The Body is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Understanding Jesse Ventura's long, sad decline

Jesse Ventura has come a long way since those heady days of November 1998. A Reform Party longshot in the Minnesota gubernatorial race, Ventura ran as the outsider's outsider, a flamboyant former Navy SEAL, professional wrestler ("The Body"), and Hollywood bit player who'd already achieved the impossible, serving one term as the elected mayor of his hometown, the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Park. To the surprise of everyone—except the candidate himself, or so he humbly claims—Ventura grabbed 37 percent of the vote, narrowly defeating both Democrat Hubert Humphrey III and Republican Norm Coleman. To celebrate his inauguration, Ventura wore a tie-died Jimi Hendrix t-shirt and sang "Werewolves of London" onstage with Warren Zevon.

"I'm fiscally conservative and socially moderate to liberal," he told reason in December 1998. "I've taken the libertarian exam and scored perfect on it." That libertarianism was responsible for Ventura's best ideas, including the decriminalization of marijuana and a proposal to make the state legislature spend every fourth term repealing outdated laws, not passing new ones. Not surprisingly, both plans went nowhere, though Ventura did succeed in removing at least one stupid law: a state ban on playing bingo more than twice a week at nursing homes. "I put great trust in our elderly," he deadpanned before the press, "that, with this burden lifted from them, they will not abuse this great privilege."

But while showmanship helped him on the stump, it didn't give Ventura the thick skin necessary for dealing with other politicians—or with the press, who sparked his wrath after reporting that his 22-year old son had thrown wild parties at the governor's residence. "Today," he writes in his new book, Don't Start the Revolution Without Me, "I view those media people as equivalent to pedophiles, because they attacked my children on multiple occasions."

So he called it quits as governor after one term, announcing on Minnesota Public Radio that he "will always protect my family first." Since then, Ventura has spent a semester as a visiting professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government (you read that right: his seminar was called "Body Slamming the Political Establishment: Third Party Politics"), campaigned for Texas gubernatorial hopeful and fellow third party iconoclast Kinky Friedman, and retreated to Mexico's Baja peninsula, where he grew a funky beard.

Now he's back in the spotlight, promoting a bizarre new book filled with conspiracy theories and the endlessly repeated question: Will he or won't he run for president? Given that just last week Ventura was hinting that he might challenge comedian Al Franken for the Minnesota Senate seat of Republican incumbent Norm Coleman (Ventura's Republican foe from the 1998 race), it seems that The Body is desperate for whatever political action he can get.

Pathetic title aside, Don't Start the Revolution Without Me turns out to be an unexpectedly fascinating read. First and foremost, Ventura has gone whole hog into political paranoia. He devotes most of one chapter, and other lengthy passages throughout the book, to challenging the Lone Gunman theory of the John F. Kennedy assassination, a subject he's clearly obsessed with. Of Pat Buchanan's success in wresting the 2000 Reform Party presidential nomination, Ventura charges, "it was a set-up all along by the Republicans. A way to destroy the momentum for a third party." As for Pearl Harbor, "some evidence exists that FDR and Churchill were privy to the Japanese attack...but needed a catalyst to bring America into World War II."

Even the Patriot Act—a piece of villainous lawmaking, no doubt about that—falls under the shadow of conspiracy. At a whopping 342 pages, Ventura simply doesn't believe that the government could have cobbled it together in those "first scary weeks" after the attacks. "Its almost as if somebody had it all ready to be unveiled," he writes, "but just had to wait for the right moment—a Reichstag fire, a Pearl Harbor type event, to make it a reality."

This is the Bush Did It theory at its most simplistic (substitute Cheney for Bush if you prefer). As Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), the Senate's lone vote against the Patriot Act, noted at the time, the proposal contained "vast new powers for law enforcement, some seemingly drafted in haste and others that came from the FBI's wish list that Congress has rejected in the past."

But it's the 9/11 attacks themselves that have really sent Ventura over the top rope. How did those two planes bring down the Twin Towers, anyway, he wonders. "I don't claim expertise about this," he continues, before citing his "four years as part of the Navy's underwater demolition teams," but "something about the official story doesn't add up." In Ventura's view, the towers should have flattened like pancakes, "rather than the concrete being pulverized and flying through the air for blocks."

As radical journalist Alexander Cockburn has remarked of the "9/11 Truth" movement, "one characteristic of the nuts is that they have a devout, albeit preposterous belief in American efficiency." That certainly describes Ventura's repeated assertion that four hijacked airplanes should not have been able to bypass our air defenses. "Yet no bells went off, no emergency sirens, no fighter jets scrambled until very late."

