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 TIME CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics with Congressional Quarterly

Let Jesse be Jesse...

...Somewhere else. Minnesota wanted a Governor. Now we're stuck with him

By Garrison Keillor

TIME magazine

October 4, 1999
Web posted at: 12:29 p.m. EDT (1629 GMT)

Here in Minnesota, we are carrying on an experiment in democracy, having elected a Governor whom we can especially enjoy because only 37% voted for him and the rest of us are not responsible. This is something new in America, the ironic public servant.

Ordinarily a Governor is elected with 51% or 55% or (if he is young and has luminous children and his opponent is a pencil-necked geek) 60% of the vote, and two months after his Inauguration, he starts to brown around the edges and disillusionment sets in, starting with the people who once worshiped the ground he trod on and now see that, alas, he is a dumb cluck like everyone else and has no solutions for problems such as ignorance and cruelty and the aging process.

In Minnesota, our Emperor started out with no clothes at all. He came to us from a branch of the performing arts in which large men who resemble comic-book characters pretend to fight each other, so when he was inaugurated and did not appoint barflies and dope dealers to office but donned a suit and white shirt and horn-rimmed glasses and managed to sound half-smart about a third of the time, his approval ratings turned three sheets to the wind and have stayed that way ever since.

His success has been discouraging to people in politics, much as the success of The Blair Witch Project is discouraging to filmmakers: if the public embraces something so shallow and tedious, what future is there for the professionals? But the source of the man's strength is no secret. It is that he speaks plain English with none of the circuitous posturing and preening of public officials, who cannot give you the time of day without saying that time is a topic of great concern to them, as it is to all Americans, and that they have long devoted themselves to finding a solution for the chronic problem of time shortage. Governor Ventura just says it's 12 o'clock.

People are grateful for that, and surprised, and on the basis of this plain-spokenness, Ventura has leaped to national prominence, and deservedly so. He scorns the religious right and the war on drugs, which nobody else dares to do. He is hard as nails on the subject of campaign financing. He is brave in so many ways, and just when you want to admire him, he shows his great capacity for silliness, and there is nothing more fatal in politics. I'm sorry, but it simply is true. Voters don't elect people to goof around.

This summer, after he told farmers he doesn't like to use the term farm crisis because it is too negative, Ventura, for a million dollars or so, climbed back into the pro-wrestling ring as a referee, to be among men strutting around the ring pointing at their butts and yelling butt-related words for the audience to yell back at them. It wasn't a proud moment for Minnesotans, especially if you made the mistake of watching. Then, in September, Ventura touted Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. Let's be clear about this: anyone who imagines Donald Trump in the White House has the brains of a stale bagel. Donald Trump makes Ross Perot look like a giant. Jesse Ventura was the first man, aside from the men in Mr. Trump's employ, ever to make this imaginative leap.

And now, this week, in an interview in Playboy, he talks about prostitutes and not wearing underwear and breasts, breasts, breasts, Sophia Loren's and his wife's, and how he'd like to be reincarnated as a 38-double-D bra, and he implies that groping women, Tailhook-style, is a prerogative of the warrior and says, in perfectly plain English, "Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers." So much for St. Thomas and Martin Luther.

Minnesotans are polite people who tend to deal with provocation by sidestepping it, ignoring it, chuckling at it, trying to find a charitable explanation. But the Governor, in plain English, is a Yahoo who has never confessed to a single regret or second thought and who struts around St. Paul, a big small town, with a retinue of bodyguards, emitting a great air of celebrity, scorning the local press while courting the national media. People do their best to grin and go along with it, but eventually you have to tell him to shut the hell up. He isn't a danger to anybody. He's just big and loud and arrogant. He's a guy wearing a 38-double-D bra on his head, and all we needed was someone to run the government.


MORE TIME STORIES:

Cover Date: October 11, 1999

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