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Show Ends, Show Goes On

June 20, 2002

Lay-deeees and gentlemen, Jesse Ventura has just tossed himself out of the Minnesota governor's ring. But please, please, don't throw your chairs. The Body has not left the building. The large maverick politician, who successfully tapped the militant center in a 1998 race, has until July 16 to change his mind and seek another term as Minnesota's chief executive.

It's been an interesting, refreshing and even instructive show, watching the former pro wrestler, former Navy SEAL, former suburban mayor and current showman do his populist thing in the land that gave arid Los Angeles a basketball team named for lakes. That's the entertainment part of modern American politics in an age when quick sound bites pass for policy positions.

Remember no-nonsense Jesse's ads with his plastic action figure fighting for average voters? How many blow-dried, perfectly dressed, well-rehearsed politicians would dare?

So the fiscal conservative/social liberal celebrity won with 37% of the vote in his three-way race. Polls now show him at 43% approval. But 49% disapprove. And he once had more than 70% approval. That was before this year's state deficit and before 12 of Ventura's vetoes were overturned--a record--by elected officials who aren't media magnets but who put in the wonky effort to assemble a workable budget.

And that was before fresh allegations that Ventura's son and the son's pals trashed the governor's mansion in all-night booze parties.

A desire for family privacy was the governor's major stated reason for throwing in the towel. Going on statewide radio to express your burning desire for privacy makes as much sense in Ventura's world as it does for scantily clad Hollywood starlets to complain about being sex objects. Watch a cable channel near you for this governor who says he seeks privacy.

Saying what you think for the cameras is one thing. Consistently getting things done outside the spotlight and inside the tedious world of democratic government is something else. It's no photo op for folks in pink boas.

Ventura's real contribution to politics may be his candor, his pointing out and playing on a powerful, simmering voter dissatisfaction with America's canned, brand-name politics. That's the historical venting role of the third and fourth parties that flare up at times. Political parties No. 1 and No. 2 ignore this old lesson at their renewed peril.

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