A slam to the body politic

Everyone knows pro wrestling is the biggest fakeout since Judas told Jesus he was just going out for cigarettes. These guys get slammed about as convincingly as a drunk on a sitcom. It's like marriage: Only stupid people believe you're truthful once you're in the ring. But given a choice between two politicians and a pro wrestler, the people of Minnesota chose the pro wrestler for governor. He seemed like a more honest guy.

That's not a wake-up call. That's an eyeful of lemon juice. People are sick of being double-talked down to by replicants in ties who speak with less conviction than a telemarketer. We all know the pitiful state of voter turnout, but what do you expect when people have more choices standing in front of a Coke machine than they do standing in a voting booth? While the news has been droning on about "John Glenn: Hero" (and not that he isn't), it's Jesse "The Body" Ventura, anti-hero, who people are talking about over water and beer coolers everywhere.

Hillary Clinton may have called Ventura's campaign "a sideshow," but Central Florida's own George "The Animal" Steele, who mesmerized wrestling audiences with his wild eyes and green tongue, seems to think politics is the real midway barker around here. "In wrestling we always said we're strictly for entertainment. But we do a good show, and people respect that." The up-front charade "didn't try to make people look like fools. Politicians try to make people look like fools."

Go figure

Go figure

Though he may be the only politician who has his own action figure, Jesse Ventura isn't just a former pro wrestler. He's also a former Navy Seal, talk-show host and mayor of Brooklyn Park, a suburban community many say saw substantial improvements during his time in office. But for all the polish he acquired, Jesse still sounds like a pro wrestler, even in print.

Responding to the suggestion he might run for president, made by Hulk Hogan, Jesse said, "And Mr. Hogan, I mean he wants to be me anyway. He pretends to be a Navy Seal; I was one. He's now a bad guy in wrestling; I was one. So, you know, maybe he'll run for public office now, too, because Jesse Ventura leads the way again." Does that take you back to Saturday afternoons sitting in front of Wrestlemania, or what? Don't you wish there were more WWF-type exchanges in politics? Wouldn't the Lewinsky story have been better if just once Ken Starr leaned into the camera and vowed to make a widow of Hillary, and Clinton retorted, "I'll hit Ken Starr so hard it'll kill his whole family!" Asked about his limited experience in government, Ventura replied, "I can do the job. ... It's not like it's transplanting kidneys." That's what people want to hear, that our government isn't out of our reach. That's what democracy is all about: Any idiot can do it.

Ventura's no idiot, though. He's an ambitious guy, and his win is inspiring. "He clipped them," George says of the opponents Jesse blindsided. Sonny Bono and Fred "Gopher" Grandy aside, celebrity status alone doesn't win political races. If it did, Al "Grandpa Munster" Lewis would have won his Green Party bid for governor of New York. Ventura had a lot of wrestling fans who voted for him (turnout was unusually high in the Minnesota election), but George says Jesse won because "he's a straight shooter. He is what he is, kind of like Popeye."

And who isn't going to back Popeye over Richie Rich? Most people can't identify with guys who want to stay on top but with guys who are working hard to get there. Here's a guy whose road was paved with banana peels and broken glass and he made it. Ventura represents everyone they didn't see coming. That's how most people see their own wins, not as maintenance but as upsets. And he showed that wherever you are, you aren't stuck. Just because you're in hot pink tights today doesn't mean you can't be in the governor's chair tomorrow.

Sliding scale

Sadly, we in Florida saw a governor's race about as interesting as watching two rain drops slide down a window to see which one would hit bottom first. Sadder still, we won't see anything as exciting as Minnesota did, since George Steele won't go into politics. In a phone conversation, the bald mountain, one of wrestling's scariest, said, "I'm not going into the Oval Office. It's too dangerous."

If George ran it would be on a whim, but Jesse, he notes, "has been positioning himself `in politics` for years" and "didn't just pop up" out of nowhere. So we won't see a Green Tongue Party on our ticket in the future. But George does note the popularity of his former sport. "Wrestling is so big, we're everywhere now. Maybe we'll get in there and clean up the Oval Office."

Fewer lip locks. More headlocks. It could be the politics of the future.


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