As a former governor, not to mention a Vietnam vet, Ventura should know firsthand that the government screws stuff up, both the big things and the small ones. September 11 was FUBAR writ large. Yet here he displays a perversely unshakeable faith in American air traffic control.

It's all of a piece, really, his belief that the media "jackals" were out to ruin him, that Lee Harvey Oswald didn't act alone, that "the media today are controlled by the big corporations," that "certain people in the government were out to keep an eye on me," that if Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda "were responsible...it was not without some knowledge of those impending attacks on our side."

Still, I wouldn't mind seeing Ventura run for president (or for senator, or dogcatcher, or whatever). In addition to talking conspiracy, he's likely to raise all sorts of other trouble, from advocating the repeal of organized religion's tax-exempt status to mandating that every politician who votes for war have at least one relative in uniform (both proposals are in the book). That could be fun to watch. Plus, he's no longer so quick to identify as a libertarian, sneering nowadays that Minnesota's Libertarians "tend to want anarchy." Liberals and conservatives, after all, are just as responsible for Ventura's wacky ideas as libertarians ever were, and a new campaign is likely to spread the blame.

Besides, we might as well get some laughs in before the election. And Jesse Ventura is always good for that.

Damon W. Root is a reason associate editor.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Plant Immigration RIghts Suppo||

    "sneering nowadays that Minnesota's Libertarians "tend to want anarchy.""

    Good for them.

  • Plant Immigration RIghts Suppo||

    "At a whopping 342 pages, Ventura simply doesn't believe that the government could have cobbled it together in those "first scary weeks" after the attacks. "Its almost as if somebody had it all ready to be unveiled," he writes, "but just had to wait for the right moment-a Reichstag fire, a Pearl Harbor type event, to make it a reality.""

    This may well be true but, even if they did, it does not prove the government knew about or perpetuated the 9/11 attacks. I do not think most government workers are smart enough to pull off something like 9/11. They can't get a job in the private sector so theydecided to work for the government.

  • ||

    Plant Immmigration:
    Oh fuck, please don't turn it into one of those type of threads. PLEASE.

  • ||

    I must say that I'm crushed Ventura has oozed into this type of creature. He was one of the few reasons I had hope for the American electorate. Now he's only helping to further discredit libertarianism.
    Damn you, Jesse. Damn you to hell.

  • Colin||

    Even with conspiracymongering, I'd vote for him.

  • ||

    Here's a guy who was in Hollywood, pro wrestling and the Navy. All those things are fairly "political" in a manner of speaking. And yet the vicious politics surrounding public office were too much for him. I don't know what that says about his personality, about politics or what. Even though nearly half the things he says leave me scratching my head, he's still one of my favorite overachievers.

  • Plant Immigration Rights Suppo||

    Colin, I would sooner vote for a conspiracymonger than a statist. That said I am very skeptical about most conspiracy theories. Although, the TV show Firefly may have been canceled by Reevers high up in government who put pressure of Fox to replace it with "Mr. Personality".

  • ||

    Jamie,

    Then why did the tower collapse back and to the left? Back and to the left. Oswald clearly could not have destroyed the tower alone, since he was busy faking moon landings at the time.

  • ||

    Back and to the left.

  • Plant Immigration RIghts Suppo||

    Sorry, that is spelled with an "a"

    http://www.universeguide.com/Organisation/Reavers.php

  • An Honest Question||

    Is Damon W. Root any relation to Wayne Allan Root?

  • ||

    As somebody who has....don't laugh....actually been mistaken for Ventura I'd just like to say....for the love of god, get a haircut!

    You're bad for my image!

  • ||

    Back and to the left.

  • Naga Sadow||

    PL,

    You owe me a new laptop! I spewed my leftover sushi from last night all over it!

    *flips off PL*

  • ||

    Naga Sadow,

    I see. Which direction did your head move when you expelled the vomitus?

  • ||

    Then why did the tower collapse back and to the left? Back and to the left. Oswald clearly could not have destroyed the tower alone, since he was busy faking moon landings at the time.

    Hmmm. I never thought about it that way. It all sorta makes sense now.

    HOW COULD I HAVE BEEN SO BLIND?!?!

  • ||

    It's academic to state it at this point, but ProLibertate wins the thread.

  • Brian||

    I told him the Mexico-grown would make him too paranoid.

  • daveylee||

    Fish beat me to it.

    Jesse, lose the Gary Busey Mugshot hairdoo already!

    Gets harder to admit that I voted for him back in 1998 when he looks like that.

    The funky beards would also make him look less like a panhandler if he'd just go back to shaving his head.

