HERE'S a question for Ross Perot's supporters: If he were black, would you vote for him?
If your answer is, "Why, you bet your cowboy boots I would!" then answer this: Where were you when Jesse Jackson ran for president?
Stop and think for a second: Mr. Jackson personally rescued a Navy flier who'd been shot down and held captive in the Middle East.
Mr. Jackson has condemned "business as usual" in Washington for a decade.
He wanted to rebuild America and expand its job base.
He stood for education and tax fairness.
Before he ran for president, Mr. Jackson had never held elective office.
And we all know Mr. Jackson can out-plain talk, out-fancy-rhyme, out-metaphor and out-moralize Ross Perot any time.
Maybe you didn't like Mr. Jackson's foreign-policy ideas. Fair enough.
Has Mr. Perot told you what his are?
Maybe you couldn't forgive the reverend for his "Hymietown" remark, despite his many apologies. So be it.
But why aren't you upset that Mr. Perot waited until this year to resign from a club with no Jews?
Doesn't Mr. Perot himself say actions speak louder than words?
I voted for Mr. Jackson twice, and I was intrigued by Mr. Perot until he told Barbara Walters that he'd discriminate against gays when picking a cabinet. ("And don't just limit it to that category," he added.)
He said he wouldn't want to be distracted by the controversy such hires would cause.
I started thinking: Wouldn't it be controversial to have a Jew as secretary of state? A woman as secretary of defense?
This is "leadership"? I couldn't imagine Jesse Jackson ever saying such a thing.
Of course, there are differences between the two that run deeper than rhetoric, skin shade or liver spots.
Mr. Jackson hasn't spent 25 years making money. He's not a successful Texas businessman or a top-flight salesman.
But we elected a successful Texas businessman to the White House in 1988 -- remember?
And before him, a former TV spokesman for General Electric -- the one who promised he'd "get government off our backs"?
Today we're all complaining louder than ever about government.
What kind of a change is Ross Perot?
He says, if elected, he'd get cracking on early education programs for inner-city children who need more "hugs."
I assume he means the children Mr. Jackson has embraced for two decades.
When I lived in East Harlem I saw Jesse Jackson walk the streets and lift despair with his cry of "Keep hope alive!"
I didn't see Mr. Perot there.
While America's first welfare billionaire was sitting inside the White House chatting with presidents, Mr. Jackson was marching outside the White House, arm in arm with the jobless and the powerless.
When Los Angeles was burning, Mr. Perot announced that if he were president, he would head straight there.
Mr. Jackson didn't say that. He went.
Ed Rollins, the Republican Party bonecrusher Mr. Perot just hired to run his "outsiders" campaign, marvels that, in 30 years in politics, he's never seen such a grass-roots outpouring of enthusiasm for a candidate among disaffected citizens.
This "world class" political organizer never noticed the hundreds of thousands of new voters Jesse Jackson registered.
I guess the Beltway big boys only wake up when they smell raw power cooking. In their political calculations blacks don't count.
Funnily enough, people in the media have mentioned Mr. Jackson as a possible running mate for Mr. Perot.
I'll bet Mr. Perot's advisers are busy throwing cold water on that idea. Still, his supporters love it every time he says: "In plain Texas talk, if you hate other people, I don't want your vote."
If you believe him, then I ask again: If Perot were black, would you vote for him?
Kathleen Quinn, formerly an editor for the op-ed page of the New York Times, is writing a novel.