' Marianne M. Jennings
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Jewish World Review Oct. 22, 1999/ 12 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Jesse, Warren, Cybill, Donald and Oprah

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- IN ADDITION TO SHARING his hopes for reincarnation as women's lingerie, Governor Jesse Ventura of Minnesota, in a no-holds-barred interview with policy journal extra ordinaire, Playboy, indicted the faithful, "Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers." I'd match Jesse in full wrestling regalia with anyone who has done time in the church nursery. Such a soul, having survived two hours of toddlers without hooking them to cupboards by their 2T suspenders (I believe longsuffering with toddlers is part of the Beatitudes -- blessed beyond belief are those who show up for church nursery on Sunday), could put Ventura's Navy Seal training to shame.

Having never jumped on the Jesse bandwagon, I issue a firm "I told you so." My hesitation with Governor Ventura was not the wrestling, the common man phenomenon or even his special interest man ad that reminded me of the Mr. Bill skits from Saturday Night Live. It was that while he was darn entertaining, his contribution to the body politic didn't promise much. So far, his record in Minnesota is government as usual but with a great deal of color, charm and water cooler chat for the fine folks of Minnesota.

As a fellow member of the endangered species of the outspoken, Jesse is a worthy comrade, but crosses the line between honesty in fact and the derogatory. When Jesse confronted students at the state capitol and told a whining college mother, "There's no such thing as a single parent — it takes two to parent," I was with him. Jesse challenges with common sense. But, the comments in Playboy were not worthy of curmudgeons.

Jesse's gaffe won't cost him the national scene for the same reasons the press reports Donald Trump's braggadocio regarding the presidency and ease of attaining a first lady, Warren Beatty's musings on socialism even as he enjoys producer opportunities and accompanying rewards of capitalism, or Cybill Shepherd's possible bid for president in between hot flashes and mentor, lawyer Gloria Allred, who I believe created hot flashes to frighten men. We mock Pat Buchanan but take seriously a woman who has been married three times, ran a television show into the ground and was responsible, along with Burt Reynolds, for At Long Last Love, a movie musical more embarrassing than Grease 2.

Jesse and the lightweights are taken seriously for three reasons. One is that Oprah Winfrey is teaching a course at the Kellogg Graduate School of Business at Northwestern University (Jesse only discussed his Playboy interview at Harvard -- no course, yet). The number one MBA program in the country has Oprah and her erstwhile fiance teaching Dynamics of Leadership in a ten-week course. There is a difference between Oprah and a PhD professor, but lines today are so blurred that Oprah emerged from class with, "I haven't been this nervous since I danced with Tina Turner."

Oprah and Stedman have war stories but can't thread them together into universal and timeless principles that teach students how to manage. Celebrity and qualifications are so intertwined that the difference is indiscernible. Jessica Lange testified to Congress about the plight of farmers because she played a farm wife in Country? Rosie O'Donnell on gun control, Alec Baldwin on lynching Kenneth Starr and Woody Harrelson on anything?

The second reason Trump, Jesse, Warren et al. don't sound so wacky is because we have come to expect clowns and crooks in public office. The Clinton administration has charted new bang for our entertainment buck and most crimes committed without indictment. On the heels of Monica came Oscar Goodman's election as mayor of Las Vegas. Mr. Goodman is a wealthy criminal defense lawyer who has represented the best of the mob. His mother once assured that Mafioso types are fairly harmless because "My son's clients ... just kill each other." While I am grateful for their discernment, someone should introduce Mama Goodman to defaults in loan sharking.

That Oscar Goodman was elected mayor brought no outrage nor did his odd notions about religion, "I have done the Lord's work for my clients. Now I'm going to do the L-rd's work on behalf of this city." There are many things the lights, naked women and craps of Las Vegas bring to mind, but the Lord's work is not one of them. But, then again, the lines between and among sin, judgment and right and wrong are so blurred that murder, fraud and check-kiting may just be products of newfound disabilities, not crimes.

The final reason that such left-field (literally and figuratively) candidates emerge is our equation of material success with wisdom. If having brains were a requirement for acquisition of wealth, no one, in the words of P.J. O'Rourke, could explain Beverly Hills. The number of ditzes per capita there is exceeded only by the number of blondes in Malibu. And one of them thinks she has a shot at being president. Why not? She handled Bruce Willis in the scripted Moonlighting. What more do you need to be president?

Hosting a talk show lands you a graduate school position and defending the Mafia makes you king of Las Vegas. Jesse and his fellow clowns rule more and more with less and less.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Mr. Cantoni is a former HR executive and the president of Capstone Consulting in Scottsdale, AZ. Send your comments by clicking here.


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©1999, Marianne M. Jennings