  • Naga Sadow||

    PL,

    It went . . . back and to the left? GASP!!!

  • Naga Sadow||

    I too want to talk smack about Ventura's hairdon'ts but I fear his wrath. He seems to get hung up on old grudges and questions.

  • David Lee Roth||

    A little more to the right...

  • ||

    As everyone can readily observe, Dr. Sadow has conducted a study proving that heads--and buildings, by extrapolation--always move back and to the left. PROOF!

  • Plant Immigration Rights Suppo||

    But it's the pelvic thrust that really drives you insane,

  • Plant Immigration Rights Suppo||

    In another dimension, with voyeuristic intention
    Well-secluded, I see all
    With a bit of a mind flip
    You're there in the time slip
    And nothing can ever be the same

  • LarryA||

    Even with conspiracymongering, I'd vote for him.

    I'm sorry, I just don't see the attraction. I would never vote for Jesse Ventura unless all the other candidates were worse.

    Oh, wait.

    Nevermind.

  • ||

    As everyone can readily observe, Dr. Sadow has conducted a study proving that heads--and buildings, by extrapolation--always move back and to the left. PROOF!



    Except when you travel below the equator, at which point heads and buildings go forward and to the right...like with the water going down the drain the wrong way.

  • ||

    Still, I wouldn't mind seeing Ventura run for president . . .

    We've already had eight years of a sociopath, let's skip paranoid delusion. Don't get me wrong, I like Jesse, but 9/11 truthers don't get to sit at the adult's table. Period.

  • Plant Immigration Rights Suppo||

    Well I was walking down the street just a-having a think
    When a snake of a guy gave me an evil wink
    He shook me up, he took me by surprise
    He had a pickup truck and the devil's eyes.
    He stared at me and I felt a change
    Time meant nothing, never would again
    Let's do the Time Warp again!

  • NeonCat||

    @ PIRS

    Perhaps they'll do some more… folk dancing.

  • ||

    Perhaps Ventura is on a mission to bring back the mullet from its well-deserved exile. Or, in his case, the "skullet".

    Full disclosure: I had a groovy mullet of my own...in 1991.

  • Jim Treacher||

    Some very interesting audio of Ventura losing a debate to, of all people, Jim Norton from the Opie & Anthony Show here.

  • NP||

    Today," he writes in his new book, Don't Start the Revolution Without Me, "I view those media people as equivalent to pedophiles, because they attacked my children on multiple occasions."

    MU HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!!!!!!

    Man, I didn't think I'd make a comment here, but thanks for the laugh. I mean it.

  • ||

    Back and to the left.

    Wow, PL. That's exactly how I box the Jesuit!

  • ||

    At a whopping 342 pages, Ventura simply doesn't believe that the government could have cobbled it together in those "first scary weeks" after the attacks.

    Two observations:

    Government agencies frequently have contingency plans gathering dust that they can yank out in an emergency.

    The PATRIOT Act [spit] was almost entirely a wish list that various government agencies had been shopping around for years. They were opportunistic, which is not the same thing as being conspiratorial.

  • ||

    [Plus, he's no longer so quick to identify as a libertarian, sneering nowadays that Minnesota's Libertarians "tend to want anarchy." ]

    I am proudly at partial fault of this, though I certainly didn't start it.

  • ||

    Jesse's gone insane. Pair him up with Perot and it would be a dream ticket.

  • Robert||

    Still doesn't explain (and yes, I know there was a Reason piece purporting to attempt such) why he got so little in the way of results as governor, although it does seem he held down the rate of increase of expenditures.

    My attempt at explanation: His election wasn't taken by observers as any sort of mandate for libertarian ideas, only as a spasm of disgust with the status quo that got out the votes of the disaffected. That is, legislators and analysts thought he was elected by an inchoate anti vote and so didn't give credence to his policy ideas, figuring it would not benefit anyone else in the state to adopt them -- that the disaffected could not be marshalled reliably into votes for anyone lower down the political ladder. Therefore he didn't have legislative support.

  • Jaxon||

    H,H,H,HIT PIECE!

    Craptacularly written , so many snipes in that "article", it puts the JFK assassination to shame.

    Bush didn't carry out 9/11. His handlers did. The plan for a second Iraq invasion were already on the table prior to the attacks. As early as 1999.

  • ||

    Jaxon,

    Back and to the left.

  • B||

    I'm curious, how much of your brain did you have to remove to be on Jesse's "level", 1/2 or all of it?

  • ||

    For a magazine that prides itself on inquiry, this book "review" could have been tapped out by a copy runner at the Minneapolis Tribune (or whatever it's called) over lunch.

