Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#44, July 21, 1999


by Marylaine Block

An odd pairing, that, and not the way most people will think of John F. Kennedy, Jr., but these two men have shared an important mission and done much to fulfill it: making politics interesting and accessible to millions of non-voters who have been totally turned off by politicians and political reporting alike.

Each man in his own way has rejected the political culture of dreary, droning men in gray and found a new style. They aren't appealing to the same people, but they are using the same tools: celebrity and popular culture.

Kennedy is primarily known for his accidental celebrity by birth, but he has built a legacy of his own: George ("Not Just Politics as Usual"), a glossy, glam political magazine with strong overtones of Rolling Stone, GQ and New York Magazine, mixing journalism, politics, and Hollywood. Its writing is fresh, hip, and as far from standard political journalism as you can get.

In his magazine, sharp commentary on current issues shares quarters with articles on "The Power 50: Who's on Top in Politics" and interviews with Garth Brooks and Sean Penn. You see, Kennedy understands that for Generation X, popular culture matters just as much as, and maybe more than, politics.

There's an enjoyable snottiness about the magazine. Kennedy, who cringed at being called "the sexiest man alive," didn't hesitate to make Jesse Ventura number one on his list of the "20 Most Fascinating Men in Politics," even though another article in the magazine on what the world would be like if everyone told the truth said Ventura's Reform Party would be called the "We don"t like anybody except me and you, and I ain't too sure about you" party.

But for all that, idealism shines through George, in a Veterans Day tribute to war heroes in Congress, in its awards for the most generous corporations, and in the George book, 250 Ways To Make America Better. Kennedy uses his magazine to teach his own wary, distrustful generation his father's belief that we and our government can still do great things.

Like JFK, Jr., Minnesota's governor Jesse Ventura used his celebrity as a pro wrestler and talk show host to attract voters. He, too, brought the cynical young into politics, winning nearly half the voters under 30. After all, he didn't bore them - what other politician's web site shows him as an action figure with the slogan "No Strings Attached"? He didn't lie to them (and his over-muscled body looks preposterous in the standard expensive gray suit).

He won by talking straight to people. Even though it got him in trouble when he said on national TV that the streets of St. Paul had been planned by a drunken Irishman, his voters loved him for it. They'd had enough of mealy-mouthed candidates who never got in trouble because they never said anything remotely interesting.

Ventura's unclassifiable politics attracted an odd mix of libertarians and blue collar workers who felt disenfranchised, ignored, and overtaxed; he wanted to abolish both property taxes and tax subsidies for rich football team owners who expect the public to pay for their new stadiums. And he wanted governments to keep their noses out of people's private lives.

A third party candidate running against two slick, well-oiled party machines and well-financed experienced pols, with a meager war chest of only $250,000 (he accepted no contributions greater than $50), Ventura appealed to Minnesotans' love of underdogs. The fact that politicians and reporters didn't take him seriously confirmed his underdog status, and allowed him to sneak up on the competition.

Ten percent of Minnesota voters said they wouldn't have voted at all if Ventura hadn't been on the ballot. He not only made politics fun again, he made people feel that this time around, government just might listen to them.

The wrestler and the rich kid are not an obvious pair, but they both have brought style and entertainment to our mean, boring politics. They've treated yong people with respect and given them hope that maybe the system can be wrestled into working. They have both served notice that the political establishment is no longer the only game in town.

I don't know what Ventura's old wrestling buddies think of his new career, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if the ghost of John Fitzgerald Kennedy is watching his son's performance and cheering him on.

* Obviously this was written before the plane crash that took JFK Jr.'s life.

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