I should like Ross Perot more than I do.
On a few of the issues he has talked about (and he talks about few issues) I agree with him.
But these days when people ask me what I think of Ross Perot, I usually say: "Richard Nixon with unlimited funds."
Perot worries me. I get the impression there is something very cold and mysterious lurking behind that Will Rogers/aww-shucks/gee-whizz facade.
Perot thinks people are out to get him. He has thought so for years, way before negative articles began appearing on him in the Washington Post, the New Republic, the Wall Street Journal and Time.
And when you think somebody is out to get you, you sometimes feel justified in getting him first.
Most of the media have concentrated on whether Ross Perot investigated George Bush and his kids. Personally, this doesn't trouble me much. Politicians deserve to be investigated, and, as the Silverado banking scandal has shown us, the children of politicians sometimes deserve to be investigated, too.
No, what bothers me about Perot are the allegations that he had his own children followed to see what kinds of friends they were hanging out with and that he videotaped his employees to see if they were committing adultery.
Both actions strike me as pretty extreme and more than a little weird.
What employees do on their own time is their own business. And if Perot felt adultery was affecting their work, he could have called them in and offered some help. Videotaping somebody holding hands in a restaurant doesn't serve that purpose.
Jim Squires, Perot's spokesman, responded to the allegation by saying that an "unnamed source" accusing Perot of "ugly things" is "not worthy of a response."
The New Republic recently reported that Perot hired "a small brigade of private investigators, off-duty policemen and company employees" to have his children "followed systematically."
Tom Luce, director of the Perot campaign, says this occurred out of "simple concern about the safety of his children."
But we've heard that one before. Perot said he belonged to country clubs that barred black and Jewish members out of the same concern for his children's safety.
"It's a good safe place for the children to swim, that sort of thing," Perot said to Larry King.
But Perot never explained why his children (the youngest of whom is a college senior, by the way) would be endangered by the presence of blacks and Jews.
I can't take such explanations seriously. (Perot resigned from the clubs, but only a few months ago, when he began running for president.)
Perot appears to be a man who does what he wants to now and then makes up the reasons later. And I don't think he really feels very accountable to anybody.
But a president of the United States is accountable to a lot of people. A president of this nation, unlike the president of a company, must tolerate having his actions questioned. He must tolerate having his power limited. He must tolerate the checks and balances that are our system of government.
I find myself wondering, however, if Ross Perot is the kind of man who will tolerate such limits?
One example: Last week, CBS ran a videotape of Perot saying some very chilling things about accused drug dealers. Nobody likes accused drug dealers, but they do have certain constitutional rights. For now.
"You can simply declare civil war and the drug dealer is the enemy," Perot said. "There ain't no bail. You simply go to a POW camp."
I think this shows a real misunderstanding of the purpose of bail. When you are granted bail, you are merely accused of a crime, not convicted of one. You may be innocent.
But will Perot try to declare "civil war" and eliminate bail and send people to "POW" camps if he is elected president?
I also find it profoundly disturbing that a man who has devoted so much of his life to getting people out of POW camps overseas may want to set them up in America.
On those rare occasions when Perot talks about issues, there are things to like about him.
But there is more to electing a president than examining his issues. We also must examine his character.
If Richard Nixon taught us anything, he taught us that.