Sometimes celebrities run for office and, if elected, they make for the best leaders, or at least they're the most fun to watch. Like that pro wrestler, Jesse Ventura, elected Minnesota governor a few years back....remember him? Voters might have asked: can he really do better than professional politicians? But they didn't. They asked: how can he do worse? Minnesotans, briefly basking in national attention, sported bumper stickers boasting "My Governor can beat up your Governor." When they asked Jesse about it, he agreed. He'd been to a Governor's conference. He'd looked those guys over, he told us, and there wasn't one of them he couldn't whip. But he was not so triumphant with the media, with whom he fought all the time. He spoke his mind, and that's probably why he fought with them all the time.
For example, on religion: "Organized religion is a sham and a crutchfor weak-minded people who need strength in numbers. It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people's business."
Or on promoting the Pledge of Allegiance in the schools (he opposed it): "I believe patiotism comes from the heart. Patriotism is voluntary. It is a feeling of loyalty and allegiance that is the result of knowledge and belief. A patriot shows their patriotism through their actions, by their choice. No law will make a citizen a patriot."
David Letterman asked him on TV which of the Twin Cities was better: Minneapolis or St. Paul. Now, any politicians knows that you have to play cute and say syrupy drivel about both towns, even if they both stink to high heaven. Jesse answered: "Minneapolis. Those streets in St. Paul must have been designed by drunken Irishmen."
Such blunt remarks....there's others, too.... made him an easy target for the media. They treated him as a big joke, so he called them "media jackals." When they sought access to the governor's press area they had to show their press pass which, per Jesse's decree, identified each one of them as a "media jackal."
He only served one term, but said he would have run again had it not been for family considerations. The media pestered them always, he charged, ignoring policy issues so that they could wallow in cheap gossip.
Frankly, the more I read about this guy, the more I like him. He reminds me of Mickey Spillane.
So that was Jesse. Here in New York we have Eliot....Eliot Spitzer. Is he cut from the same cloth as Jesse? He didn't crack skulls in the ring, of course, but he sure did on Wall Street, fining lots of white collar crooks and sending a few to the Big House. Like Jesse, Eliot doesn't hesitate to speak his mind; decorum-laced politicians and media types are incredulous at his outbursts, to the point of questioning his sanity. "I am a [ahem] f**king steamroller and I'll roll over you or anybody else," said he to an opposing Assemblyman, according to the New York Post.
And..... "I've done more in three weeks than any governor has done in the history of the state." Not real modest, and chiding reporters quickly trotted out lifetime accomplishments of other governors, like DeWitt Clinton, the one who dug the Erie Canal 200 years ago. How's that for lifetime accomplishment, Mr. Spitzer, they nyaah nyaahed, as if imagining Clinton had dug it personally (which he did not). At a news conference they asked him whether his words were overly boastful. "No," he answered, Next question."
Still, you don't want to mess with Eliot. He has done a lot in a short time, he's hugely popular, just like Jesse who enjoyed a 73% approval rating, and New York State is almost on the embalming table. Everyone knows it, so they don't mind a guv who'll crack the heads of those who put it there.
The really big battles are still shaping up. Mr. Spitzer's 2007 State budget, the one that's due April 1rst, though previous budgets have been as late as six months, sending all State agencies and schools into conniptions, proposes cuts of $1.2 billion in health care, mostly from Medicaid, hospitals and nursing homes, with increased emphasis on preventative care. Now, lest anyone think that Eliot is just a mean spirited miser, it should be noted that New York leads in Medicaid spending and spends more than the next two states combined. Even with the new cuts, the budget is a 9 percent increase over last year, says the new state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. That's almost two times faster than revenues....and 2 and a half times the rate of inflation. It's unsustainable, says DiNapoli, who as comptroller, may turn out the be a major Spitzer asset, even though the latter opposedhis appointment.
Former Governor Pataki tried to rein in health spending, but it's hard to do. The hospital and health care workers unions saturate TV and radio with tearjerker stories of sick, neglected people, and it's game over. Pataki, in the end, learned to shut up and sign the check.
"Eliot Spitzer says he wants to reform health care, and he's right! But he's going about it the wrong way." This was the health worker union's first TV salvo. Trust me on this: the "and he's right" is only because it was Eliot Spitzer. They never did it for Pataki. But mess with Eliot and you mess with the people who like him, which is nearly everyone.
Spitzer was not in the least appeased by "and he's right." He served up his own TV ad. Set in a hospital nursery full of babies crying.....they were crybabies.... the narrator spelled out facts about New York's bloated system, full of fraud and waste and huge salaries for the top dogs.
The next round of ads was predictable. Televised health aides, almost in tears, sniffling why does the governor wants to hurt them, when they work so hard and save lives!
There's lots more to come. Mr. Spitzer and Joseph Bruno, the Senate Majority leader, a firm ally of the hospital people, got into a screaming matchthe other day in the Senate chambers. Even F-bombs were flying! A scared secretary took cover and fled the room.
Yes, there's more to come.
Tom Irregardless and Me No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash