Monday, July 11, 2016

Protest Candidates

The rise of Donald Trump’s candidacy often prompts comparisons to another “outsider” candidate, former Governor Jesse Ventura.  As a longtime resident of the state of Minnesota, who elected Ventura to office, I feel the need to clarify a few things.  First of all, I definitely understand the desire to make this comparison.  Both built their campaigns on an anti-establishment, straight talking platform, and both were famous in TV and movies long before running for public office.  It is also notable that both Trump and Ventura took positions that didn’t fit particularly well in either of the established party platforms.  Each of them has a reputation for saying things that aren’t necessarily politically correct, and their comments often got them in trouble.  If you are willing to look deeper, and revisit history a bit however, that is where the similarities end. 

First of all, it is important to note that Ventura actually won the election as a third party candidate (Reform Party), defeating both the Republican and Democratic nominees. Trump, on the other hand, is going to be, albeit reluctantly, the GOP nominee. In addition, Ventura, while not a seasoned politician by any means, was not a complete newcomer to politics.  Prior to running for Governor, Ventura was the mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota from 1991-1995.  Ventura’s views, even at the time, were fairly reasonable and consistent, in stark contrast to Trump’s positions, which range from inconsistent, to incomprehensible, and in many cases, unconscionable.  Looking at Ventura’s views in today’s political environment, they seems almost refreshing.

Ventura described himself as fiscally conservative, and socially liberal.  He also like to say that he’s a “libertarian” (with a small “l”).  By simply analyzing his beliefs and political statements over the years, one site ( pegged him as a “Progressive Libertarian,” which I imagine he’d be fine with.  A sampling of his positions, both political and private, are as follows:
  •   Doesn’t agree with abortion, but supports the ultimate right of the woman to choose.
  • Doesn’t support gay marriage, but supports full legal rights regardless of sexual preference.
  • Does not support increased surveillance and invasion of privacy, even to fight “terrorism.”
  • Supports a simplified tax system, reducing overall taxes and attempting to balance out the tax burden across a larger tax base.
  • Favors taxes based on consumption of services, rather than income level or property values, including implementation of a national sales tax to replace income tax.
  •   Supports funding public education out of the general fund, rather than by local property taxes.
  • Does not support the absolute right of gun ownership.
  • Strongly in favor of separating church and state, including in public schools.
  • Believes in campaign finance reform, reducing roadblocks to voting, and is skeptical of the military and prison industrial complex.
  • Is against mandatory sentencing, “three strikes and you’re out” and criminalizing addiction.
  • In favor of legalizing and regulating marijuana, similar to alcohol and tobacco. 
  • Supports free trade agreements
  • Moderately isolationist and in favor of downsizing the military
  • Believes in climate science, is in favor of expanding green energy, and he made mass-transit (light rail) a priority for Minnesota while in office.

Another similarity between Ventura and Trump seems to be their willingness to support and to give credibility to conspiracy theories.  I’m not sure what to make of that, other than to note that Ventura’s love of conspiracy seems to be a fairly recent development, coming out after he decided not to seek re-election as Governor.  This is one major reason why so many people (myself included) who were drawn to his candidacy in 1998, would have problems supporting him today.  In 1998, he was the grassroots candidate of the people who gave us a viable option that fell somewhere in between the two mainstream options. His views made sense to pro-choice, small government crusaders who happened to have LGBT friends.  He provided a viable candidate for those responsible gun owning, recreational pot smokers who wanted to send their kids to a quality public school without having to buy a $500,000 house in the suburbs.  I certainly didn’t (and don’t) agree with all of his views, but he represented a common sense and practical view of the role of government in our society.  His policies were generally well thought out and consistent with a man that grew up in Minneapolis, and built his own success in this country.  He believed that our government had a role to play, yet we all needed to take an active role in our own success. 

Donald Trump does a very good job of getting noticed, and that was his primary motivation for jumping into this race.  He saw, much like Ventura, that people were getting fed-up with politics as usual, and saw a window of opportunity to appeal to those who felt left out.  The miscalculation that both the GOP and Democratic parties made, was regarding the scale of those voters who had lost their voice.  Trump not only grabbed hold of the white supremacist vote, the anti-immigrant vote, and the far-Christian right vote, but he also appeals to another growing category of voters.  This last group, much like the young people that handed the Governorship to Jesse, are those so fed up with the our government doing nothing, that they are willing to blow this “thing” up rather than put faith in politicians to fix politics. 

A candidate like Bernie Sanders also grabs a large group of the disenfranchised voters, but his message tends to appeal to those that believe there is still a path to success through politics, rather than in-spite of politics.  We need more than two options, and we need to change the system, not just rotate candidates in and out of government.  We need to reduce the role of money in politics, and we won’t get that done with candidates who are funded by millionaires and billionaires.   I fear that there are enough Sanders supporters who are so fed up with government that they’d rather “burn it down” with Trump rather than maintain the status-quo with Hillary.  

Only time will tell…

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