Adam J. Smith, DRCNet Associate Director, [email protected]
Fifty governors came to Washington last week to meet and to greet, to discuss common issues and to powwow with the president. The annual meeting of the Governor's Association is also an opportunity for those with their eye on national office to get cozy with the national press, and to have their names and their words and, if they're lucky, their pictures run in national publications.
But despite the presence of both Bush boys, as well as Governor Whitman of New Jersey and Governor Pataki of New York, the man who stole the show, as well as the national media spotlight, was a man whose candidacy was once considered a joke, and whose election has been treated as something of an anomaly: Governor Jesse Ventura of Minnesota. Ventura displayed a sharp, if somewhat self-effacing wit, a disdain for the ways of the inside-the-beltway set, a manner that oozed honesty and a willingness to state his beliefs without regard for poll numbers or political correctness. After meeting with the governors, Ventura made the rounds, including a speech at the National Press Club and an appearance on CNN with Wolf Blitzer. By the time Jesse "The Governor" Ventura got back on a plane to return to the Gopher State, even the Washington insiders had to know that The Governor is no joke.
Jesse Ventura beat overwhelming odds to win the election, and he did it without ducking controversial issues. Even so, the one issue that stands out is Ventura's stance on the drug war.
"If someone wants to use marijuana or LSD in the privacy of their own home, it ought to be none of the government's business." Simple as that. The drug war has failed, says Ventura, and besides, people have to be responsible for making their own decisions in life, even if those decisions turn out to be idiotic.
Ventura is not "in favor" of drugs, or "pro-drug" as the drug war establishment insists on labeling reformers. "I don't condone the use or abuse of drugs" he told Blitzer, "but I also understand privacy." Which, as has been borne out by recent (and not so recent) events, differentiates him from many in the nation's capitol.
The American people are starting to come to terms with this issue. Over the past two election cycles, drug policy reform ballot questions have been approved time and time again. And yet, in Washington the overwhelming response has been to try to figure out ways to thwart the will of the voters, and to introduce harsher and harsher measures in a vain attempt to find the level of violence and terror necessary to make prohibition work.
It is a truism in Washington that you can never go wrong by getting "tough," and that the American people will always support an escalation of the drug war "to protect the children." But Jesse Ventura, ex-professional wrestler, ex-Navy SEAL, the big guy with the 22-inch arms at the Governor's conference who was not supposed to be smart enough, or savvy enough, is taking on the truism. He is speaking the truth, and he has gotten himself elected by counting on the voters to understand and respond.
Jesse Ventura blew into Washington last week and stole the national stage with straight talk instead of political platitudes and an unflinching confidence that the American people could tell the difference. His performance, or rather his refusal to put on a performance, captured the imagination of the jaded Washington Press corps, so used to the meaningless blather and stock cliches of politicians. Ventura is the only Governor in the land with the courage to state the obvious, that the problem of substance abuse in America will be solved neither by the nanny state, nor by the police state. By speaking the truth, he has shown himself to be neither joke nor politician but rather a man who is trying to lead. The political establishment had better take notice of Ventura and his message on the drug war. The public already has.