Perot's a sure thing if he manages to avoid the issues

Mike Royko

May 01, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

Many of the experts say that Ross Perot's bubble will burst when he is forced to take positions on the issues, his character is explored, and his competency is judged.

As far as his character goes, there is nothing in Perot's background to indicate that he is a fascist, a racist, a swindler, a grafter, a church robber, a bimbo bopper, a drug exhaler, a peeping Tom, or that he litters, spits on sidewalks, or walks his dog on somebody else's lawn. So what more can we ask?

And it is known that he can read, write, do arithmetic, drive a car, tie his own shoes, talk without drooling, and has earned his own living. That should take care of the competency question.

Which leaves the issues. And the experts might be right on that one. The issues can destroy any candidate because there are far too many issues. Probably thousands or millions. And every time you take a stand on an issue to make someone happy, you get someone else mad.

If you say you are for protecting the environment, saving the cross-eyed owl and keeping the air clean, someone will jump up and say, "Ah-hah, you want to put loggers out of work," or "You want to see the families of steelworkers starve."

If you say you want to help the poor, someone says, "Ah-hah, so you want to soak the forgotten middle class." If you say you want to help the forgotten middle class, someone says: "You don't care about the poor." If you say that you will soak the rich, someone says: "You are a leftist demagogue."

You can pledge to honor the aspirations of women. But when you do that, blacks say, "What about our aspirations?" And when you pledge to honor their aspirations, the Hispanics say, "Remember us?" Then the line starts forming: The gays, the homeless, the Native Americans, and every other aspiring minority. But if you pledge to honor all their aspirations, the forgotten middle class says: "Ah-hah, you have forgotten about us again, and we foot the bill."

Then there are the problems of the big cities. If you say you will do something about urban education, crime and the crumbling infrastructure (which crooks built all these infrastructures that crumble?), the suburbanites say: "Not with my money, you won't."

There's national debt, which will get smaller by taxing more or spending less or both. If you say you'll tax more, you're in trouble. If you say you'll spend less, you have to take a government handout away from someone, so you're in trouble.

Then you have abortion, gun control and AIDS, and anything you say is sure to draw screaming crowds.

It wasn't always like this. A candidate used to be able to say, "a chicken in every pot," and people were happy.

Now you will have animal rights groups demanding to know how you can let all those chickens suffer. And environmentalists blasting you for all the chicken farm doo-doo that gets in the trout streams. And Ralph Nader wanting to know why a consumer has to pay for a chicken bone that he can't eat.

But if Perot is smart, he can avoid all of this. There is no law that says a candidate has to take a position on every issue. Or on any issue, for that matter.

Past elections show that a candidate can be elected without leaping through Sam Donaldson's hoop or slobbering for the approval of the McGoofy Group.

The biggest vote-getter in recent times was Ronald Reagan. He didn't take positions on every issue because he hardly understood them. But the country was in a conservative mood, and he knew how to go with the flow. The country was in a funk, and he said he'd make us happy again.

Now the country is angry. Even people who aren't sure why they're angry are angry because they think they ought to be angry. Nobody likes to feel left out.

So Perot's strategy should be to avoid being pinned down on every issue that pops out of George Will's thin lips. The voters know that issues are just the playthings of pundits and anchor creatures.

All Perot has to do is go with the flow and stay mad, which shouldn't be that difficult. Of all the candidates, he would easily score highest on any mad-o-meter. He's a wiry guy with a short haircut and wiry guys with short haircuts look mad even when they're feeling chipper.

George Bush can't really sound mad. When he gives his little karate chops at the air and tries to make his jaw muscles ripple, it comes off as a squeaky preppy snit. Besides, he's one of the reason so many people are mad, so what's he got to grouse about?

And Bill Clinton is so thoroughly programmed that he might be incapable of getting mad. At this point, if you accused him of eating puppies, he'd sigh and calmly respond: "I have tried my best to maintain a balanced diet, but we all make culinary mistakes, and I will never again let a waiter suggest . . ."

Mad, that's Perot's ticket. Of course, spending $100 million of his own money helps, too.

All he has to do is hope that a lot of people don't wonder what a guy who can treat $100 million like walking-around money has to be mad about.

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