The Perot Phenomenon

Sandy Grady

March 31, 1992|By Sandy Grady

He'S PLAIN as an unpainted board fence. His twang sounds like a steel guitar in a country-western joint. His haircut looks like an $8 clip you get in a barber shop with spittoons on the floor and a tractor calendar on the wall.

But, hey, H. Ross Perot is rich -- make that $3 billion rich -- and if he wants to run for president, who cares?

Well, a lot of Americans suddenly care intensely.

They're burning up phone lines, hitting the streets with petitions and hanging out painted bedsheets, "Ross Is My Hoss."

Let's talk semi-seriously here. Can an offbeat Texas billionaire running as a third-party independent win the White House? No -- but who knows?

Can this same straight-talking, throw-the-trash-out Texan galvanize millions of disaffected Americans, scare the dickens out of both mainstream parties and rattle the establishment like a tambourine?

Dern tootin', podnah.

People are jamming Ross Perot's 800 numbers, hustling to put him on 50 state ballots. Never mind Washington dweebs who say Perot has no shot.

Doesn't take genius to figure out the Perot Phenom. Voters look at the '92 presidential choices as B-team mediocrities, appealing as a dish of broccoli. They're fed to the goozles with political pap. But they switch on TV and wow, this homespun, look-you-in-the-eye tycoon cuts through the bull and blather. Jackpot.

I've been collecting Perotisms -- he's been on every TV show but Home Shopping Network lately -- to hear why the Perot cult has become a bonfire.

On his potential campaign: "I won't be surrounded by speech writers, cosmetologists, handlers . . . No sound bites, no novocaine shots to keep you feeling good through the election."

On being president: "Anybody intelligent enough for the job wouldn't want it . . . But if somebody as blessed as I am isn't willing to pick up a shovel and clean out the barn, who will?"

Eliminating Washington perks: "Let everybody go to the airport, get in line, lose their luggage, eat a real meal and get a taste of real life."

The gulf war (which he opposed): "Only in America can you have a war where generals and politicians are the heroes. We rescued the emir of Kuwait. If I knock on your door and say I'd like to borrow your son to go to the Middle East so this dude with 70 wives can have his throne back, you'd hit me in the mouth."

Abortion: "A woman's decision."

Exit polls: "I'd make them criminal offenses."

On whether running a business prepares him to be president: "Compared to whom?"

On his vice-presidential choice: "I want somebody who understands economics. I won't reach for an empty suit to go to funerals and play golf."

Clearly, Perot is the ultimate wild card. Here's a guy who started a computer company on $1,000 and sold it to General Motors for $2.5 billion, who ran his own commando raid to rescue hostages in Iran, and who created a Texas firestorm by proposing that high school football players -- outrageous! -- should get passing grades to play.

The Perot Mania is fed by cut-the-nonsense candor, television and technology. It began Feb. 20 when CNN talk-show host Larry King, listening to Perot complain about politics, asked why Perot didn't run for president. By golly, maybe I will, said Perot. His office phone lines went berserk. He installed a Jerry Brown-styled 800 number.

"We're getting 90,000 calls an hour," Perot said late last week.

He's modest. Folks at MCI who operate Perot's 800 number say they had 165,000 calls in one 90-minute period. When I tried Perot's 800 number, a smooth-voiced guy said, "Thanks for calling the Perot Petition Committee," and asked me to push 1, 2 or 3 to sign a petition, get Perot's media schedule or speak to a volunteer. Doesn't sound like Amateur Hour.

Sandy Grady is a syndicated columnist.

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