Perot the Puppeteer

September 30, 1992

He doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus; and we petty men walk under his huge legs, and peep about. . .

Shakespeare

'Tis not Julius Caesar we celebrate but H. Ross Perot, the grand puppeteer of American politics, who doth deftly dangle on his shimmering strings presidents, politicians, press and public. How exhilarating it must be to a mighty martinet, only lately besmirched as a wimp and worse, to flip a finger here, twist a wrist there, and have petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about.

As spectacle, the courtship of Mr. Perot by major emissaries of the two great parties was at once hilarious and humiliating. There was Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen assuring his fellow Texas billionaire that Bill Clinton and Ross Perot supporters are united in the quest for "fundamental change." There was Republican Sen. Phil Gramm, a Texan too, who said George Bush Republicans "are serious about balancing the budget, and so is Ross Perot." What malarkey!

For Mr. Perot, reveling again in the national spotlight, it was an opportunity to condescend to a president he detests and to a challenger he tolerates. He said he had found "commonality" with the Democrats and "overlapping" positions with the Republicans but did not specify. His game was to keep attention riveted on whether he would re-enter the campaign he once left lest he be "disruptive."

Although Mr. Perot's management style is strictly "top down," he says his fate will be decreed tomorrow from the "bottom up" by coordinators of the Perot effort in all 50 states. These "volunteers" flew into Dallas Tuesday, went behind closed doors (also a Perot penchant) to hear the Republican and Democratic delegations, made it clear they remain true believers, flew home to "consult" with their legions and then will report back to headquarters. How their recommendations will be weighed and collated really matters not. The puppeteer will remain in command of the puppet show.

As Mr. Perot explains it, he can re-enter for an "all-out" campaign (his TV ads are prepared, his money ready to gush), or go for Mr. Bush (unthinkable) or endorse Mr. Clinton (locking the contest for the Arkansas governor), or withdraw again (and risk universal mockery).

Whatever he does, we figure H. Ross will come out badly. Half the American voters dislike him, double his negative ratings in July. Half of his own followers tell pollsters they may not stick. And his support, now drooping in the teens, could sink to single digit by election day.

Of greater concern is what Mr. Perot's pirouettes may do to the truly noble cause of deficit reduction. On this he speaks harsh truth about higher taxes and lower spending and sacrifices needed, in stark contrast to the mush from the major parties. But by toying with the political process, he may in fact be trivializing -- and traducing the only policy that can return the United States to economic greatness.

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