Don't deny it: This presidential race, for all its minor dust-ups, has mostly been a snore, a bloodless standoff between two men who, despite their differences, are both essentially uptight squares whose wives are forever trumpeting how poor they used to be. Thank goodness, then, for the blast of fresh air that is Jesse "the Body" Ventura.
Well, maybe it's not that fresh. Ventura isn't a new face on the political stage. In 1990, the Navy SEAL turned professional wrestler ran for governor of Minnesota as a third-party candidate and, despite spending a mere $300,000 on his campaign, managed to win. Lacking a party base in the Legislature, he didn't accomplish a whole lot during his term, though he did push for land-use reform, and he changed his moniker from "the Body" to "the Governing Body," which is almost funny enough to make it all worthwhile.
Since then, his projects have included hosting the documentary series "Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura," in which he investigates such matters as the myth of climate change and who really killed JFK. A prolific author, his latest books include "63 Documents the Government Doesn't Want You to Read" and "DemoCRIPS and ReBLOODlicans: No More Gangs in Government." Ventura is a well-known purveyor of the idea that the U.S. government may have been behind the 9/11 attacks, a suspicion he justifies in two ways: his understanding of how much heat is required to melt metal, and his lack of understanding of how two planes could have knocked down three New York City buildings.
These days, Ventura is more future directed. He's telling anyone who will listen that he'd consider making a presidential run in 2016 if he could elicit the kind of grass-roots movement that put Ron Paul on the ballot in 2012. "If I can get on the presidential ballot in all 50 states and be allowed into the debates," he told Howard Stern, "I'd not only run, I'd win." Ventura went on to accuse President Obama of continuing the policies of the Bush administration and compared Mitt Romney to Gordon Gekko. He even invited Stern to be his running mate (an old gimmick; he made the same proposition to Sean Hannity four years ago.)
As news goes, this is well within the fluffy range. But it's also a lot of fun. Instead of hearing the usual pabulum about Bain Capital and "Obamacare," we get to hear blunt, non-focus-group-tested opinions on drug legalization (Ventura's for it) and foreign aid (he's against it — yep, all of it). Instead of reading the candidates' books (as if) and enduring platitudes about God and country, we get (courtesy of his book "Don't Start the Revolution Without Me!"): "If Jesus came back today, I think he'd throw up." Run across that stuff while you're flipping through the channels and it's hard to go back to Wolf Blitzer talking about polling numbers and the economy.
Sure, Ventura is a clown. But he's also a bit of a genius. That's because when it comes to the battle between liberal sanctimony and conservative obstinance known as the culture wars, he appeals to both sides. He's part Wall Street Occupier and part Honey Boo Boo.
The college crowd likes him because he calls out corporate greed and isn't afraid to connect the dots between rich donors and the legislative process. (He was also once a visiting fellow at Harvard, thereby making him, by his own account, a Harvard professor.) The "real folks" like him because he never finished college himself, thereby proving that hard work (like professional wrestling) can take you further than a fancy degree.
Everyone seems to appreciate Ventura's candor and plain-spokenness. He can get away with it because he's not a serious contender; he has nothing to lose. It also helps that the fact checkers are too busy chasing Romney and Obama's every word to get into it with him about kerosene not burning hot enough to melt the steel girders that held up the twin towers.
I hope Ventura sticks around for a while as this dreary election season drags on. The best carnival sideshows are the ones that simultaneously delight and disgust, where you half believe what you're seeing. Ventura will never make it to the White House, but that doesn't mean he isn't one of the greatest shows on Earth. And boy do we need the entertainment.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times