Your ORIGINAL Politics-Pro Wrestling Connection!
Last week of October: For fans
of the Squared Circle, Pat Buchanan's Reform Party Bid is nothing new.
In his intriguing but misinformed WEEKLY STANDARD essay "Pro Wrestling and the End of History," PAUL CANTOR sees disturbing trends in professional wrestling mirroring the decline of American culture, a decline that he says followed the failure of Soviet communism and the resulting death of nationalism. With The Fall of The Wall eliminating cold war patriotism as a source of wrestling story lines and a reliable cast of good- and bad-guy stars ('faces' and 'heels,' respectively), Cantor laments that wrestling has turned to the Springer-esque family crises, antiheroes, and class warfare characteristic of what he calls the "moral relativism and nihilism at work in American culture" in the wake of "the emotional letdown that followed upon the triumph of capitalism and liberal democracy."
Cantor should confine his ivory tower schnozz to politics, the normal turf of The Standard, the conservative rag that usually specializes in long-winded debates about who's "neo" and who's "paleo," as if anyone gives a shit. There he'd find the old ring values flourishing, now that the former fans of what we like to call BIG-TIME WRESTLING have reached office-holding and CEO age. In particular, PAT BUCHANAN's now-official quest for the Reform Party title belt has the makings of a classic main event imbued with all the themes and totems that informed pro wrestling's halcyon days and whose passing from wrestling Cantor purports to mourn.
For starters, Buchanan's trademark vilification of Jews, richly documented long before his recent book and comprising his concern for the rights of the accused only when they're accused of Nazi war crimes, brings to mind the 1950s goose stepping of German-by-way-of-Texas FRITZ VON ERICH, or, some years later, the early BARON VON RASCHKE. His NAFTA-hating, anti-trade rhetoric (despite having owned a Mercedes-Benz and ridiculing the quality of Detroit iron) recalls jingoistic flag-wavers like HULK HOGAN and SARGENT SLAUGHTER, who led the marks - that is, the fans - in frenzied chants of "YOOO ... ESSSS ... AYYYY, YOOO ... ESSSS ... AYYYY" but later revealed themselves as heels of the highest order, Slaughter when he teamed with Iraq's COLONEL MUSTAFA, the former IRON SHEIK and real-life Olympic wrestler for Iran, Hogan during his recent WCW turn as "Hollywood" Hogan, berating as suckers the legions of youngsters he'd once exhorted to say their prayers, and take their vitamins.
Buchanan's also unique among the candidates in the ferocity of his anti-immigrant agitations, replete with deprecating comments about Zulus, dire predictions of invading hordes of Mexican serial murderers hopping freight cars for the heartland, and derision of GEORGE W's bilingualism as "a few words of Spanish." Wrestling fans now entering middle age must grow warm with nostalgia for the way fellow reformer JESSE "THE BODY" VENTURA, in his earlier heel turn, bestowed the degrading nickname "Chico" on Latino face TITO SANTANA and insisted ad nauseam that the one-time WWF Intercontinental Champ operated a taco stand in Tijuana, as JAKE TAPPER has pointed out more than once on SALON. And Buchanan's proclivity at diving into the arena in time to ruin the chances of other GOPers is a nod to the ring heel who strikes at his enemy by intervening in matches.
Wrestling, like politics, is a business of dynasties and mentors. Current WCW star and certified hooker (i.e. skilled grappler) "THE CRIPPLER" CHRIS BENOIT learned his bumps - the moves - in the Calgary gym of STU HART, patriarch of the legendary Hart family, and Buchanan studied at the feet of RICHARD NIXON. In politics surely "the dirtiest player in the game," as "THE NATURE BOY" RIC FLAIR has repeatedly called himself, Nixon was once caught on camera spinning and shoving his press secretary, RON ZIEGLER, in the only recorded example of the executive administration of what wrestling fans know as an IRISH WHIP. That was in his Watergate phase, which was before his Elder Statesman stage, but after his Commie Baiter period. Only a pro wrestler could reinvent himself as often as Nixon, who had more personas than those guys who were in DEMOLITION.
Of course, no wrestler makes it to the top through athletic ability and intestinal fortitude alone; the greatest of the great not only walk the walk, they must also be able to talk the talk, via the medium of the professional wrestling interview, those great TV promos wherein the best wrestlers keep story lines simmering and put keisters in the seats. Buchanan's TV background and stump sensibilities have earned him the tools he needs to take the title strap. With the superb mike skills of Ric Flair or NICK BOCKWINKLE he positively towers over the competition. His memorable "religious war" speech at the '92 Republican convention naming his enemies was as close to a professional wrestling interview as is ever seen in politics. More recently, his habit of painting his rivals as unworthy pretenders to the crown of true conservatism hearkens back to the classic boast of the arrogant heel - so rarely heard these days - who generously affords the defending champ the opportunity to simply "hand over" the title belt and spare himself humiliating defeat. The deft way Buchanan deflects criticism of his wacko views by shrilly claiming victimization at the hands of "the Israeli lobby" evinces the seasoned heel's instinct for distracting the ref from his own rule breaking with loud protestations that his hair has been pulled. It's no surprise that Buchanan's declaration speech this Monday was what Fox News called "a fiery blast," in which he hurled defiance on the "big money boys" and even got in a few ad-lib licks when the sound system cut out.
