Perot's decision to withdraw was strictly business

Mike Royko

July 21, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

OK, you are a Ross Perot supporter and you feel angry, depressed, rejected, abandoned, betrayed.

Come on, grow up. Just what did you expect?

Think now, why did you flock to Ross Perot in the first place?

Because you admired his jug ears? His Texas twang? That boot camp haircut?

Of course not. You were attracted to him because he's an incredibly wealthy and successful businessman, not a politician. And you are fed up with politicians.

And because he is a highly successful businessman, you believed that he could apply his business principles and skills to government and, to use this season's most popular political cliche, move this country forward.

So you wanted a tough, hardheaded businessman's approach, and what you got was exactly that.

Ross Perot put a product on the market, which is what businesses do all the time. A new product. Or as the advertising usually puts it: All New!

In this case, the All New! product was Ross Perot.

For a while, it looked like the All New! product was going to really take off. Customer enthusiasm was high. There seemed to be a big potential market.

But then marketing problems turned up. Some potential customers were starting to ask for truth in labeling. They wanted to know exactly what was in the product.

And there were consumer groups (also known as the media) that began examining the product and finding hidden ingredients that might not be good for us.

As a result, marketing research showed that public demand for the product might be slipping, that it might even fall off enough so the product wouldn't be successful.

Even worse, the competition introduced a product of its own that they were advertising as New and Improved! Actually, it isn't new and there's no proof that it's improved, but people were buying the pitch. And it received surprisingly strong early consumer approval.

So Ross Perot did what hardheaded businesses do when they think that a new product isn't going to live up to expectations and sell well enough to justify the investment.

They pull it off the market.

And he did what business executives also do all the time. He cut the work force.

In effect, Perot shut down the entire plant and gave everybody their pink slips.

To Perot's thousands of volunteers, who sat stunned in their campaign offices all over the country, it didn't seem possible. How could he just walk away from them like that? How could he fail to appreciate their weeks or months of dedicated service?

Because business is business is business. Ask any MBA. If it ain't gonna sell, cut your losses and keep your eye on the bottom line.

So Perot's workers might try thinking of themselves as kissing cousins of the many auto workers whose plants were shut down by General Motors (cost-cutting moves Perot urged when he was on GM's board). Or of the hundreds of thousands of other American workers who had the misfortune to work for companies whose products weren't selling.

Many of Perot's supporters don't understand why he didn't stay in to the bitter end, slug it out, and even if he lost, go down fighting.

That's the difference between a politician and a businessman.

History is filled with stories of politicians who fought on, even after defeat was certain, because they believed in their message. Or they wanted to keep a movement alive for another day. Or they felt an obligation to their followers. Or they didn't have anything else to do.

Only this week, we saw Jerry Brown and his supporters banging their heads against a wall. He was a loser, yes, but at least his devoted supporters had the satisfaction of hearing Brown make his speech and go out in a blaze of nuttiness.

Fighting to the end is part of our political tradition. Sometimes candidates know they are beaten from day one. But they continue out of loyalty, just to keep the party name on the ballot.

I remember one poor schlump of a Republican who ran against the unbeatable Mayor Richard J. Daley. On the dawn of Election Day, the Republican went to his polling place. Then he turned to the reporters and said: "I have voted. Now I will walk off into the sunset."

But businessmen are different. When they sense that the end is near, they do a Perot. Or they run into a courtroom and file for Chapter Deadbeat bankruptcy and ask a judge to protect them from the bill collectors.

So Perot's supporters might try looking at the whole affair as a learning experience.

They've learned that politics and business are two different professions, with different skills and standards.

The skills and character traits that it took to be an Abraham Lincoln or a Franklin Delano Roosevelt or a Dwight D. Eisenhower aren't the same as those needed to amass a net worth of $3 billion.

Thank goodness for that.

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