In the end, Ross Perot chickened out DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

ROGER SIMON

July 17, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

NEW YORK -- He didn't lack for money. He didn't lack for audacity. But in the end, Ross Perot lacked one thing you need if you want to become president:

Courage.

Perot does not possess, in other words, what both Bill Clinton and George Bush possess.

Bill Clinton is not called The Comeback Kid for nothing. After a series of bruising revelations and damaging headlines during the New Hampshire primary this February, Clinton hung tough and stayed in.

The press was surprised. They expected him to do what Joe Biden had done when he was accused of plagiarism and what Gary Hart had done when he was accused of womanizing four years ago: cut and run.

But Clinton decided he would let the people and not the press judge him. And if the people wanted to bury him, they could simply withhold their votes.

Instead, the voters made him the Democratic nominee.

On Oct. 11, 1987, the day before George Bush announced for the presidency, Newsweek magazine ran a picture of him on its cover with the headline "Fighting the 'Wimp Factor.' "

Bush was devastated. He felt sick. He felt like not running at all.

But he pulled himself together, and he went on the morning TV shows the next day and let all the little blow-dried bubbleheads ++ ask him if he was a wimp.

They asked him that for months and months, but George Bush stuck it out. He hung in there. He fought back.

And he became the president.

Ross Perot lacks what these men have.

He lacks the courage to risk the humiliation of losing. And so now he has the humiliation of not trying.

I thought Perot would never let his volunteers down by withdrawing. I thought he would never betray them. But I was wrong. I gave Perot more credit than he deserved.

Why did he really drop out?

Because he was a political amateur who aspired to be a political dilettante.

He saw the polls this week that showed Bill Clinton with 40 percent of the vote. And Perot was too naive to know that such polls are nonsense.

Mike Dukakis left the 1988 Democratic Convention with a 17-point lead, and within weeks it had disappeared.

But Ross Perot read the polls and watched the crowds cheering for Bill Clinton on Wednesday night and he did what a person who wants to be president can never do: He blinked.

He believed the noise. He bought into the hoopla.

And he chickened out.

In his withdrawal statement, Perot claimed that the Democratic Party had "revitalized" itself.

How?

By dumping silvery confetti from the ceiling of Madison Square ++ Garden? By having the band play and the people shout?

That's not a revitalization. That's a celebration.

There was one other factor in Perot's decision: For all his wealth and for all his charitable contributions, Perot is tight with a dollar.

And he didn't want to waste that fabled $100 million he was supposed to spend on a presidential run.

So he did with his presidential campaign just what he did when things got tough at General Motors: He wimped out.

And he didn't even have the decency to fess up to it. Instead, he retreated into such gooey overstatement as telling his volunteers, "I'm certain the Founding Fathers would be very proud of you."

Maybe. But if Ross Perot had been a Founding Father, we'd all be speaking with British accents today: Ross Perot would have surrendered at Valley Forge.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that Ross Perot was Richard Nixon with unlimited funds.

I was wrong. Richard Nixon had the guts of a burglar.

Ross Perot lacks even that.

Roger Simon's column will return to its normal place on Page 2 of The Sun on Sunday.

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