It is a high compliment to Dana Carvey that his image keeps popping to mind every few minutes as we ponder the Life & Times of H. Ross Perot. Dana Carvey's impersonation of Ross Perot's impersonation of a presidential candidate was dead-on. And, as Carvey's Perot's candidate would say: HIGH-larious, ya unnerstan?
It's easy to make one-dimentional characters out of our politicians. We certainly have done so of the current president. Fact is, the media tends to do that with some regularity, at least when a Republican is in the White House. Presidents of a more liberal bent are intelligent, deep, profound, etc., even when they're not. But that's Editorial No. 131, and not for today.
What to make of H. Ross Perot? Answer: Nothing more than what he was. But no less, either. He was a brilliant businessman, and not so brilliant a politician. But he said as much when his hangers-on began whispering in his ear about a presidential bid in the early 1990s. He told them from the beginning: He didn't have the temperment to run for president.
He proved as much. In the early summer of 1992, he was atop many presidential polls, including in the states of Texas and California. Only weeks later, he quit. Something about not wanting his candidacy to push the election to the House of Representatives. Or maybe it had something to do with a plot against his life, or maybe just a plot against a family member's wedding. We've slept since then. And we hesitate to force ourselves to remember 1992. Pat Buchanan and Jerry Brown keep coming to mind.
After spending millions of dollars of his own money, Ross Perot just walked away from the campaign. And left many of us scratching our heads. Not to mention all those supporters who had put his name on the ballot in all those states. For a few weeks in the summer of 1992, it seemed We the People had a two-party system again.
But not to be outdone by himself, Ross Perot got back into the race on October 1st, 1992. At that point, however, his campaign had been mortally wounded. By his own hand.
Ross Perot did take enough votes in 1992 so that a governor from a small Southern state around here could end up winning with 43 percent of the popular vote. Mr. Perot ran again in 1996, with even less support, and helped re-elect Bill Clinton, who got 49 percent of the vote that time. Funny, but when a Democrat wins the presidency without winning the popular vote, we don't hear as much complaining about the Electoral College. But that's Editorial No. 143.
Ross Perot couldn't escape himself. The attraction for some voters was, he didn't try. Remember Michael Dukakis riding in a tank, or John Kerry walking into a shop just before season: "Is this where I get me a huntin' license?" Ross Perot may have been a little kooky, and a lot wonkish, and even more suspicious and apt to believe conspiracies, but he was 100 percent Ross Perot. Some of us are old enough to remember when Gerald Ford once campaigned in San Antonio, a stranger in a strange land, and bit into a tamale, without peeling the husk off first. Ross Perot would have never made that mistake. First, being from Texarkana, he would know from tamales. Second, if he'd been given some strange fare in, say, Massachusetts, and he didn't know what to do with the blasted thing, he'd have said so. Then handed the contrivance to an aide: "Here, son, take this."
How all-American is this idea to run for president, huh? Even if the two major political parties won't have you. Or you won't have them. There are no laws against political parties in this country, thank you. Make one up yourself. See if you can get a 50 million or so of your closest friends to support it. Once upon a time, the Federalists graced the land, the Know-Nothings blistered the land, and the Silver Party confused the land. Next thing you know, H. Ross Perot, businessman, billionaire, eccentric, is on stage at a presidential debate. It's enough to make a good American proud.
Not that we'd scrap the two-party system. Without it, how would the electorate know who to hold responsible in government? There would be no party in power to blame or praise. It's not un-American, it's not anti-American, it's French. Would we really prefer a coalition government, one that swings and sways every week, and is dependent on every member of the coalition being happy all the time? And when a defense minister resigns, the whole country has to vote again. Lord, can you imagine having to vote in a presidential election every time a member of Donald Trump's cabinet quits? The two-party, federal, republican system supplies a way for voters to make their choice clear every four years. And then be done with it for a while.
The two-party system works. Heaven love the well-intentioned folks who form all these third parties in America. They're welcome to all the politics they want. It's a free country. It'd just be shame to waste a perfectly good presidential vote on any of them. Which a lot of people do from time to time. For Teddy Roosevelt. For Ralph Nader. For John B. Anderson.
For Ross Perot.
It occurs that Ross Perot came around too soon. Because a billionaire showman with a flare for saying things that come immediately to his mind--no filter--has proven you can become president. You just need one of the major political parties to do it.
The strange thing about Ross Perot--well, one of the strange things--is that he all but disappeared after losing the 1996 contest. Even in his beloved Reform Party, he remained uninvolved. You would have thought that of all his political views, one of them would have kept him in the public eye even in his later years: NAFTA, the debt, government waste, something. But he remained silent. Word around the campfire, or at least the rumor in the press, is that he didn't like the way the media portrayed him. So he avoided those places he sought so hard in the 1990s: cable news shows. Apparently, he launched a website, with updated charts and things. Call it Ross Perot for millennials. If it caught on, we never heard about it.
We suspicion that the late-night talk hosts and SNL won't even allow a decent interval before making fun of his haircut or accent this week. (Both are popular in these latitudes.) And somehow we think they won't mention all the good the man did.
He made a fortune, twice, in computers. But always ate dinner with his family. The stories of his energy when he was a young businessman are legendary: Making a year's quota for his bosses in the first few weeks of the year. But family dinners were holy, off-limits to business intrusions.
His support of veterans, especially POWs and their families, was well-known. He funded--and personally oversaw--a commando team that extracted a couple of his employees from a prison in Iran after the Shah was overthrown. If only Jimmy Carter had had his resolve. And speed.
Ross Perot funded education reforms in Texas. Folks in Texarkana can be forgiven for bragging about The Perot Theatre on Main Street. The Perot Foundation still gives money to hospitals and universities. Somebody told The Dallas Morning News this week that if you include all the money he gave to medical centers, colleges, injured vets, indigent children, and all the rest, it would "surpass well over $100 million."
And, what would probably make him or any father most proud, his children continue his work--his philanthropy--today.
That should make the news this week. It might not, but it should. But that's Editorial No. 239.
Editorial on 07/11/2019
Print Headline: H. Ross Perot