    I don't know whether Ventura's on to something or he's out in left field, but this article amounts to rattling off his ideas and sweeping them away with a simple, "he's obviously nuts."

    Grade 5-level writing not worthy of Reason.

  • Casey Bowman||

    I was an active member of the Libertarian Party of Minnesota in the heady days of 1994 when the Republican Party listened to our message, which was a goal, given our small numbers. It was around that time when I first heard Jesse Ventura announce he was a libertarian on the radio. His colleagues Jason Lewis and Peter Thiele from KSTP came to our LP convention along with the Republican Party House Minority Leader Steve Swiggum, who had a T-shirt saying "Vote Republican" on the front and "or Libertarian" on the back, which he had worn at the Republican convention earlier that day (and which had gotten wet in Barbara Carlson's famous hot tub in which she interviewed politicians). We made our presence known by the revolutionary acts of simply asking pointed questions at town hall meetings on health care, for example, courageously confronting politicians by breaking taboos, speaking repeatedly about the Constitution and the Declaration. We also fostered friendly relationships with those politicians who listened to our message, as did Rep. Swiggum after we had presented him with a petition for term limits at his office. Curious he asked us to stay and talked with us for 45 minutes or so. I remember mentioning how the idea of term limits went back to James Harrington and his influential book "Oceana" in the 1600s. Later he and two other house members met with us and invited us to run as Republicans, an invitation we politely declined.

    Later in 1994 Jason Lewis visited with us at Gluek's Restaurant while we waited for the election results on Nov 8, when libertarian messages were predominant in political discussions and swept the Republicans into power. Interestingly Reform Party candidate Dean Barkley and his team joined us, too, there at Gluek's where he then saw the returns come in that qualified his party for major party status, which set the stage for Ventura's run 4 years later. The point I'm trying to make is that it was quite collegial across party boundaries.

    Another point is that I have always been a strong advocate for the Constitution. Indeed I have written many times, "Liberty and anarchy are opposed." Where is there a market for due process? To my mind anarchy would lead to feudalism, which is more in line with a desire for old-world conservatism. Anyway I see myself as quite a principled advocate for liberty, for example in my advocacy for Hayek's denationalisation of money.

    The other day at Jesse Ventura's book-signing at the Mall of America I handed him a copy of an article I had written in 1994 suggesting a form of election that would get us past the increasingly rigid two-party rule we suffer, by eliminating the problem of spoilers, allowing candidates to act as electors throwing their votes towards leading candidates after a general primary, leaving only two candidates in a mandatory run-off. I thought he'd be interested in this based on what he's said recently about the two parties and their hold on us. We chatted a bit, after he immediately repeated his view that libertarians are anarchists when he realized that my article had been published in The Minnesota Libertarian (State Fair issue, 1994).

    I believe the Dallas Accord was silly, and I constantly am dealing with the confusion it wrought, along with the pledge, which should clearly allow for constitutionally limited taxation. I support Bob Barr and hope anarchists have nothing more to do with libertarian political activity. In the academic world, it's good to explore all ideas, but practically speaking when you're at a Ron Paul meetup and someone says that they can't wait for a private war, it can be a bit off-putting.

  • Minnesotan||

    He was actually a good governor and I'd vote for him for Senate. Showed the ability to learn about issues and change his mind when needed -- something other politicians rarely do.

  • ||

    All right Jesse!!! Get the word out! Try to educate these people. Talk about how the buildings fell at free fall speed, perfectly vertically into their own footprint. There were only two airplanes and three buildings fell all exactly in the same manner.

  • Ken||

    I love the conspiracy nuts. They are always fun to listen to, but only for a few minutes. The problem is that they just won't shut up.

  • ||

    After listening to Jesse Ventura on various tv shows recently, I was telling my significant other that I agree with just about everything this guy says. Unfortunately, he started off on the 9/11 conspiracy theory on Hannity and Colmes.

    Still, despite this, he's still a lot more right than most of the talking heads on the tv.

  • Wendy||

    With lines like these, I can't wait to read his book:

    "I view those media people as equivalent to pedophiles, because they attacked my children on multiple occasions."

    Love the line, Jesse! Keep seeking TRUTH!

  • ||

    Typical cynical puppet of the system - cheap ball-less sarcasm usual to sterile pseudo-intellectuals. Fuck Damon Root. Go Ventura. Yes, churches SHOULD pay taxes and those who vote for war SHOULD send one of their sons.
    "Reason.com" or "Establishment-mouldedmentality.com" ?

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