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Tuesday, July 09, 2019

On the passing of H. Ross Perot

Hearing the news that Ross Perot had died earlier today was like feeling a punch to the gut of that persistent eighteen-year old in my personal nature.  Maybe it had to do with the memory of working the local Perot campaign headquarters in those heady days of fall 1992.  Located in rented space on a small shopping strip in Eden, North Carolina, at first glance it wasn't what I was expecting.  There was a shabbiness to the place.  But whatever it lacked in looks, it more than made up for it in frenetic energy.  There was a sense of unstoppable enthusiasm among all those good and wacky characters, and I must have worked at least a hundred hours there making phone calls on Perot's behalf, assembling yard signs, picking up bumper stickers to hand out...

I forget how much of a percentage Rockingham County went for Perot, but it was a fair amount.  It had less to do with our own efforts, I think, than the character and charisma of Ross Perot himself.  "Now there's a choice!" read campaign signs and many in the county took that to heart.  I certainly did, when I registered to vote the day after turning eighteen some months before.  I knew even then: Perot was going to be the one I cast a ballot for.

Maybe that's part of why to this day I'm proud that no one I've voted for President has won.  Each one of those victors in his own way made a mess of America.  And that "giant sucking sound" that Perot warned us would be jobs in these United States going south to Mexico?  He was right.  He was 1000% right.  NAFTA would never have wrecked its havoc on Perot's watch.  And for that alone, history has proven that he was more than correct.  For there was no doubting the patriotism and concern behind his warnings about it.

And I will also dare say that Donald Trump's win in the 2016 election had a great deal with the lingering sentiment from 1992.  Voters have longer memories than they get credit for, especially after a quarter century of two major parties bringing economic ruin to America.  Trump played a smart game: running as an independent candidate while using the Republican Party's infrastructure to mount his campaign from.  That was the one major deviation from Perot's approach.  But Perot did it first, and he broke the ground for what came later.

Did I agree with everything Perot stood for?  No, I did not.  My differences with him about abortion and gun control are as strong as ever.  Maybe stronger, even.  But no candidate is going to be someone any of us should hold to their positions with equal fervor.  The candidates who try to appeal to everyone are the worst of candidates.  At least Perot was honest about his convictions.  And even as a kid I wouldn't believe Perot could pull off anything about those issues.  His agenda was about something else, and many of us saw the handwriting on the wall: America was headed toward economic disaster and we needed someone of Perot's caliber to avoid it.

Did Perot cause Bill Clinton to be elected in 1992?  I've never seen that.  When the popular vote is worked out and compared with the electoral votes, Clinton was still going to win over George H.W. Bush... who still would have had the majority of the popular vote.  Perot drew voters from each of the two major party candidates, no doubt.  But with 19% of those votes spread out as they were, Perot proved to be at most a large element to not ignore, but not large enough to make that big a difference in the outcome.

There was no doubting Perot's commitment to America and her people.  A commitment that was demonstrated with two incidents in particular.  There was his compelling the North Vietnamese to provide better treatment of American POWs during that conflict.  And then there came the 1979 rescue mission of two employees of Perot's Electronic Data Systems (EDS) from an Iranian prison.  Perot hired legendary Green Beret vet Arthur "Bull" Simons to lead a team recruited from within EDS to plan and execute the mission.  It involved inserting team members into Tehran as the Iranian Revolution was nearing its climax.  The rescue worked, none of the team were lost in the mission.  It was chronicled about a few years later in Ken Follett's book On Wings of Eagles.

Not long after that rescue, the revolutionaries took over Iran completely.  They also stormed the American embassy and took its occupants hostage.  Their 555 days of capture was punctuated by a disastrous rescue attempt sanctioned by President Jimmy Carter that ended in the deserts of Iran.  One can only wonder what might have been had Ross Perot been called in to consult with.

 EDS already made Perot a very wealthy man and he became ridiculously more wealthy when he sold the company some years later.  A billionaire multiple times over, he went on to found Perot Systems.  And then came that night in March of 1992 when Larry King asked Perot on nationwide television if he would run for President.  Perot said he would, provided he qualified for the ballot in all fifty states.  A few short months later he had met all qualifications.  And though we could debate all day about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of his early departure from the campaign, none can question that when he came back months later promising "a world class campaign"... and he delivered on that promise.

Of course, that campaign cannot be mentioned without bringing to mind those informercials - which ran simultaneously every time on all the major networks - that Perot made.  In each one he laid out with nothing more than a pointer and a series of charts the situation in America and what would be needed to fix it.  From one of those came a personal catchphrase of mine: "It will be hard, but it will be fun."

It would be tempting to post a clip of myself doing my Ross Perot impersonation.  But not now.  I will however post a pic of the two campaign buttons I proudly wore that season.  One of which was made during a craft fair during lunch one day at my high school:

There isn't much else that one could say about H. Ross Perot.  Except that he may not have won in 1992 and then again in 1996 when he ran again.  But he left an indelible mark upon American presidential politics.  And that mark may have come back to haunt the Clintons more than two decades later after all.  Not a few times  have I heard in recent years "Ross was right".

Whatever one may think of the guy, it has to be said: he lived an enviable life and abided by his principles.  And we are each the better for that kind of example.

Godspeed, Mr. Perot.  And thank you.


LD said...

Perot lost my respect when he dropped out that summer and then returned with that story about Cuban terrorists. But he earned it back since then because he was RIGHT about NAFTA and the lost jobs.

Like the man said, God speed Ross Perot. We would have been better country if you had won.

Anonymous said...

A true American original.

Off topic Chris, you should migrate to Disqus for your comments.