I Miss Ross Perot
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Why I Once Voted for the Anti-Politician
In 1992, the United States presidential election was shook up when a wealthy businessman named Ross Perot decided to make a run for the White House. And in spite of the fact that he had never held political office before, he managed to win 19% of the popular vote, roughly half of the amount received by the guy who came in second: the incumbent George H.W. Bush. It was the last time that a third party candidate came remotely close to victory, and Perot’s run probably stole more votes from President Bush than from the ultimate winner: Bill Clinton.
Clearly, many Americans were fed up with politics as usual. And Ross Perot, who had this quirky, down-home, southern sort of charisma about him, also struck a chord with a couple of familiar issues. First of all, as a multimillionaire who was funding his own campaign, he could not be bought off by special interest groups, a fact that he was happy to point out as often as possible. (Imagine the field day he could have in the post-Citizens United era.) Second, he also repeatedly pointed out that a businessman could never last if he were as financially irresponsible as the federal government. He promised, therefore, as a man with real business experience, that he would get the financial house in order.
I imagine that some fans of Mitt Romney could try to play him off as a modern day Ross Perot who will translate his experience as a successful businessman into a presidency that will help repair our still ailing economy. Romney, however, does not have anything like the rich guy, anti-establishment appeal that Perot once had, and if there is such a thing as anti-charisma, Romney has a steady supply. From the start, Romney was clearly the establishment choice, and in spite of his enormous personal wealth, he is happily taking money from anyone who cares to donate. Given the level of spending that will be reached in this first SuperPac campaign, Romney, if he wins, will be more indebted to big business interests than any president in history.
Twenty years ago, I voted for Ross Perot. This was partly because I was tired of the generic politicians cranked out by both parties. I also liked the idea of someone complaining about special interest money and out-of-control deficit spending. But I also figured that electing Ross Perot would have some real entertainment value. It would have been fun, after all, to see how long this CEO turned President would last. A CEO is accustomed to laying out an agenda and having it carried out. But as president, Perot would have laid out his agenda and then been forced to step back and watch Congress go to work. Or, more accurately, he would get a chance to watch Congress do what it does best: not work. And imagine how bad it would have been for a man without a political party in Congress to lead. So he would have raised a ruckus, given some TV addresses filled with lots of charts and dry erase boards, popped a blood vessel, and gone back to the computer industry after a few months. But it would have been a fun few months.
Of course, it’s also possible that Perot’s stunning victory would have sent a powerful message to both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. And in spite of themselves, they would have pulled their heads out of their collective asses and implemented some real reform. The two parties could have then performed the currently unimaginable task of trying to take most of the credit for things that actually got done. Of course, as Wayne and Garth once said on “Wayne’s World” in the early 1990’s, it was also possible that monkeys could fly out of my butt.