Ride Along With Ross


April 28, 1992|By RICHARD REEVES

LOS ANGELES. — Los Angeles -- They use lawn signs during political campaigns here, and the first one up this year in our neighborhood reads: ''This House Sold on Ross Perot.''

I'm not sold, though I see the self-made billionaire from Texas is willing to pay top dollar for me and everybody else. I should take this as a joke, but I'm afraid I'm losing my sense of humor about the rich who say they're no different from you or me.

Four years ago it was Donald Trump with newspaper advertisements for himself. Four years before that, it was Lee Iacocca on television. The idea behind these quadrennial billionaire booms is that anyone who can make all that money can sure straighten out the mess in Washington -- or perhaps it is just that anyone who can get on television a lot must be taken seriously.

Mr. Iacocca did it by starring in his own company's commercials. Mr. Trump, now the national fool, got on the tube by buying boxers and football teams, hiring someone to write a book for him, then in a master stroke, leaving his wife and going broke.

Now Mr. Perot. He's more ambitious, willing to pay up to $100 million of his own money to become president -- if people in all 50 states will pretty-please beg him to do it.

This opens up some terrific free-market solutions to the problem of the national debt. Instead of going through divisive elections every four years, we could just auction off the job. The billionaires of the moment could register by depositing a certified check for $100 million and then bid and bluff on national television. Instead of an inauguration, Ed McMahon could go to the winner's house and present him with the keys to the White House.

It is possible, though, that a television auction (sponsored, of course) would be a waste of time and a bit demeaning for a man of Mr. Perot's stature. After all, look what he has done to earn this job: He's been on Larry King, ''60 Minutes,'' the Brinkley show -- all by himself, I might add; he's quit two private clubs with no minority members; and he is a regular Ben Franklin with words, saying, for instance, ''When you see a snake you kill it; you don't form a committee.''

Whatever you think of that one, Mr. Perot does have a gift for plain talk. Pushing his idea of what he calls an ''electronic town hall,'' really instant weekly polling on issues, he says: ''The Congress -- no ifs, ands and buts -- would know what the people want. Then these boys running around with briefcases representing special interests would be de-horned.''

Who can deny a man like this? This is a fellow who has come right out and said that ''we'' are the owners of this country. We don't have to be just citizens anymore; we can be shareholders. Perhaps we can change the name of the whole thing to Perot Inc.

He seems to think the job would be easy. Maybe he knows more about special interests than I do. He's been one, a government contractor who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to politicians working on such things of interest to him as tax legislation. The company he founded, Electronic Data Systems, made its mark and money developing computer software for Medicaid and Medicare programs in Washington. He's won no-bid contracts from the U.S. Postal Service. And he got the House Ways and Means Committee to vote for an amendment a few years ago that would have cut his taxes, and only his taxes, by tens of millions of dollars.

But he's not a cheap guy. He spent $400,000 last month for polling and other political costs. I guess that doesn't mean much when you have $3 billion, which is what he says he has. And he says he's ready to spend some 3 percent of it in running for president -- if the people ask him nicely.

I won't. I would prefer he just donate the money to cut the federal deficit, but he obviously has other plans. He wants to be our man on the white horse. Right! Rest assured, he'll take us all for a ride.

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

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