H. Ross Perot, RIP

H. Ross Perot died on Tuesday at age 89, and although one is always well advised not to speak ill of the dead we think he had a largely negative effect on the country’s history.
There was plenty to be said for the colorful character, and it should be acknowledged. Although he was the son of a prominent and politically-connected cotton trader in his beloved home state of Texas he became a multi-billionaire by his own considerable smarts and inexhaustible energy. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy he found himself bored with peacetime service, and left the Navy as soon as his Annapolis obligations had been met. He took a job as a salesman for the International Business Machines Corporation that then dominated the nascent computer industry, and was by all accounts extraordinarily successful at it, once meeting his yearly quota in three weeks. Perot stuck around IBM long enough to learn everything he needed to know about the computer biz, and in 1962 he left to start his own business.
Texas-based Electronic Data Systems proved a very profitable company, mostly from a number of sizable contracts with the federal government. He used much of his share of the profits to become an early and significant investor in what became Apple Computers, which proved even more profitable, and in 1988 he created Perot Systems Corporation, which further increased his multi-billion dollar wealth. He increased his already considerable fame after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 when he claimed to have raised a mercenary army to rescue to EDS employees who had been there working on a contract with overthrown Iranian government. The story was apocryphal, but was rivetingly told in the best-selling book “Wings of Angels” and then on a highly rated made-for-television movie.
Like so many other self-made men Perot eventually came to worship his creator, however, and by 1992 had decided that he was the best possible person to be President of the United States. He ran as an independent, with a small but enthusiastic following doing the legwork to get him enough signatures to be on the ballot in every state, and he was included on the televised debates with major party nominees, and he wound up winning 19 percent of the popular, the biggest share for a third-party candidate since former President Theodore Roosevelt and his Bull Moose party’s 27 percent in 1912.
Just as Roosevelt’s run wound costing the eminently conservative Republican William Howard Taff re-election and handed the White House over to prototypical progressive President Woodrow Wilson, Perot took enough votes from quintessentially establishment Republican President George H.W. Bush to give cleaned-up hippie Democratic President Bill Clinton the office with a mere plurality.
Perot’s platform called for higher taxes but huge cuts in social programs and promised balanced budgets and the full payment of the federal debt, which was at that time an obsession for most Republicans. He also ran on the argument that he was untainted by any previous political experience, and that the billions he had in the bank were proof he was smart enough to run anything, which then as now is somehow persuasive to a lot of Republicans. His foreign policy positions were more vague, and he’d been critical of the first Gulf War, although it was quickly won and established a Pax Americana in the Middle East that would last several years, but Reagan and Bush had won the Cold War and no one seemed to care much about foreign policy.
The first President Bush was known for his cautious if clumsy language and patrician bearing and impeccable public service credentials and stay-the-course leadership, but an increasingly rural and blue collar and anti-establishment Republican party was growing weary of all that, and with his cheap haircuts and jug ears and folksy language and authentic Texas twang Perot provided a stark contrast. He might have peeled off a few votes from Clinton, but we believed at the time and still do that most of his 19 percent would have won the Republicans a rare fourth presidential election victory.
Perot then transformed his ad hoc political organization into the Reform Party, which mostly attracted the sorts of Republicans who thought that the Republican party had become effete. The Grand Old Party had recently won the Cold War and created a large and long-lasting economic expansions, but then as now many Republicans felt it wasn’t protecting them from the oftentimes disruptive economic transformations that resulted from free trade and new technologies, and felt a sense that those establishment know-it-alls with the impeccable credentials didn’t identify with them, and they were looking to disrupt even the most venerable of America’s institutions.
Perot ran as the Reform Party nominee in ’96, but a truce between Clinton and the newly-installed House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his fellow firebrand Republicans installed in the mid-term elections resulted in a balanced budget, which deprived Perot of one of his signature issues. The second time around he finished with 8.4 percent of the vote, and although that probably didn’t cost Republican nominee Sen. Bob Dole the election it might have peeled off enough Democratic votes that Clinton had to settle for another plurality.
The Reform Party stuck around for a short while after Perot’s departure from public life, but long enough to do further damage. Former boa-clad professional wrestler and bona fide nutcase conspiracy theorist Jesse Ventura became governor of Minnesota for tumultuous turn  on the Reform Party ticket, and paleo-conservative Pat Buchanan used the party’s presidential nomination to spread his paranoid populism and his admittedly fascist-friendly “America First” foreign policy. Outright racists such as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and a large number of erstwhile Republicans with class and race resentments of an establishment they just knew was out to get them found a home there, and a brash self-proclaimed billionaire named Donald Trump made his first foray into politics when he sought the party’s nomination.
Perot was quite right to warn about the federal debt, and deserves credit for suggesting that an unpopular tax hike and painful spending cuts might be required to pay it off, but it doesn’t seem to have had any lasting influence on either party. We thought his xenophobic protectionism was wrong then and still think it’s wrong as President Donald Trump pursues it, and we retain the same opinion about both Perot’s and Trump’s isolationist foreign policy instincts.
We wish a Perot an eternally happy afterlife, and freely acknowledge he was one of those rare individuals who left his mark on history, but he always appreciated blunt talk, so we feel free to say he had a mostly corrosive influence. He not only got Clinton elected and helped him get reelected, but he fostered a paranoid and conspiracy-theorizing suspicion of well-credentialed public servants and venerable political and economic institutions that persists in the Republican party to this day. The Democrats have their own paranoid and conspiracy-theorizing elements with crazy protectionist and isolation ideas, on the other hand, so as we wish Perot a fond farewell we’ll be hoping the center still holds.