The parallels run deeper. The young Buchanan was a brawling bully who sucker-punched guys at parties with his tag-teaming brother and once booted a cop in the ass during a speeding stop, back when wrestlers were real-world tough guys and thugs, like Japanese heel MR. SAITO and Olympic weightlifter KEN PATERA, who together took on a dozen cops in a motel donnybrook that started after one of the hungry grapplers hefted a small boulder through the window of a just-closed Big Boy's that had turned them away. Buchanan's great nickname, "Pitchfork Pat," honors the hallowed tradition of wrestlers named for metal tools of potentially sinister use, a-la JIM "THE ANVIL" NEIDHART, GREG "THE HAMMER" VALENTINE, and "HACKSAW" BUTCH REED and JIM DUGGAN. "Pitchfork Pat" sounds like it was meant to invoke American Gothic images of prairie populist resolve, but what with Fox News Channel's talk of a "Pitchfork Army," the handle inevitably suggests the crazed mobs of brutish peasants who chase FRANKENSTEIN and burn the castle, presumably when not staging pogroms.
Finally, any match worthy of pay-per-view billing requires equally formidable opponents; that's why the GOP race is such a snore-fest, the political equivalent of the forgettable 'squash' matches that serve as filler in the numerous multi-hour wrestling programs dotting the cable schedule. Here appearances deceive, because Buchanan's opponent at STARCADE won't be DONALD TRUMP, as the media marks all expect. That's a match between two bad guys, and any promoter knows that to sell a match you need a bad guy and a good guy, yin and yang in the eternal morality play, STAN HANSEN and BRUNO SAMMARTINO. The garish Trump is as big a heel as they come, but unlike Buchanan, who's said to be affable in person, Trump's fetor emanates from public displays of his private character, most recently the incredibly vapid self-absorption he's shown in cable interviews. His tantrum after MARLA MAPLES pronounced him unsuited for office reveals Trump as sorely lacking in that basic wrestling skill, the ability to take a bump, in marked contrast to Buchanan, who stays on message no matter what anyone says about him. Next to Buchanan, Trump's a mere JOBBER, a tune-up opponent to be accorded no more attention than the fan enraged into storming the ring gets while being dragged out of the arena by security.
No, the match with the most pro wrestling potential will pit Pat against the only Reformer with a whit of electoral credibility, onetime ring star and now Minnesota Governor Ventura. Quite the heel in his wrestling heyday, Ventura now assumes the face role, his live-and-let-live pro-legalization libertarianism the diametric opposite of Buchanan's judgmental gay-bashing and values-wing pandering. Though claiming disinterest in the 2000 Reform Party nod himself, Ventura is certain to provide Buchanan his most formidable opposition, just the way twenty years ago he harassed IVAN "POLISH POWER" PUTSKI, even though not competing for any specific title belt. Ventura's Body-to-Governor transformation is a textbook example of a heel/face flip, which, contrary to Cantor's piece, has been a wrestling staple and source of some of its greatest lump-in-the-throat moments for as long as anyone can remember. The contrasts extend beyond philosophy: Buchanan warms a TV studio chair and pontificates on the use of America's military might while Ventura holds elective office and served in the Navy SEALS, reputed to be our Nation's most elite fighting force.
As the race heats up don't look for Buchanan to go it alone. Even the most talented of the old-time heels wouldn't make a move without the advice and consent of his MANAGER, one of the verbose handlers who covered mike duties and accompanied their charges to the ring where they outraged the marks double-teaming and stealing victories from the good guys. Once some of the most talented performers of all, managers have of late been driven to extinction by the current crop of string-clad, behemoth-boobed female "valets." Ken Patera enjoyed the stewardship of the late, great GRAND WIZARD OF WRESTLING, the tiny man with the outsized attitude who sported a glittering dollar sign clasp in his trademark turban, and we may similarly expect to see Buchanan shadowed by pint-sized party founder ROSS PEROT. A certified nutbar in his own right, Perot has a long memory for slights real and imagined, and it'll be hard for him to resist using Buchanan's quest to strike back at his enemy Ventura, who infuriated Perot by calling for him to hang up his boots and engineered the ouster of Perot lieutenant RUSS VERNEY in a loser-leaves-politics Reform Party convention match up.
In the face of such a double team the future doesn't bode well for Ventura.
As a ring veteran he must grasp that neither his populist strength nor
the gravity of his high office can immunize him from a few immutable imperatives
of wrestling. One, heels are more entertaining than faces, and two, in
any near future, heels almost always win, that's what keeps the marks coming
back for more. But there might still be hope for the good guy: no matter
how fiercely the battle promises to be joined, or how frenzied the pre-match
hype, the card is still subject to change without notice, and fans, don'tcha
dare miss it, 'cause as always, NOTHING WILL BE SETTLED.