When former wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura
ran for Governor
he was uniformly ignored by the mainstream
media. Local public access cable channels covered his activities with inferior cameras and left the impression of a deficient candidate in a hopeless race. When he did appear in the mainstream media, he was held up as an object of ridicule.
His rivals in the race were a study in homogenized politics. The Republican candidate was a smarmy little character who, until just before the election, had been the Democratic Mayor of St. Paul. He switched party affiliation and within a matter of weeks became the darling of the Republicans and the talk of the town. He moved to Minnesota from Brooklyn, New York, presumably in a craven attempt to be a big fish in a small pond.
The Democratic nominee was Hubert H. Humphrey III, the son of the former Vice President of the United States. His father was a hallowed figure in Minnesota politics, rather like a Kennedy in Massachusetts and his elevation to high office seemed inevitable to his backers. The younger Humphrey was known as "Skip" during his childhood to differentiate himself from his famous father, though there was little risk of confusing the two men. As he grew to adulthood he regrettably kept the boyish moniker so detractors simply referred to him as "Skippy."
A series of debates were scheduled between the Republican and Democratic candidates, whom Jesse referred to as Frick and Frack, but "The Body" was summarily excluded. The man with the shaved head and the pink boa would not be allowed to cheapen the race with his theatrical manner and unusual dress.
The slick turncoat was gaining on Skippy in the polls so something needed to be done to stop the bleeding. The brain trust that ran Skippy's campaign decided to invite Jesse to the debates in the hopes of diluting enthusiasm for the carpetbagger. They made a fatal error when they underestimated the wrassler's magnetism.
Expectations were so low for the fringe candidate that when he demonstrated basic human sentience in the first debate his stock began to rise. Jesse "The Body" had evolved into Jesse "The Mind." The common sense candidate in the tasseled leather jacket shot from the hip with plain talk.
The "legitimate" candidates panicked over the close race and began attacking one another with manic fervor as the election neared. They didn't waste much ammo on Jesse because they never recognized him as a genuine threat. The two men tore each other to shreds in a hundred thousand living rooms and Jesse did little more than roll his eyes at the spectacle.
He used the phrase "professional politician," as though it was something he had scraped off of his shoe on his way to the debates and the voters applauded his courage and candor.
Following his surprise victory in the Minnesota Governor's race, Jesse Ventura
published his autobiography, "I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed: Reworking the Body Politic from the Bottom Up," in which, he confessed to numerous youthful indiscretions. The new Governor admitted that he had smoked marijuana
and used steroids
. He lost his virginity to win a bet at the age of sixteen and had patronized prostitutes in the interim. As if to answer the inane "boxers or briefs?
" inquisition of Bill Clinton
, Jesse announced to the world that he didn't wear under garments at all.
There wasn't a whit of speculation as to his motives for the shocking confessional; it must certainly have been a cynical attempt to steal ammunition from his detractors. A surreal political vacuum was created in which Jesse's enemies were forced to stand on the sidelines and let the man attack himself.
The Governor did not disappoint. Within a year of his election Jesse Ventura gave an interview to Playboy magazine that would forever raise the bar for political candor. One comment in particular gave pause to even the most ardent Jesse backer and many wondered if the political fallout might not force him from office entirely.
The infamous quote was characteristically brash and left little room for equivocation.
"Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers. It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people’s business."
Jesse uses the word "hypocrisy
" often but he pronounces it "HI-pocrisy" and spits it out with the righteous indignation of someone who's been at the wrong end of it. Jesse didn't say that spirituality was a sham, or that God
was a crutch for weak-minded people; he said that organized religion was. If by "organized religion," Jesse meant regular churchgoer
s, he didn't stand to offend all that many voters. According to the most recent Gallup poll
s are more than twice as likely to call themselves Christian
as they are to ever warm a pew
We want our politicians to be better than us or at least to pretend that they are. When they betray their true selves and the illusions are shattered we demand their heads on a plate. A politician must never reveal that he is our equal, with our vanity and our appetites, our feet of clay. Appearance trumps reality.
Jesse's remarks about organized religion were his own personal opinions, expressed candidly on his day off. A strong-minded church going constituent would have every right to throw a sanctimonious tantrum but anyone else who feigns injury is simply a hypocrite.
Most of us, in our secret hearts, have entertained more scandalous notions than Jesse has voiced; though we would never come right out and say them. We're conditioned to expect a more sophisticated veneer on our public servants and we usually get just that. Of his myriad critics, not one has accused Governor Ventura of having a sophisticated veneer and I'm grateful. While I may disagree with many of his personal opinions, I'll use my last breath to defend his right to utter them.
I'd cast my vote for Jesse "The President" as emphatically as felt-tipped pen would allow.