing than a curse for not only Minnesotans, but American citizens and politicians alike.
Politics, through the years, has become increasingly more an institution-based science and less a community-based art–and voters are increasingly apathetic. Sophisticated polling techniques, tactical vote-trading, campaign financing and special interest groups play a larger role in politics than they ever have before. At the same time, our nation’s economy and climate have become more complex and many people are left utterly confused, especially given the fact that only about half the public are minimally informed about current events.
Also, as expressed by Howard J. Wiarda, author of “American Foreign Policy,” American politics has recently become nastier and meaner, as the post-Cold War generation (otherwise known as the “me generation”) has become more selfish and the world’s problems less palpable. President Clinton calls it “the politics of personal destruction.” The scandal in Washington D.C. has become so frustrating that many people no longer care whether or not the president is impeached. Americans just don’t see Washington D.C. as terribly relevant to their lives anymore.
Hubert H. Humphrey III and Norm Coleman seemed to be nothing more than the spawning of these publicly despised trends. During the campaign months, Humphrey and Coleman seemed like cardboard cutouts–non-charismatic products of an outdated political system. Humphrey, like any Democratic candidate on autopilot, wanted programs and was fairly environmentally friendly. Coleman, like any Republican on autopilot, opted for less taxes, fewer handgun restrictions and supported sports. Both of them resembled cutesy plastic politicians at a toy store, trading little insults when you pulled their strings.
Something different showed up: Jesse Ventura. Though this new element was far from perfect, and though most everyone fully realized it, Ventura–brutal honesty, common-sense qualities and all–seemed to be the engine that drove people to the ballot boxes. In a recent poll, 12 percent of those that voted said they wouldn’t have voted had Jesse not run. Minnesota had the highest voting rates in the country, at 67 percent. The voters’ main reason for voting for Jesse seems not ideological in nature, but instead almost revolutionary.
If nothing else, Jesse Ventura’s victory has given us a better glimpse of a silent majority that threatens to further suffocate democracy with inactivity unless something changes. Maybe politicians of the future will use Jesse as a sort of model by which to change. Maybe governor candidates and citizens of other states will see the appeal of a third-party candidate. Maybe Elizabeth Dole will run for president and attract votes–like Ventura, from opposite sides of the old-fashioned bipolar spectrum. In any case, Ventura was elected and a statement was made by the people. Therefore, silly images, expert critiques, and a questionable agenda notwithstanding, Ventura’s victory was ours too.
Rob Kuznia’s column normally appears every Tuesday. Send comments to [email protected]