Perot to remain a thorn in the side of Clinton ON POLITICS

JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

January 12, 1993|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

WASHINGTON -- By converting his grass-roots movement into a nationwide, dues-paying organization, Ross Perot has fired a warning shot across Bill Clinton's bow.

Announcing the move at a press conference yesterday, Perot took pains to say he wanted to give the new president "plenty of breathing room" and time to get his feet on the ground.

But he made clear that he intends to create a "counter-pressure" to special interests and lobbyists he already sees as having too much influence on the president-elect.

He said he plans to use the so-called "electronic town meetings" to administer shock therapy to the new administration and Congress.

He pointedly denied that he was creating a third party, but his plan to involve the new organization in politics at the congressional, state and local levels incorporates a threat to run challengers for office if incumbents don't respond to views that surface in the town meetings.

For instance, the organization will be busy in the special Senate election in Texas to fill the vacancy created by Lloyd Bentsen's appointment as Clinton's secretary of treasury.

Once again, Perot is discounting any interest in the presidency, while holding out the possibility of another bid if his concerns aren't met by Clinton and Congress over the next four years.

While he said a second candidacy is "not anywhere on my agenda," he added that "I would feel I had personally failed [in his grass-roots organizational effort] if I had to run again.".

The prospects for the Perot movement, seemingly so dim last July when he abruptly abandoned his informal candidacy and broke the hearts of millions of supporters, have to be rated much more promising in light of the 19 percent Perot won on Nov. 3.

If he did not entirely redeem himself, he did demonstrate the capacity to tap into widespread voter discontent of 1992.

His July pullout enabled Clinton to solidify through the summer months his position as the agent of change in the race against President Bush.

If Clinton succeeds in bringing about economic recovery and making an impressive dent in the deficit that has been the centerpiece of the Perot criticism, the Texas billionaire may find himself leading a hollow army.

Perot, however, differs with Clinton on enough fronts -- from his flat opposition to the free trade treaty with Mexico to his unrelenting war on foreign lobbyists -- that it is unlikely that the new president will be able to rid himself of Perot as public scold no matter what he does.

The mobilization of grass-roots support for good government is nothing new in politics. It has been moderately effective in recent years through such organizations as Common Cause and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

What seems to set the Perot movement apart is that many of its adherents are folks who had given up on the system but were brought back in by the troubled times and a man who they saw as above petty political ambition.

Many of them no doubt wonder now whether they actually could have elected Perot had he not pulled back in July, and had he adhered to his original determination to run without professional help, as he largely did in his October comeback.

Such musings give Perot continued credibility with them and keep alive his dream of an army of right-thinking patriots retaking their country from special-interest-dominated Washington.

Perot says his intent is to use his money and celebrity to get the new organization on its feet, and then to step back and attend to his business enterprises.

Asking himself why he was doing all this, he clicked on a tape recorder and started playing Patsy Cline's "Crazy." But he is crazy like a fox.

He knows that his 19 percent on Election Day was a giant step in the rehabilitation of his shaken reputation, and the success organization -- "United We Stand, America" -- can further validate the path on which he embarked nearly a year ago.

"I guess y'all going to be stuck with me for a while," Perot said. No doubt.

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