— Bud Norman

A Rocky Road to An Electoral Decision

Being unable to bring ourselves to cast a vote for either of this crazy election year’s awful major party presidential nominees, we’ve lately been looking into possible alternatives. It turns out this isn’t a binary choice after all, no matter how many times we’ve heard that tiresome phrase, as we seem to have a wide range of options.
Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson will be on the Kansas presidential ballot, and he merits some consideration. He served two successful terms as a tax-and-budget-cutting governor of New Mexico, is proposing the sort of free market economic policies that warm our heart, and we figure that the legalized marijuana he advocates will surely come in handy over the next four years no matter how the race turns out. There’s also his eerie resemblance to the late character actor Sterling Holloway, a childhood favorite of ours, and his humble and easy-going personality and self-deprecating sense of humor are especially appealing when compared to those awful major party nominees. On the other hand he has occasionally been glaringly uninformed on important issues, hews to the Libertarians’ let-the-world-go-to-hell foreign policy, and he’s not at all libertarian on matters of religious liberty, so we kept looking.
Also on the Kansas presidential ballot is Green Party nominee Jill Stein. She seems a nice enough woman, so far as we can tell, but c’mon, she’s the Green Party nominee, which we call the Watermelon Party, because it’s green on the outside but red on the inside, so the search continues.
There’s also a widely popular write-in option on the Kansas ballot, which allows for literally millions of constitutionally eligible candidates, some of whom are surely better than either of those awful major party presidential nominees. Kansas only reports the write-in votes for those candidates who have applied and paid a nominal fee for write-in eligibility, and there only 21 of those, but we still like our odds of finding someone more suitable than those awful major party nominees in even that small number.
Among them is Andrew Basagio, who is running on “a quest to lobby the US government to disclose its teleportation secret so that teleportation can be adopted on a global basis to help humanity achieve planetary sustainability in the 21st century,” according to the web site of his “Project Pegasus,” which promotes his theories about time travel and the “Mars cover-up.” We’re not clear on what sort of shenanigans on Mars are being covered up, or by whom, and it all sounds a bit far-fetched, but time travel is an appealing daydream and in this crazy election year we can’t completely dismiss anything. Another option is Michael “Lev” Levinson, who is running “4 President then World Peacemaker” on a very beatnik free verse poem of a platform. That strikes us as kind of kooky, too, but given the major party candidates of this crazy election year we’re grading kookiness on a curve.
Also eligible for write-in votes in Kansas are the nominees of some more established political parties. The Prohibition Party has offered a candidate in the state every four years since 1872, and this time around it’s James Hedges, whose two terms as the tax assessor for Thompson Township in Pennsylvania made him the first party member to hold elective office since 1959 and give him more government experience than one of the major party nominees, and he seems a very sober fellow. We like almost all of his platform, but we can’t get around that Prohibition plank they seem so intent on, as we figure that beer will also come in handy the next four years no matter how this race turns out. The Socialist Party has been around since 1901, and got a significant chunk of votes when the legendary Eugene Debs was running from a prison cell, and you’d think they’d be ripe for a comeback in a such a crazy election that self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was a Democratic contender and both major party nominees probably belong behind bars, but this time around they’re running someone named Gloria La Riva, whose standing in solidarity with that recent Indian uprising over something or another up in the Dakotas, and she doesn’t seem to have the old radical chic pizzazz, and she’ll likely be splitting votes with the Peace and Freedom Party’s Monica Moorehead, whose web site for some reason features a La Riva banner.
