WASHINGTON -- Until now, I've been lukewarm to the macho charms of Jesse "The Body" Ventura. He seemed a freakish blow hard with an addiction for self-promotion.
Not anymore. Jesse, you da man.
What changed my mind was this summer of political hypocrisy. In our climate of low dishonesty, Mr. Ventura is a shining paragon.
In case you aren't a hard-core fan -- meaning a junkie willing to spend $29.95 for a pay-per-view show -- Mr. Ventura performed as a referee in the World Wrestling Federation's "SummerSlam." Judged by film clips, the Minnesota governor earned his fee, which he gave to charity. He postured and snarled in true rasslin' style.
The prim burghers of Minnesota were shocked. The St. Paul Pioneer Press accused Mr. Ventura of promoting sex and violence. Mr. Ventura -- shades of John Kennedy, who canceled offending newspapers -- barred the "Pioneer Porn" from the capital.
"They knew I was a wrestler when they elected me," Mr. Ventura said. "What I do on my night off is my business."
In the fraudulent politics of 1999, Mr. Ventura's a wondrous novelty. With him, there's no caveat emptor, no buyer's remorse, no veils or disguises. What you see is what you get.
Sure, Mr. Ventura may give Minnesotans more all-Jesse-all-the-time than they wanted. He fences with critics on his own talk show. But it's his past that Mr. Ventura flourishes with in-your-face candor.
Sex? The ex-Navy SEAL brags a prostitute was so excited that she gave her services free. You say senators name stuffy hearing rooms after departed chairmen? Mr. Ventura boasts a Las Vegas brothel named a room after him.
Could he be the model of the post-millennium politician -- a person who fearlessly dumps his past life for public inspection and tells press bloodhounds, "There it is, have it, boys."
Unlike Mr. Ventura, Texas Gov. George W. Bush symbolizes the old politics of duck, fudge and fib -- an art at which President Clinton was the Rembrandt.
Like Mr. Clinton's sexcapades, Mr. Bush's cocaine obfuscations are a national joke. One faux political poster shows a waving American flag with the Republican front-runner's stern face behind the slogan: "George W. Bush -- 25 Years Drug-Free!"
If Mr. Bush dodges the cocaine question, it's fair to assume he used it. And knows it was a felony. And knows as president he'd be a lawbreaker enforcing the drug laws. Maybe yet, Mr. Bush will go the honorable route: confess his youthful drug use and try to change the laws.
"He's a rich favorite son caught in a poor man's trap," says the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has preached against the double standard. I think Mr. Jackson's right. Mr. Bush's dilemma dramatizes the class and race injustice of the drug war run by the Washington pseudo-tough generals.
Crime and punishment
Mr. Bush is proud of the prisons he has built in Texas. He needs those jail cells. His state has the second-highest incarceration rate in America. Mr. Bush toughened the drug laws. Meanwhile, federal warehouses are jammed with young offenders.
Do upscale kids like Mr. Bush get a pass while inner-city kids do hard time? Critics say the law's rigged -- 5 grams of crack cocaine gets the same mandatory five-year sentence as 500 grams of powder. Will Mr. Bush tell the truth, then lead a rethinking of the drug war? I doubt it. We're in the gilded age of hypocrisy.
Sandy Grady is Washington columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.
Pub Date: 9/02/99