Perot mixes nostalgia with swipes at Clinton, cities

April 01, 1993|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Staff Writer

With crabcakes and the streets of Baltimore invoking memories of his own days in uniform at the U.S. Naval Academy, political watchdog Ross Perot took swipes at the Clinton administration yesterday, saying it was making a "fatal mistake" in the way it was treating the military.

Speaking to the American Society of Newspaper Editors at its annual convention here, Mr. Perot gave only the slightest slap at the media, one of his favorite targets during last year's presidential campaign. Instead, the billionaire aimed his fire at Congress, as he has done in recent speeches and TV spots, and the new White House.

Responding to a question from his audience, Mr. Perot said he favored increased aid to Russia, as President Clinton has proposed. But he then quickly parted company with the administration over its call for cuts in the military budget and over what Mr. Perot suggested was its disrespectful attitude toward military officers.

"We can help Russia achieve a free society and a capitalistic society at a fraction of what it would cost to get back up and go to war," the blunt-spoken Texan said. "On the other hand, we are making a huge mistake right now in downsizing too quickly, and we are making a fatal mistake in the way the new White House treats the military."

Mr. Perot cited a recently reported episode in which, according to well-placed sources, Lt. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was told by a White House aide: "We really don't want people in uniform over here unless it's absolutely necessary."

White House officials have not denied the episode, and did not respond to an inquiry about Mr. Perot's remarks yesterday.

"That general officer deserves an apology from the president, and if the president's thinking, he'll fire whoever said it. We haven't had either so far," said Mr. Perot, who spent four years at sea as a Navy man in the mid-1950s.

"[The general] has earned respect when he walks in the White House."

Mr. Perot, a self-appointed thorn in the side of the new administration, also criticized the approval of a sale of a nearly 20 percent interest in USAir to British Airways.

He called it the "the world's dumbest deal."

In the course of a sharp attack on the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement, Mr. Perot said the airline deal gave a foreign competitor footing in a competitive U.S. industry.

He also took on Mr. Clinton's proposed budget, which includes substantial tax increases.

"The American people have no tolerance for this tax increase unless it will balance the budget and pay down the debt. Watch my lips," he said to a round of laughter, "that's the only way they're gonna get it out of them."

Reminiscing before his luncheon speech, Mr. Perot said his one-day visit to Baltimore brought back happy memories of his days at the Naval Academy in Annapolis and of his courtship of his wife, Margot, who attended Goucher College back then.

The Texan recalled how he and his buddies used to go to football games in Baltimore and then have dinner downtown at a place called The Black Bottle.

Upon his arrival to Baltimore yesterday, Mr. Perot drove around the city in search of his former hangout, which he found, at the corner of Guilford Avenue and Saratoga Street, renamed the House of Welsh.

But in his speech, he also couldn't resist a small jab at the city in his railings against the creation of temporary "bubble jobs" instead of factories.

"Every time things get slow in any major city, we build a baseball stadium, we build a convention center," he said.

"Pretty soon, everybody's gonna be playing, but nobody can buy a ticket to go see it."

With rapid-fire shots, Mr. Perot sounded his usual themes of reducing the deficit, balancing the budget, reforming government and getting rid of foreign lobbyists, the Electoral College, special interests and perks for Washington's public servants.

In fact, since capturing 19 percent of the vote with his independent bid for the presidency, Mr. Perot has never stopped looking, talking or acting like a candidate for office.

Along with buying a half-hour chunk of prime-time TV last month, he has been spending his weekends traveling around the country and drumming up interest for his political organization, United We Stand, America.

Asked during a question-and-answer session yesterday if, "in the XTC spirit of straight talk," he was running for president, he responded:

"In the spirit of straight talk, no."

In the spirit of Perot talk, he later added:

"I'd rather have surgery without anesthesia" than run for the presidency. "On my list of things to do, I'd rather bungee jump without the cord."

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