Once upon a happier time in America Donald Trump was vying for the nomination of the Reform Party, that bunch of crazies created by the original nutcase billionaire presidential candidate Ross Perot, and this remains of that effort give us the option of Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, who also has the nomination of something called the American Delta Party. His website notes that the Reform Party’s “history and significance in America’s political history is well known,” the American Delta Party “is focused on bringing positive political change to our country,” and their candidate is “focused on exposing the corruption of our political system and restoring integrity to our Democracy,” and it’s hard to argue with any of that. De La Fuente isn’t the only “Rocky” in the race, though, as there is also a Rocky Giordano with write-in eligibility. He’s the nominee of the Independent American Party, a self described “God fearing, gun carrying” “Sinner saved by grace,” by far the most normal looking person ever to run for president of the United States, and so far as we can tell his call flat-out call for a flat tax is the only thing distinguishing his vague proposals from that awful Republican’s vague proposals.
The old-school sorts of conservatives can also choose either Darrell Castle, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War and happily married family man with a successful law practice who is the nominee of the Constitution Party, or Tom Hoefling of the anti-abortion and frankly old-fashioned America’s Party, neither of whom have anything worth ridiculing in their brief internet appearances. All we could find about candidate Lynn Kahn is that her “vision is an America that works for everyone with no one left out,” which sounds reasonable enough, and so far as we can tell American Solidarity Party nominee Mike Maturin is also favor of policies that benefit the people, so that’s worth considering. There’s something slightly fetching about that J.J. Vogel-Walcutt woman, a self-described “scientist, innovator, passionate American, proud parent, lover of bright red shoes,” who’s write-in eligible, too.
There’s scant information about most of the rest of them, except for a couple of inconspicuous Facebook pages one’s name turning up only a few hundred dollars worth of contributions in a Federal Elections Commission filing, and other names turning up nothing at all, but we were pleased to note that Evan McMullin is also on the list. The more assiduous news readers know him as the fellow who has an outside shot of winning Utah’s electoral votes and perhaps sending this crazy election year into further craziness, which has lately been getting him some very mainstream press attention. He was a longtime Central Intelligence Agency operative in some very dangerous spots, a successful employee of the Goldman-Sachs investment company, is by all accounts a straight-arrow type in his personal life and an old-school conservative in his public life, and he’s widely touted by what’s left of the respectable conservative press. We like almost all of his proposals, and his plain-spoken way of putting them, and are quite susceptible to his pitch of conservatism without any of the vitriol and scapegoating and demagoguery and downright bullying boorishness that have become associated with this cause in this crazy election year.
There are a few other names we’d rather write in, such as Nebraska’s stalwart Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, but they wouldn’t show up on that final tally, and in this crazy election year that makes some small difference to us. It’s nice to know that such a random selection of just 21 names turns up at least one that’s clearly superior to either of those two awful major party nominees, though, and in times like these we’ll settle for that.

— Bud Norman