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Jewish World Review Oct. 13, 1999 /3 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Rough seas for Capt. Ventura -- CAMBRIDGE, MASS. -- Jesse Ventura pictures himself as a ship's captain in rough seas.

The job description refers to his Reaganesque manner of governing the state of Minnesota. "I realize I'm like the captain of a ship, a Navy ship. The captain doesn't actually run the engines... (or) steer the ship," he said during a rousing public interview at Harvard last week.

"I try to put in the most qualified people... that know more than I about that particular department."

The "rough seas" refers to a recent interview Ventura did with Playboy. The main cause of the turbulence was his comment that "organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers."

Despite a bit of zig-zagging -- "there's not necessarily a bad connotation on being weak-minded," he told the wide-eyed audience of Harvard students -- Ventura has stuck to that same rough course he set in the Playboy interview. Asked what goes through his head and heart when he walks past a church, he offered this:

"I have nothing at all against religion, people's beliefs and the freedom that we're allowed to practice them. What goes through my heart is that it's a sanctuary, that if people desire or need it, is there for them. I don't generally need it."

It's this readiness to shove the establishment, including organized religion in this country, that provides Ventura his star quality.

Also his authenticity. Place Ventura's stark honesty, just to take an obvious example, alongside that of the nation's top office-holder, a president who hosts "prayer breakfasts" but also has been known to caress his bible, again for the cameras, on the same Easter he's penciled in time on his calendar for a certain White House intern.

"Freedom of speech is not there to protect popular speech," he told the 800 awe-struck students surrounding him Wednesday night, "but also unpopular speech."

"I want to live in a country that supports all the amendments to the Constitution. I think they're very important."

He's especially vigilant about the Second Amendment, believing that the Constitution protects the right to bear arms not for hunting animals but for protection against the government in Washington.

"It was written to protect we, the citizenry, from an oppressive government, that if government ever became oppressive we would have the right to bear arms and the right to battle our government if it ever got to that point."

Ventura openly admits his sympathy for any American out there who believes there is a clear and present danger of such oppression from Washington, whether it be the fellow who owns an assault rifle, men who don fatigues to march each weekend with a militia group or those armed cult members who stood barricaded at Waco. He believes the second FBI assault on the Texas compound was driven by government "revenge" for the killing of four ATF agents during that first tragic rush of the Texas compound.

Ventura's anti-establishment language is both rough-hewn and unfamiliar. The carpools and bar stools of America are packed with middle-aged, undereducated guys who think like him, who hate not just the IRS but every alphabet agency of the federal government. They see "the government" as an alien force comprised of bureaucrats and betrayers.

Now the younger, well-educated folk are buying the anti-government line. Ventura, for all his warts, impresses them.

Why wouldn't he? The old Navy seal charting his course through what he calls the "rough seas" of his post-Playboy existence, the perfect answer to the slick politician with blow-dried hair pandering to us with well-groomed, poll-tested banality.

Jesse Ventura's got something, and the rougher the seas the better he's going to look -- most of all to those young Americans who are, even now, so blithe to cheer him.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews, chief of the San Francisco Examiner's Washington Bureau, is host of "Hardball" on CNBC. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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