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Establishment politicians and those invested in business as usual use “Ross Perot” as a bogeyman, a warning not to stray from whatever candidate they shovel up and tell us we must give money, time, and our vote. Except that it was Perot who was the most electable candidate until the skulduggery or head fake or whatever rattled him around his daughter’s personal life. He had taken the lead in the polls but never recovered after showing weakness or indecision for that week or so.
He was a successful entrepreneur who criticized the self-licking ice cream cone of American CEOs, who (with their think tank and pundit platoons) insisted that American workers absorb the hit of global wage and employment competition while not subjecting their own gilded packages to critical comparison with the then ascendant Japanese executives. “If you want to make a million dollars, become a rock (music) star!” Ross Perot was not engaging in class warfare. Rather, he was using the contradictory narratives of wage competition and executive compensation to point to larger misaligned priorities in U.S. corporate policy, underwritten by U.S. government policy and muscle. Hence his early criticism of NAFTA as it was being negotiated.
He treated the American voters like corporate customers, with charts, facts, and figures rather than campaign puffery. Had he won, he would have been pinned down to perform by his charts, rather than explaining away or evading soaring rhetoric and slogans as Bush had.
He seemed more likely to actually address the fundamental problems of government spending than the two establishment party candidates who only differed on how much government cheese should be served up to whom. Perot’s successful unconventional rescue of two employees from Iranian prison in the late days of the Shah stood in marked contrast to the disgraceful failure of squabbling career military professionals in the Iranian desert a year or so later. Both parties were busy squabbling over how to distribute the “peace dividend” among their supporters, with no one saying no to spending other people’s money.
Consider the context, the competition, the choices. President George H.W. Bush had spit in our faces and told us it was sunshine. He squandered eight years of good will created by President Ronald Reagan. Bush had attacked Reagan’s economic ideas as “voodoo economics” in the 1980 primaries. He kept his mouth shut and road the Reagan revolution as vice president. Then he lied to our faces to get elected and used his inaugural address to backhand the man to whom he owed his presidency. Bush posed, like so many TruCons today, as morally superior, preparing to preside over a “kinder, gentler” politics. Kinder and gentler than Reagan with his “voodoo economics,” of course.
Yet, Bush had not burnt his bridges to the Reagan electoral coalition when serious Democrats were making decisions about running. Governor Bill Clinton emerged out of a relatively weak field because the supposedly strongest candidates chose not to risk the reputational damage of a general election loss to Bush. One of my sisters characterizes Clinton as that sleazy guy at the end of the bar ready with a scuzzy come-on line. When the Democrats with the best pedigrees did not show up, Clinton was ready to slide down the bar and offer voters a drink.
It was in this context that Ross Perot stepped into the presidential political arena. I was serving in Washington state. Heading to my voting location after the duty day, I heard the early returns from back east. It looked like Clinton was threatening to win. I decided to vote strategically, putting my mark next to Bush to stop Clinton. I understand my father made much the same calculation. That is how badly Bush had damaged the Republican brand, and that is the context for the nearest thing to a third party presidential win.
Oh, and Admiral James Stockdale, Ross Perot’s running mate, was head and shoulders above any vice president we have ever had. Period. And he was mocked, casually, mercilessly. Here is the short version of what we chose not to choose:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while senior naval officer in the Prisoner of War camps of North Vietnam. Recognized by his captors as the leader in the Prisoners’ of War resistance to interrogation and in their refusal to participate in propaganda exploitation, Rear Adm. Stockdale was singled out for interrogation and attendant torture after he was detected in a covert communications attempt. Sensing the start of another purge, and aware that his earlier efforts at self-disfiguration to dissuade his captors from exploiting him for propaganda purposes had resulted in cruel and agonizing punishment, Rear Adm. Stockdale resolved to make himself a symbol of resistance regardless of personal sacrifice. He deliberately inflicted a near-mortal wound to his person in order to convince his captors of his willingness to give up his life rather than capitulate. He was subsequently discovered and revived by the North Vietnamese who, convinced of his indomitable spirit, abated in their employment of excessive harassment and torture toward all of the Prisoners of War. By his heroic action, at great peril to himself, he earned the everlasting gratitude of his fellow prisoners and of his country. Rear Adm. Stockdale’s valiant leadership and extraordinary courage in a hostile environment sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
Dennis Miller said it best, but is entirely non-CoC, so look it up on YouTube.Published in